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Last Man Out: The Story of the Springhill Mine Disaster Hardcover – April 1, 2003

4.5 out of 5 stars 24 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

On October 23, 1958, gases from deep within the earth shot skyward, causing entire floors of rock to rise instantly in a coal mine in Springhill, Nova Scotia, trapping 174 men underground. Seventy-five miners never made it out alive. Miraculously, two small groups of miners survived the initial "bump" but were sealed in small caverns deep within the coal. Surrounded by foul air and total darkness, and with precious little food and water, the men vacillated between optimism and hopelessness as they tried to maintain sanity amidst horrific conditions. Above them, fellow miners and rescue workers dug desperately to get them out, clinging to the unwritten Miner's Code that no man shall be left behind. After a week of digging and with hope all but exhausted, they found one group of a dozen miners; a day later seven more men were discovered. Melissa Fay Greene describes this harrowing ordeal in sharp detail, effectively capturing the drama of the event for both the miners trapped below and their distraught families waiting above.

Placing the event into a larger context, Greene describes how it became the first nationally televised disaster, as journalists from all over Canada and the U.S. converged on the small town and camped at the entrance of the mine. After their rescue, the men were the center of media attention, and some of them became instant celebrities (one was chosen as Canada's "Citizen of the Year"; another became a spokesman for 7-Up soda). She also details the bizarre episode in which an assistant to the governor of Georgia tried to spin the disaster into a marketing gimmick to promote tourism. To the segregationist governor's chagrin, one of the rescued miners turned out to be black, presenting him with a potential public relations nightmare. Though her use of fictionalized dialogue between the miners is sometimes distracting, Greene's extensive research brings this remarkable story to life, making Last Man Out an absorbing re-creation of a forgotten episode. --Shawn Carkonen

