on February 11, 2009
I found this work to be a fascinating attempt to apply methods of the French Annales school to American labor history. Andrews contends, rightly in my opinion, that the struggle at Ludlow was simply one violent event in the long struggle between capitalist mine owners and the workers hired to extract coal from underground mines. Andrews demontrates a thorough familiarity with his material; his explanation of why machines were difficult to use in Colorado coal mines (the veins of coal are too irregular is the short explantation) I found both interesting and informative. Andrews attempts an even-handed approach with this subject, which I also found frustrating at times; sometimes it would be better to call a robber baron a robber baron and be done with it.
The innovation of informing this labor history with environmental history brings a new perspective for the reader--or this reader, anyway. I highly recommend this book
Most "massacre" sites in the Great Plains are from the campaigns to remove the Indians. One exception is the Ludlow Massacre site, just off I-25 between the Colorado cities of Trinidad and Pueblo, snug against the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. There, the "massacre" occurred during a labor war -- "America's Deadliest Labor War" -- between coal miners and coal mine operators (of which the largest was owned by the Rockefellers). Ludlow was a tent city erected by the United Mine Workers union to house miners and their families after they had been evicted from company towns for going out on strike. On April 20, 1914, Colorado National Guardsmen (most of whom had only recently been guards for the mining companies) surrounded the Ludlow tent city. There is no consensus about what started the shooting, but by day's end there were nineteen dead -- one militiaman and eighteen coal miners and family members, including two women and eleven children. That touched off a ten-day "war", in which miners went on a destructive rampage, killing and attacking mines and company towns. The fighting stopped when President Wilson sent in Federal troops. The strike itself ended when the UMW ran out of money. All told, from the beginning of the strike in September 1913 to its end in December 1914, the death toll was between seventy-five and one hundred.
KILLING FOR COAL starts and concludes with the Ludlow Massacre. In between, the book is about coal and coal mining in Colorado and about the larger conflict between labor and capital. It aims to be an environmental history and an industrial history. It aims to explore the natural world and the social, technological, and economic forces that combined to bring about the Colorado Coal War that culminated in the Ludlow Massacre. It also aims to be a new and different sort of history, and as things turned out, it was awarded the Bancroft Prize in 2009.
In the end I am somewhat ambivalent about the book. I had wanted to read about the Ludlow Massacre, and I selected KILLING FOR COAL because I thought it would provide more background than the other options. I got plenty of background -- more than I hoped for -- and I wish that there had been more detailed discussion of the Ludlow Massacre and the ten days of guerilla warfare that followed it. Nonetheless, there is considerable merit in what Thomas Andrews was trying to do in writing a broader, more comprehensive history. At times, the scope of his vision and the reach of his ambition were nigh breathtaking. Plus, Andrews is a much more colorful and skilled writer than most historians. The problem is that he overdoes things on virtually all scores.
On occasion, he claims too much. (The book "illuminates how the close study of one small area of the world can improve our understanding of processes that now pose grave threats to the well-being of our nation and our planet.") In trying to cover everything, he sometimes dwells on the obvious. ("Miners sidled up to the bars of [mine camp saloons] thirsting not simply for refreshment, but also for release from the anxiety, loneliness, and anger that mine work tended to inflict on them.") There are occasional gratuitous nods to political correctitude. (Andrews uses the pronoun "he" for a "mogul" buying coal to heat his Denver mansion, because "virtually all moguls were men".) Often Andrews gets carried away with the color and flamboyance of his prose. ("Men, women, and children had traveled a long, winding road to reach this precipice; many years of struggle and suffering seemed to drive them toward the abyss before them.") There are sentences that are goofy ("They [historical photographs of Colorado] attest to the protean nature of energy and its incredible capacity for disguise."), and others that are grandiose ("[Mining] companies unwittingly transformed disputes rooted in subterranean workscapes into an all-out struggle in which the very meaning and fate of America seemed to hang in the balance.").
The book is based on seemingly prodigious research and reading. Andrews gets considerable mileage out of the transcripts of a lengthy "man-to-man talk" the Colorado governor called between three coal company executives and three leaders of the striking miners in November 1913, transcripts inexplicably ignored by other historians. The 290 pages of text are supported by 75 pages of endnotes. There are about thirty historical photographs and four maps, all of which enhance the presentation.
Bottom line: KILLING FOR COAL is an ambitious, over-the-top history that nonetheless is worth reading if you are interested in (a) the history of coal mining and the coal industry in America, (b) the conflict between capital and labor as played out in the coal fields of Colorado, or even (c) the Ludlow Massacre.
on August 29, 2014
I had no prior knowledge of Coal Mining in Colorado. Other than the wanton slaughter of Native Americans, the destruction of their culture and the merciless slaughter of the American Bison and the incipient Gold rush damages, I had no idea of the Coal and Labor issues in the West. This book, is a treasure for someone interested in the Coal Mining industry. If the reader is interested in Big Labor, child labor and the laws and the overall destruction of a country through Industrialization, then this is a must read. I have only read the 1st chapter and I am hooked.
