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Reckoning at Eagle Creek: The Secret Legacy of Coal in the Heartland Hardcover – January 26, 2010

4.2 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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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From Booklist

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

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Nation Books; First Edition, 1st Printing edition (January 26, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1568584210
  • ISBN-13: 978-1568584218
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,938,934 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
As the Prophet Isaiah queried: "What will you do on the Day of Reckoning, when evil comes from afar?"

Having just completed my first reading of Jeff Biggers' masterfully crafted, meticulously researched "Reckoning At Eagle Creek," I am left feeling nigh-breathless at the scope of the evil that came from afar and visited a nigh-Biblical plague upon people in the form of the heartache, sickness and grim Death that always serves as the handmaiden of coal. Such a sensation is fitting, I suppose, for a book that recounts the history of the thousands of human beings rendered breathlessly mute by the ravages of Black Lung, slate falls, mine explosions, poisoned waters, blasted hills, choked valleys, murdered workers and whole communities literally blown off the map in the merciless, ceaseless quest for the Holy Profit of Coal.

Jeff Biggers has crafted out of family history and regional history an honest, unblinking reckoning of the costs paid by a nation and, indeed, a world for what we have been assured by the industry for more than a century is "cheap" coal. Mr. Biggers proves in the pages of "Reckoning At Eagle Creek" that the only way to see coal as "cheap" is to view the lives, history and heritage consumed in its acquisition as being even cheaper still.

"Reckoning At Eagle Creek" is the manifestation of one man's quest for understanding of where our dependence on the nastiest fuel form on the planet has taken us and where that path ultimately leads. That quest is neither fanciful nor mythical. It is rock-hard and bone-real. With its publication, "Reckoning At Eagle Creek" becomes an immediately necessary resource for anyone who seeks to understand the ever-increasing toll we all pay for "cheap" coal, for "cheap" electricity, for "cheap" heat.
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By EMom on March 30, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
How can such a heartbreaking story be such a pleasure to read? The use of language is as lovely and rich as the landscape that's destroyed for the sake of greed. Our grandchildren and great grandchildren will read this book and wonder how we could rape, pillage, and plunder the place and the people for cheap coal and maximum "profit".
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This is the third of the books I have read over the past few years about the coal industry's less than positive contribution to our lives. I have yet to see a pro-coal book interesting enough to pick up, but what is there to learn? Coal is cheap and plentiful to one degree or another, and most of us do enjoy our electrically powered computers, appliances, climate control, etc.

This book is different from Big Coal and Lost Mountain because Biggers has a personal, ancestral connection to the area around Eagle Creek that has now been strip mined for coal. This book is as much a recounting of his search for the past as it is a treatise on the problems of coal mining and burning. Yet, it is not without its insights: notably, Biggers exposes the links between coal and legal or tolerated slavery in Illinois long after the state was declared "free," and he discusses with disdain the history of this idea of "clean coal" (FutureGen is not the first technology described as such).

My love of mountains and the coal industry's love of removing mountaintops to get to the coal underneath in the least expensive way possible do not seem compatible, nor am I impressed when hiking around a strip mine reclaimed into a half-hearted state park. However, Illinois coal is supposed to be pretty uncontroversial other than its high sulfur content (which FutureGen would supposedly solve). Reckoning at Eagle Creek shows that coal mining does not need to involve mountaintop removal or carbon dioxide emissions to be disturbing and harmful.
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So far I'm enjoying the history of Eagle Creek and the coal legacy here in the Midwest. Jeff is an amazing author, and you feel like you have gone back in time to when the explorers first discovered coal and what it could do. The saddest parts have been about his family loosing their land to unscrupulous Coal corporations/Developers, and their adept way of spinning it all so that initially these trusting people thought they were doing the "Right Thing." I've dealt with these Corporate Vampires as well, and it's hard to imagine that people like this exist-yet they do, and seem to thrive on the lies they spin! Even if you are not an Activist/Environmentalist, you should read Jeff's book just so you can better understand what has become of our country. This shines a light on Corporate Greed and how it's all intertwined with the downfall of America as we've known it.
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I was so grateful to find Jeff Biggers' book while doing research for my novel set in Eagle Creek. Mr. Biggers and I share a common heritage: our ancestors were born and raised in Eagle Creek. My own grandpa's farm was just down the way from his family's--that is, before it was blown off the side of the hill during strip mining operations. Although I was familiar with the area (I was born in nearby Eldorado, but grew up elsewhere), I had no idea of what has been going on down there, and I totally bought in to the "clean coal" line. I had always assumed that coal mining, for all its ugliness, was of tremendous benefit as employers of so many people. Until I read Reckoning at Eagle Creek, I hadn't realized that coal companies are co-conspirators in the region's economic ruin.

The blinders are off, and I shed tears and tears realizing that the rape that beautiful place--including Grandpa Woods' farm--brought so little good. I was much more comfortable in my ignorance, thank you very much, Mr. Biggers. But thank you for showing and telling us the story of Eagle Creek.

Deborah Heal, author of Every Hill and Mountain.
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