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Coal River Hardcover – January 8, 2008

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition (January 8, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374125147
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374125141
  • Product Dimensions: 1.1 x 6.1 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #938,093 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Through vivid first-person reporting and a thorough culling of court transcripts, newspaper clippings and corporate reports, Vanity Fair contributing editor Shnayerson (The Killers Within) has crafted an incriminating indictment of the Appalachian King Coal industry in West Virginia, and of the man he defines as its rapacious kingpin, Massey Energy's CEO, Don Blankenship. The author's sympathies lie clearly with opponents of mountaintop mining, most prominently young attorney Joe Lovett and citizen activist Judy Bonds. Both have fought against a form of mining that shears off the tops of hills and dumps rubble into valleys and streams—a process abetted by the collusion of the state's often-lackadaisical Department of Environmental Protection, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' propensity to grant stream-destroying permits without oversight and the easing of environmental controls by the Bush administration. Shnayerson's compelling take on toxic mining methods and their heartrending impact on Appalachian inhabitants and their culture, has a wider focus than Erik Reece's 2006 title, Lost Mountain, which reported on one mountaintop's destruction, and strong echoes of the stomach-churning legal machinations recounted in Jonathan Harr's 1995 bestseller, A Civil Action.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


Advance Praise for COAL RIVER:
“Michael Shnayerson has ventured into one of the roughest and remotest parts of America and emerged with a brilliant and devastating work on the greed of the coal mining industry. I found myself hoping that certain people named in this book will read it and experience that sick fear of knowing their game is about to come to an end. Indeed, that is one of the very satisfying things about this book: As horrifying as the story is, there is the real and very beautiful possibility that justice will prevail in the end.”   —Sebastian Junger, author of The Perfect Storm
“This damning account of mountaintop beheading and rampant watershed destruction in four states of Appalachia should be obligatory reading for every Congressperson who deserves the name of lawmaker (and the lobby-led political hacks who claim it, too). Uncommonly well-written and well-researched, Coal River is an enthralling story of the few Americans courageous enough to ‘tell truth to power’ and oppose the crudest sort of environmental desecration and pollution for profit.”   —Peter Matthiessen                                                                 
Coal River is the dismaying story of Armageddon in Appalachia. At one time the powerful forces of ignorance and greed are dooming America’s landscapes, our culture, and our democracy.”   —Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.
“The coal that generates our electricity and lights our homes also poisons our air. Along the Appalachians of West Virginia, as Michael Shnayerson shows in this heartbreaking book, the relentless quest for ever more coal has leveled ancient mountain tops, corrupted politicians, destroyed communities, and sickened their people. Forty-five years ago, in his classic Night Comes to the Cumberlands, Harry Caudill warned of this looming disaster. Now, in his equally powerful book, Shnayerson reveals the price all of us must pay for ignoring Caudill’s warning.”   —Jason Epstein



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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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After reading the book I felt sick.
Frederick S. Goethel
All one had to to was follow the Charleston Gazette to know that everything in this book was truth.
This book is very well written and is an easy read.
G. J. Toleman

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Frederick S. Goethel VINE VOICE on January 22, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Coal River is the story of the practice of mountaintop removal mining in the Coal River Valley of West Virginia and of the people who tried to stop the practice. It also examines Don Blankenship, CEO and Chairman of Massey Energy who is considered by all involved to be the one person responsible for the most destruction.

For those not familiar with the technique, mountaintop removal mining involves literally blasting several hundred feet or more from the top of a mountain so that the coal can be extracted much more easily. The spoils of the removal are dumped over the edge of the mountain into streams that tend to run along the valley floor. That causes pollution and, in many cases, the entire closing of the stream which changes the entire hydrology of the area.

In theory, the mountains are supposed to be replaced to a near natural form at the end of mining, but that rarely happens, leaving a moonscape of rock and debris that will take thousands of years to remediate on its own. The coal companies have an agenda and will hardly allow the law to slow them down.

After reading the book I felt sick. The mountains of West Virginia are one of the prettiest places in the United States, and yet our government has been caught handing over permits for a process that is clearly illegal under the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts. The courts are of little use....they, too, have been bought by big coal.

This story of the courageous fight of the men and women of the valley is must read if you care for the environment of the planet at all. It is well written and very inspirational that such a small number of people were willing to take on Big Coal.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Alex Caulfield on January 23, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Coal River is an account of a small group of dedicated brave mountaineers who are more than willing to go toe to toe with a ruthless coal baron. King Coal is not accustomed to having his outlaw mining operations challenged. Hats off to Michael Schnayerson for accurately telling this must read story.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By C. Hutton on January 19, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Mr. Shnayerson is a crusader tilting at the relentless hunt for more coal in the out-of-the-way hollows of West Virginia. Strip mining has taken on a new meaning when entire mountains are leveled instead of their mountainsides. The hero of the 300+ page book is local lawyer Joseph Lovett who battles the government and the coal companies for small victories. The book is written in a conversational tone and it is clear that the author is an environmentalist. Given the near total control of West Virginia by the coal companies, that is not a bad thing.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Michael F. Kennedy on February 9, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I picked up this book because it takes place close to where I grew up (much of it in the same county), because I love the mountains and fear for them, because I grew up in an area dominated by the coal industry and I have an interest and a grudging admiration for it. But I liked the book most of all for the story of a rookie lawyer and a few clients with little in the way of resources but a burning desire to fight for what's right.

At times it reads a bit like "A Civil Action," or perhaps a John Grisham novel, though the real-life tactics of restraining orders and injunctions played out over the battleground of arcane environmental regulations is hardly the stuff of a legal thriller.

On the other hand, the book has a great villain, and author Michael Shnayerson does a good job of trying to explain what motivates Massey Chairman Don Blankenship. This book was written before the deadly explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine near where much of this book plays out, and his cataloging of Massey's sorry safety record seems prophetic. Odd too, is Massey's reluctance to stand up to its controversial and -- toward the end -- arguably inept, chairman. It was only after 29 miners died at Upper Big Branch after this book was published that Blankenship got the ax.

For someone who grew up in West Virginia politics, it's a treat as well. I can remember when federal judges who now go by grander-sounding names were once Joe Bob or Chuck. I found myself wanting to tell the author a bit of backstory, but usually he came around to relating it. (Though the book mentions Richard Neely, it doesn't say he was once a state Supreme Court justice. Neither does it mention that Sen. Jay Rockefeller, now a friend of coal, once opposed strip mining. He lost big in that election.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Doug P. on January 17, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Pros: This book is a very detailed account of a grass-roots effort to confront industry leaders who have had a very large impact on the communities which host their surface mining operations. The author did a superb job of providing factual information from real-life sources who have felt the effects of surface mining first hand. The stories are intriguing and invoke passion in the reader.

Cons: At certain points the author targets a specific person or group and belabors an idea to the point of redundancy. Also, the author heavily criticizes corporate leaders and conservative politicians for their actions, but offers sympathy and justification for local "activists" during their extreme moments--giving the perception of a steady liberal bias. This bias was a distracter to me as a conservative who still loves the Appalachian Mountains and believes in conservation.

Overall great read, and well worth the reader's time. Highly recommended.
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