My life was neither created nor destroyed by coal. So much of this book talks about the balance between cost and benefit/harm, but it also spends a lot of time focusing on the industries that built up around coal: iron, transportation, heating/engines. I grew up not in coal country, but adjacent to it in Virginia, where I would see thousands of coal trains over time.
The history itself focuses on the development of coal as a fuel source, it’s other more ornamental uses in history, and eventually the history of mining and use of coal to create the industrial world. Some of the scenes of innovation and early coal development, especially where they didn’t know how to get it out the ground effectively or move effectively belong in novels because they’re such curious moments, but most of this history is centered around broader questions.
Throughout, Freese uses the metaphor of the genie in the bottle, where wishes can be granted but at costs. I thought this was apt.
This is not the most thorough history book I have ever read, but it reminds me so clearly of one of my favorites Changes in the Land by William Cronin, about the ecological changes in the early years of the new world. I thought this was a minor but effective book.
It’s funny then to hear people who clearly DO have their lives wholly intertwined in the coal industry look at this as some kind of biased screed. The only negative criticism except for how small this is makes it sound like she’s tearing down coal left and right. It’s funny because she’s definitely not. She’s simply stating: here’s what coal allowed for, here’s what cost. But it does illustrate the contentiousness of the issues surrounding coal.