From Publishers Weekly
Journalist Biggers tallies up the human cost of more than two centuries of coal mining in southern Illinois in an intimate, informative yet uneven book. Part historical narrative, part family memoir, part pastoral paean, and part jeremiad against the abuse of the land and of the men who gave and continue to give their lives to (and often for) the mines, the book puts a human face on the industry that supplies nearly half of America's energy. Biggers excavates the history beneath the homestead at Eagle Creek where his family lived for eight generations. The displacement of the indigenous Shawnee, the hidden legacy of slavery, the bitter and bloody conflicts between miners and their bosses, and the environmental devastation wrought by the mines are detailed as part and parcel of the region's coal-mining history—a history obliterated along with the mountaintops and clean streams scraped away by the miners' steam shovels. Written in a personal and poetic style, the book suffers from poor organization, but it offers a rare historical perspective on the vital yet little considered industry, along with a devastating critique of the myth of clean coal. (Feb.)
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Ancestrally connected to hilly southern Illinois, Biggers combines memoir with labor and environmental history in this portrait of the region. Coal-rich, it has been extensively strip-mined; endowed with salt, it drew American settlers in the early 1800s, Biggers’ forebears among them. As a returning native, Biggers writes of his reconnection to the area through locally significant people, among them a man whose project is to revive the Shawnee presence, which permits Biggers to delve into the history of Indian expulsion from what is now the Shawnee National Forest and environs. Meeting others dedicated to preserving local history, such as a publisher of a local magazine, gives Biggers his entrée to places and stories pertinent to the history of Illinois’ coal-mining industry. Alighting upon union organizers such as Mother Jones (whose grave is in Illinois), strikes, mining accidents, and sundry operations of mining companies, the author lists his many grievances with the coal-mining industry, both for past actions and for future plans, which generates stylistic energy that will impress readers of labor history and contemporary opponents of coal mining. --Gilbert Taylor