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Killing for Coal: America's Deadliest Labor War Hardcover – October 31, 2008

4.2 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


The Ludlow Massacre of 1914 has long been known as one of the most notorious events in all of American labor history, but until the publication of Killing for Coal, it was still possible to see this slaughter simply as an episode in the history of American industrial violence. In Thomas Andrews's skilled hands, it becomes something much subtler, more complicated, and revealing: a window onto the profound transformation of work and environment that occurred on the Western mining frontier in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Anyone interested in the history of labor, the environment, and the American West will want to read this book.
--William Cronon, author of Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West

Killing for Coal is a stunning achievement. Beautifully written and masterfully researched, it stands as the definitive history of the dramatic events at Ludlow and breaks new ground in our understanding of industrialization and the environment. If I were to pick one word to describe this book, I would say, "powerful."
--Kathryn Morse, author of The Nature of Gold: An Environmental History of the Klondike Gold Rush

Killing for Coal arises from the rare and providential convergence of an extraordinary author and an extraordinary topic. With a perfect instinct for the telling detail, Thomas Andrews wields a matching talent for conveying, in crystal-clear prose, the deepest meanings of history. This is, in every sense, an illuminating book, shining light into a dark terrain of the American past and of the human soul.
--Patricia Nelson Limerick, author of The Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West

A groundbreaking work about coal and coal development, labor relations and class conflict.
--Sandra Dallas (Denver Post 2009-02-15)

Thomas G. Andrews' Killing for Coal offers an intriguing analysis of the so-called Ludlow Massacre of April 20, 1914, a watershed event in American labor history that he illuminates with a new understanding of the complexity of this conflict...Killing for Coal distinguishes itself from conventional labor histories, by going beyond sociological factors to look at the total physical environment--what Andrews calls the "workscape"--and the role it played in the lives of both labor and management...In its deft marriage of natural and social history, Killing for Coal sets a new standard for how the history of industry can and should be written.
--Emily F. Popek (PopMatters 2009-01-30)

A stunning debut, full of insight into the role of labor and class not just in southern Colorado, but across the country. (Denver Westword 2009-03-27)

Andrews brings a 21st-century approach to this once-troubled landscape where the region's voracious need for fuel trumped the rights and independence of the men who dragged it out of the ground.
--Bob Hoover (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 2009-04-19)

Killing for Coal is far more than a blow-by-blow account of America's deadliest labor war. It is an environmental history that seeks to explain strike violence as the natural excretion of an industry that brutalized the earth and the men who worked beneath it. Andrews is one of the excellent young scholars who have given new life to the field of labor and working-class studies by introducing new questions about race and gender, ethnicity and nationality, and new insights drawn from anthropology and physical geography...Andrews deserves credit for writing one of the best books ever published on the mining industry and its environmental impact and for drawing more public attention to the Ludlow story and its significance.
--James Green (Dissent 2009-05-01)

Andrews does an excellent job of placing the massacre in the larger context of both previous labor strife in the area and the violent reprisals that armed bands of miners launched on mine owners, strikebreakers, and militia men in response to the deaths at Ludlow. One of the great strengths of Andrews's account is his integration of environmental history into his narrative at all levels, and not just as an afterthought. The book is as much a history of coal, coal mining, and the reshaping of Colorado's environment as it is a history of the Great Coalfield War of 1914.
--A. M. Berkowitz (Choice 2009-04-01)

About the Author

“In its deft marriage of natural and social history, Killing for Coal sets a new standard for how the history of industry can and should be written.”
—Emily F. Popek, PopMatters.com

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 408 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; 1 edition (October 31, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674031016
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674031012
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #897,284 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Gregory M. Miller on February 11, 2009
Format: Hardcover
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
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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.
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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.
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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.
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