From Publishers Weekly

The mining disaster that killed 75 men in Nova Scotia in 1958 is rich terrain for a good yarn, but Greene's book about the miners who survived and those who didn't comes up short. Her research is adequate, but surprisingly, NBA finalist Greene fails to bring this tale to life. In re-creating the events leading up to and following the catastrophe, imagined dialogue rings inauthentic: that miners gathered around a colleague with a mile of rock pinning his arm down exclaim, Oh my God, oh my God, and Oh Jesus, oh Jesus, seems a tad polite, even for 1950s Canada. Similarly, the author's overreliance on exclamation points in dialogue forces tension and excitement. As well, the miner subculture isn't effectively captured, and the buildup to the explosion, known as the Bump, is bereft of suspense. The story gets interesting after the rescue of 19 men, who are subsequently exploited by various factions, including the media and the public relations aide to a segregationist U.S. governor, who arranges to fly the survivors and their families to a beach resort the governor's state is looking to promote. The presumed PR goes horribly awry when it's learned that one miner is black, as are his 12 children. Greene (Praying for Sheetrock; Temple Bombing) does prove successful in her fascinating narrative on this miner an amateur musician known as the Singing Miner and Canada's Citizen of the Year in 1958. But sadly, his is the only head that Greene succeeds in getting into.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1 edition (April 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0151005591
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151005598
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,279,022 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on April 1, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This book was a terrific read. It is a story of 19 men who are trapped in a coal mine in Springhill, Novia Scotia, when a "bump" occurs: a huge force of gas from deep in the earth which pushes the floor of the mine tunnels to the ceiling timbers, crushing equipment like toys and killing over a hundred miners. It is also the story of the families of the miners, segregation in the state of Georgia, the choices made by politicians and their advisors, post-traumatic stress of survivors, and how individual lives are affected by having the spotlight of fame shone of them for a brief period of time. At its heart, "Last Man Out" is a human tale of courage, honor and decency in the face of natural and manmade adversity. I finished the book in two sittings, needing to know if these men would be liberated from their dark prison of coal and how their wives and children would survive.
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Format: Hardcover
The book of Melissa Fay Greene is a wonderfully written, thoughtful description and analysis of an extreme situation: a disaster that strikes an entire town. What I love about the book is that it presents very difficult situations in a compassionate, yet totally true and honest way. The book is based on extensive research and interviews, and the author allows the men who were trapped underground in the mine collapse to speak with their own words, making their suffering and lives very distinct and understandable. Yet the voice of the author is also clearly heard in the book and she draws conclusions from these individual stories, conclusions about the nature of heroism, communal reactions to catastrophes, the solitude of dying. These conclusions are never ponderous: Melissa Fay Greene never preaches or behaves like "senior analysts" we are besieged with. Her reasoning is woven into the story, and she is a superb story-teller. She writes with such a talent and taste for language and words, that every page is a delight to read. This is a book that made me cry, laugh, and think. I recommend it to all readers.
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By A Customer on August 18, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Ever since I visited the anthracite region of Pennsylvania, I have been looking for a really good book about mining accidents. I wanted to know more about how men survive such an ordeal, and what motivates those who risk their lives to save those who are trapped. So, I was thrilled when I saw in my local bookstore a book on the Springhill Mining Disaster. Even better, it was written by the same author as "Praying for Sheetrock", a book I had read while traveling throughout the east coast of Georgia. I couldn't believe my luck.
When I brought the book home, I was surprised to see that the story took place in Nova Scotia. It's a bit embarrassing to say, but I am Canadian and didn't know anything about this story, except perhaps a vague sense that maybe I'd heard it mentioned before on CBC Radio or something. I was also excited to see that it discussed the history of Jekyll Island, a resort area in Georgia that I had stayed at last year and found very interesting.
I still find it hard to believe that the author could have hit such a bulls-eye for my own reading interests - mining, Southern U.S. history, Canadian Maritime history - and interweave them so beautifully and in such an interesting way. It was a truly fascinating book. In some ways, it reminded me of "Into Thin Air" by Jon Krakaueur, particularly in the way the groups handled their situation, and in how they reacted afterward. These are painful stories, with different interpretations of what happened, and people's feelings are bound to be hurt with any media coverage (as happened in both cases). I was also reminded of the fictional characters in "No Great Mischief" by Alistair MacLeod, one of my favourite books of all time - a book set partly in the mines of Northern Ontario.
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By A Customer on April 29, 2003
Format: Hardcover
These are the times that try men's souls--and men and women alike look to literature to buoy us up for the dark days that seem to keep coming. Thus, overturned cruise ships and volcanoes abound, but for my money you can do no better than pick up Last Man Out; The Story of the Springhill Mine Disaster. Melissa Fay Greene has written more than a gripping hour-by-hour account of how, in 1958, 19 Canadian miners struggled to survive after a "bump" smashed floor and ceiling together, rendering the mine an underground prison. She takes a story that we think we've all seen before---the desparate, waiting women and children, the little town banding together, the media carnival that follows their miraculous rescue--and with nuanced language and a gift
for uncovering human folly, steers us to look beyond the tale
of disaster into its implications in the larger world. With Greene's book, we think not just about terror and bravery but what happens to heroes once the cameras finally turn off. Who is this book for? Well, definitely my book club, and Father's Day,
but now I'm thinking Mother's Day as well. It's that universally appealing, that compelling a read, that good.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The basic facts of this book's content - the event surrounding the Spring Hill Mine rescue have been covered in other reviews and I will not waste time rehashing them yet again. Instead I would like to focus upon the less obvious gems within this book that in my opinion transend the amzing story of survival.

Melissa Green takes the reader on a journey not just into a coal mine, but into life in this working class town in 1958. The families, the marriages and the race relations all form a familiar image for those who like myself lived in or near the same time frame(in my case as a child) except that this book provided me an understanding of my parent's world. While my father wasn't a miner or ever a manual laborer nevertheless the men of the mine matched up with faces and families of those I grew up with in a world long lost to history. Of solid men who took care of their families, saved, and yet know how to have fun.

Beyond that personal appeal the medium of the story takes us with the trapped men and allows us to expereince their empotions. Somehow inspite of the fact we know it is coming the disaster seems as fresh and unexpected as it was to the men who also knew that some day there would be the "big one" and prayed they wouldn't be inside when it happened.

The aftermath leaves the reader choking on coal dust and shaken by the sight of crushed men whom they have just gotten to know. Unlike some writers the author doesn't pretty it up and the all the horror and mental trauma of the men is ours to share. We also share through the men's thoughts, thoughts of children and the future they now realize they will never see, thoughts of wives whom they will never hold and the constant and never ending question of what will it be like when death comes?
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