Just like the mill towns of New England that preceded them, the steel towns of the Rust Belt have set loose a diaspora that spreads across the country.  Rust Belt Boy: Stories of an American Childhood  portrays a moment in time: the last gasp of the industrial north where European immigrants had raised families and built communities and cities, but saw the end of their way of life looming on the horizon.

Approximately six million baby boomers, like the narrator, fled the Rust Belt. Another six million remained.  Through Hertneky’s vivid storytelling, we can smell his Czechoslovakian grandmother’s cooking, see the streets lined with saloons, hear the backroom politicos’ deal-making at a local restaurant, and feel the aspirations of a generation. 

'The inside truth of a life, or a culture--of anything--cannot be tricked together. It has to grow from what's been bred in the bone and tested in the day's real living. Paul Hertneky's RUST BELT BOY has the savor of that living. It is a rueful, bittersweet expression of loss and a brave reenactment of memory."
-- Sven Birkerts, author of THE GUTENBERG ELEGIES and THE OTHER WALK.


"I loved it. I haven't read a book in many years that made me feel so wistful, and grateful, as Rust Belt Boy. Given my own family history—my grandfather was a Pennsylvania coal miner who barely spoke English, my grandmother ran a Prohibition era saloon on the banks of the Susquehanna River—I felt Hertneky was writing a love letter to my own boyhood, and at the same time a Dear John letter, telling me goodbye to all that. If you're one of the six million baby boomers who walked away from a dying hometown, read this book and remember another America."
—Bob Shacochis, National Book Award winner and author of Pulitzer finalist, The Woman Who Lost Her Soul.

“Hertneky’s elegant touch in these personal essays carried me into the fold of a unique and loving family; and with wit, laughter and authority, enriched the dignity and meaning of what it is to be an American."
-- Eugenia Kim, author of The Calligrapher’s Daughter

"Hertneky’s hometown, Ambridge, contained multitudes: big steel works with Bessemer furnaces firing right on a main street, immigrant workers, labor strife, and a forgotten past that includes George Washington and a wildly successful utopia. In this affectionate memoir, Hertneky delivers Ambridge’s heart and soul, and proves that the discovery of America is never ending."

-- ​Howard Mansfield, author Dwelling in Possibility.

The critics are saying:

"RUST BELT BOY brings to life, in loving, lyric detail, an essential but overlooked portrait of America's blue collar heart. Paul Hertneky is a splendid writer, by turns hilarious, tough, and tender. He's always honest, often revelatory, and never disappointing; his book deserves to become a classic."

-- Sy Montgomery, author of The Soul of an Octopus, National Book Award finalist

See editorial reviews under "News and Reviews"

Over twenty-eight years, Paul Hertneky has written stories, essays, and scripts for the  Boston Globe, Athens News, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette​New Hampshire Union Leader, NBC News, The Comedy Channel, Gourmet, Eating Well, Traveler’s Tales, The Exquisite Corpse, National Public Radio, Public Radio International, Adbusters and many more. He covered the culinary world and restaurant industry for 17  years. His work centers on culture, food, the environment, and travel, winning him a Solas Award, and two James Beard Award nominations. He is the author, most recently, of Rust Belt Boy: Stories of an American Childhood. In 2016, he was named one of "5 over 50" notable authors by Poets & Writers Magazine. A graduate of the Bennington Writing Seminars, he serves on the faculty of Chatham University.

Released May 3, 2016

"Just as Thomas Bell's Out of This Furnace is the classic story of the growth of industrial Pittsburgh and western Pennsylvania, Paul Hertneky's RUST BELT BOY is the story of what happened  as the mills shut down. A complelling personal account, it emphasizes the strong affection that many of us have for this place and its heritage."

-- Ed Ochester, author of Sugar Run and editor of the Pitt Poetry Series

"GRaceful... affectionate, Perceptive... A Most Muscular Memory"

"Incantatory writing"

"a stellar memoir... a standout"

"STartlingly lovely... and Deeply wise"


"Like Paul Hertneky, I hail from Western Pennsylvania. I am a Rust Belt boy, too, but my childhood a generation later. RUST BELT BOY closes a book on 300 years of history as a geography of aspiration. Newcomers defined the towns and cities. Despite growing up in the same place, the people and their stories seem foreign and exotic to me. All I have known is leaving. "Rust Belt Boy" is a gift, a heritage I never knew I had."

-- Jim Russell, geographer, blogger, and regular contributor, Pacific Standard magazine.

Paul  hertneky

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"Should be required reading for every new Pittsburgh resident. I lived in Pittsburgh for 18 months... but never really understood the difference between what I experienced and what my neighbors did until I read Paul's account."

 -- Reviewer Jennifer Graham @Grahamtoday