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Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America's Energy Future [Kindle Edition]

Jeff Goodell
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Long dismissed as a relic of a bygone era, coal is back -- with a vengeance. Coal is one of the nation's biggest and most influential industries -- Big Coal provides more than half the electricity consumed by Americans today -- and its dominance is growing, driven by rising oil prices and calls for energy independence. Is coal the solution to America's energy problems?

On close examination, the glowing promise of coal quickly turns to ash. Coal mining remains a deadly and environmentally destructive industry. Nearly forty percent of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere each year comes from coal-fired power plants. In the last two decades, air pollution from coal plants has killed more than half a million Americans. In this eye-opening call to action, Goodell explains the costs and consequences of America's addiction to coal and discusses how we can kick the habit.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. After a generation out of the spotlight, coal has reasserted its centrality: the United States "burn[s] more than a billion tons" per year, and since 9/11 and the Iraq war, independence from foreign oil has become positively patriotic. Rolling Stone contributing editor Goodell's last book, the bestselling Our Story, was about a mine accident, which clearly made a deep impression on him. Our reliance on coal—the unspoken foundation of our "information" economy—has, Goodell says, led to an "empire of denial" that blocks us from the investments necessary to find alternative energy sources that could eventually save us from fossil fuel. Goodell's description of the mining-related deaths, the widespread health consequences of burning coal and the impact on our planet's increasingly fragile ecosystem make for compelling reading, but such commonplace facts are not what lift this book out of the ordinary. That distinction belongs to Goodell's fieldwork, which takes him to Atlanta, West Virginia, Wyoming, China and beyond—though he also has a fine grasp of the less tangible niceties of the industry. Goodell understands how mines, corporate boardrooms, commodity markets and legislative chambers interrelate to induce a national inertia. Goodell has a talent for pithy argument—and the book fairly crackles with informed conviction. (June 8)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Viewing the political and economic heft of the American coal industry, journalist Goodell presents an admiring view of the workers who mine, transport, and burn coal and an adversarial posture toward the CEOs, lobbyists, and politicians who monitor industry interests. In the background of the author's narratives, which are pegged to his visits to coalfields, coal-hauling trains, and power plants, lurks environmental pollution. Goodell injects relevant statistics (e.g., on average, an American uses 20 pounds of coal in a lifetime) that effectively personalize the reader's connection to an industry most ignore until a power outage. He astutely recognizes and heavily criticizes how mining companies and utilities capitalize on this disconnection in their public relations. Disputing their assertions that standards of living will suffer from the host of regulations and treaties he favors, Goodell particularizes his objections in detail useful to those who closely follow environmental issues. The circulation numbers of a comparable critique of the fossil fuels complex, Boiling Point, by Ross Gelbspan (2004), may predict Goodell's appeal to library patrons. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cool thinking about a hot topic September 14, 2007
Right from the start, when author Jeff Goodell discusses daily life around a coal extraction site in Wyoming, "Big Coal" is a captivating look at a subject that is seemingly as a lump of coal. Goodell knows his subject. He has witnessed coal mining operations in West Virginia, Wyoming and China. He has interviewed government officials, regulators, environmentalists, mine operators and the miners themselves. He has witnessed the devastation of strip mining and spoken to people whose land is literally washing away from them. He has spoken to those whose livelihoods are dependent on coal, and who even get a thrill from pitting their lives against Mother Nature. He has detonated explosives that exposed coal seams, accompanied inspectors worriedly checking excavation sites for potentially-fatal weak spots and ridden the rails with those who transport coal across the country.

"Big Coal" details the thrills and dangers of mining, an occupation that has cost 100,000 lives since 1900. It discusses the geological forces that laid down the coal beds, the differences between grades of coal like bituminous and anthracite and the historical personalities that bequeathed us our power system. He tackles tough issues -- like the efforts to control their entry of coal by-products mercury and sulfur into the environment. He is not afraid to tell it like it is. To the current administration's contention that there are 250 years of coal in the ground (250 million years in the words of George W. Bush), Goodell counters with studies that show that fewer than 20 years' worth of that coal that is *economically* extractable. Goodell analyzes the devastating impact of burning carbon-rich coal on the global environment. CO2 being a greenhouse gas with enormous impact on climactic warming trends.
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33 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent bit of journalism June 22, 2006
Goodell's thoughtful work serves as an important reminder to Americans of the dangers that come with cheap electricity. Yet the author takes his analysis one step further, demonstrating how coal's cheap price masks its many hidden costs, lung disease, environmental destruction, and global warming. Coal exists in a highly flawed marketplace, where none of these costs are included in the price paid by the consumer, a market failure that the coal industry gladly supports in order to avoid any reasonable regulator regime. Moreover, coal serves as a great case study of how the market place does not respond unless pushed to tertiary effects as the coal industry continues to build new plants that lack the gasification technology that eliminates most of the pollutants at a cost increase of 20-25%.

