Taking the Hard Road is an engaging history of growing up in working-class families in France and Germany during the Industrial Revolution. Based on a reading of ninety autobiographical accounts of childhood and adolescence, the book explores the far-reaching historical transformations associated with the emergence of modern industrial capitalism. According to Mary Jo Maynes, the aspects of private life revealed in these accounts played an important role in historical development by actively shaping the authors' social, political, and class identities. The stories told in these memoirs revolve around details of everyday life: schooling, parent-child relations, adolescent sexuality, early experiences in the workforce, and religious observances. Maynes uses demographics, family history, and literary analysis to place these details within the context of historical change. She also draws comparisons between French and German texts, men's and women's accounts, and narratives of social mobility and political militancy.