The book is easy to read of course, but the topic is very difficult. The terrible destruction brought about by the Coal Industry and the super wealthy owners is yet another example of greed and avarice, at the expense of everyone else. I think that this book is well written, and insightful. It is a shame that our ancestors never considered anything else but making money. Anything in the way of "progress", during the turn of the century was easily and quickly explained away. The destruction of an entire culture, the eradication of countless species of animals, 3.7 billion Passenger Pigeons shot in the open skies and child labor. American Bison shot and left to die on the American Plains.
These practices continue today, the Mining Industry continues, mostly unchecked destroying the lives of others and countless examples exist of the environmental damage that is caused by this industry, in the name of progress.
In the first few pages of this book, a young child is shot down during a Coal Strike, mules are burned alive by an angry mob, dogs are also shot during a riot. The awful things that people will do when they are driven to their worst.
It's tough reading, but well worth the effort and the historical aspect is interesting and fulfilling. I recommend the book to anyone interested in Mining history and the history of the West. What a shame that so many (Innocents) had to pay for so little in return.
on March 3, 2014
KILLING FOR COAL is a fascinating look into a part of American history that's really not well-known. It starts out with a fascinating description of how the Colorado coal fields formed millions of years ago and continues on by describing how the mining of coal revolutionized the lives of the people living in the energy-poor and hostile West, although this came at an environmental price. It also does a great job describing the lives and culture of the miners and what led to the titular strike and violence.
However, the latter part of the book doesn't live up to the promise of the prologue. The prologue discusses how the unrest spread from the miners into other sectors of the working class and how it looked like the strikers might take over the state, but that isn't really covered in the section covering the battles between the strikers and the guardsmen after the Ludlow Massacre. The battles aren't covered in great detail either. Finally, although the prologue discusses the trials of the strike organizers afterward and how various factors (including anti-Communism and even a period of dominance by the Klan) "encouraged" the miners to forget how they'd outright defeated the state government, there is almost nothing about the aftermath. Considering how well-done the early parts of the book are, this is a major missed opportunity.
Still, it's a very informative book and definitely worth a read.
on February 17, 2009
This intricately crafted yet eminently readable book pulls together labor history, environmental history, social history, and economic history to reshape how we should think about extractive industry in the West. We should not ignore coal and other fossil fuels; we should not ignore the environmental causes and consequences of our labors and labor problems; we should not forget the humanity-and hubris--of all sides of ideological and economic fights. Andrews brings a love of Colorado to a work of deep historical rigor and will please western history buffs and more theoretically-inclined folks alike.
on February 9, 2014
The author has encapsulated numerous social and economic conditions into a coherent chronicle of life struggling to exist both in and above the coal mines for the men and their families. It is a griping study of the truth in the social and environmental history of a labor struggle. The author's probes the origins of fossil fuel dependency in the American West, the role of workplace environments in shaping mine worker solidarity, and the coalescence of migrant laborers from many nations into a fighting force which culminates in spiraling violence between coal miners and mining companies during the Ludlow Massacre and Colorado Coalfield War of 1913-14.
"Killing for Coal" tells the history of the industrial conflicts that gripped Colorado's coalfields in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It's an excellent history, well-written, well-illustrated, and filled with sharp observations about the work of coal-mining and the nefarious methods employed by coal companies to break miners' unions. I took off one star only because the narrative loses focus at several points, as when it meditates on the culture of corporate paternalism or the implications of minerals-intensive energy consumption for human society.
on July 2, 2009
KFC is an intriguing look at both the economic and social development of Colorado and the West during the latter part of the 19th century. The centerpiece of the novel is the Ludlow Massacre which was one of the nation's bloodiest labor strikes. The story takes you from the massacre through the events that led up to it including a concerted plan by industry owners to obtain, regulate, and extract not only the minerals from the earth, but the labor producing their wealth. Although Andrew's analysis of coal mining and capitalism in Colorado provides much insight at times it belabors the point. This is most certainly a must reader for the armchair historian or anyone interested in labor/economic history, but it is difficult for the casual reader.
on November 17, 2014
This book arrived when promised and was free shipping with Prime. It was in very good condition and included the original dust cover. It was from a public library and was stamped that it was no longer property of the library. That was good since it couldn't be mistaken for a stolen book. It had some minor wear, as was expected. This book was just for recreational reading, therefore some cosmetic issues were not a problem. I am completely satisfied with my purchase.
on May 24, 2009
For those interested in the historical (i.e. social, economic, political, and technical) aspects of Southern Colorado coal mining in the early 1900s, Thomas Andrews "Killing for Coal: America's Deadliest Labor War" is a good read.
"If you would understand anything, observe its beginning and its development."