The author does fudge a bit when describing the economic bonanza that might come from government imposed demands for clean technology. That is not to say that I believe he is wrong, green industry is indeed booming and China and India will soon need to adopt it or suffer grave social dislocation and health costs resulting from pollution. However, Goodell could have done a better job offering data on this area.

In any event, energy remains perhaps the key issue of the 21st century. This author's aditton to the debate provides welcomed and easily digestible insights.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Expose May 18, 2007
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Goodell is an excellent writer, and the reporting contained in Big Coal could not be more timely. He has written the right book at the right time. The world of the coal industry is a bit like coal itself: it is buried--but not in the ground. Rather, it is covered by a thick layer of propaganda and public ignorance. Goodell unearths the unpleasant truths about coal mining, coal power, and the shady political game that both of these industries play. This is not so much a polemic, but simply a great piece of journalism. There are scores of fascinating personalities and memorable scenes. The book also achieves a remarkable overall synthesis. I could hardly put it down, and I think that if anyone was going to reveal the coal industry for what it is, Jeff Goodell was the one for the job.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Big coal, big problem? March 21, 2007
There are a number of problems connected with the burning of coal to create electricity. Coal pollutes the atmosphere. Mining coal plays havoc with the environment, especially when the methods used include blowing off the top of mountains and letting the debris wash down the gullies into the rivers and streams. Mining coal can be a dangerous, dirty job. And--as is the case with other fossil fuels--we will, soon or late, run out of coal. And, by the way, this will be sooner than coal executives would have us believe. (See "Coal, reserves" in the excellent index.)

But are these problems unsolvable and/or the price we have to pay to keep the economic engine humming?

Phrased in another way, "The issue is not really whether we have enough coal to provide enough electricity to keep our air conditioners cranked up. We surely do. The issue is, how big a part of America are we willing to sacrifice for this privilege?" (p. 19)

Journalist Jeff Goodell spent three years looking deeply into these questions. He talked to the miners and the coal executives. He rode the trains that haul coal and he went to China where coal is used for everything from making the fire to turn the turbines to cooking the evening meal. He saw a lot of pollution in China and he saw a lot of devastation in West Virginia. He talked to people with black lung and to people who have had part of their property washed down stream because the land above them had been stripped by coal mining.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars a little dated now, but a good introduction
I liked the run-down of the coal industry and how the technology in coal burning and mining is structured and works. His commentary on railroads is also accurate and well done. Read more
Published 12 hours ago by Benjamin Droz
3.0 out of 5 stars Dirty coal
Good book on past practices of coal companies, not enough on future. A lot of info, kept me interested throughout.
Published 16 days ago by Nick S.
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must Read
'Big Coal' is an excellent, well-researched expose of the control and influence the coal companies have over our lives. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Guy Allen
2.0 out of 5 stars confusion - pages not in correct sequence
The presentation of the book was not accurate - one page did not logically lead to the next in many cases; therefore my comprehension of the book is lacking.
Published 16 months ago by M Jo
5.0 out of 5 stars good book
got this book after the tragedy in WV and found it very informative and rather easy to read. would recommend!!
Published 19 months ago by trainerbri
5.0 out of 5 stars Strong politics, good read
This is an eye opener for sure. This is a very different view on the industrialization of our planet and I think it is important to see both sides of each coin.
Published 22 months ago by Tiffany S.
5.0 out of 5 stars Very well written
Goodwell has done extremely good job in writing this book. Learned a lot about coal industry even though I am, somewhat, familiar with the coal industry.
Published 24 months ago by Suman
1.0 out of 5 stars Inaccurate assumptions
Climate change isn't debatable, the disturbance caused by the mining industry is not debatable, and neither is it that people have been killed in the pursuit of obtaining coal. Read more
Published on May 26, 2011 by Kristi Brister
1.0 out of 5 stars Kindle for Android
Kindle for the Android sux, this is the third book I have gotten and it neve down loads images! I am pissed and think you do not get what you pay for ... Read more
Published on October 7, 2010 by Joseph Gunning
5.0 out of 5 stars Whose afraid of the big bad clean coal plant ?, an Adult's fable
If your looking for a highly readable overview of the energy corner we've backed ourselves into, then this book is a good choice. Read more
Published on September 10, 2010
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More About the Author

JEFF GOODELL is a contributing editor for Rolling Stone and a frequent contributor to the New York Times Magazine. He is the author of the New York Times bestseller Our Story: 77 Hours That Tested Our Friendship and Our Faith. Goodell's memoir, Sunnyvale: The Rise and Fall of a Silicon Valley Family, was a New York Times Notable Book. The New York Times called his most recent book, Big Coal, "a compelling indictment of one of the country's biggest, most powerful and most antiquated industries . . . well-written, timely, and powerful."

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