ST. CLAIR: A Nineteenth. Century Coal Town's Experience With a Disaster-Prone Industry by Anthony F.C. Wallace

ST. CLAIR: A Nineteenth. Century Coal Town's Experience With a Disaster-Prone Industry

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A detailed recreation of St. Clair, a 19th-century Pennsylvania coal town in the anthracite region, by the Bancroft-Award-winning Wallace (Anthropology/Univ. of Pa.), author of Rockdale and The Death and Rebirth of the Seneca. Wallace is an American Braudel who sees great social import in the exposition of microcosmic groupings. Here, little St. Clair becomes a mirror for all the follies and foibles of 19th-century American industrialism. Though populated by only 6,000, several historically interesting people lived there and owned and operated its mines, leaving many records in their wake for delvers such as Wallace. The region itself--484 square miles in northeast Pennsylvania--contained most of the world's anthracite. The tragedy, documented here, is that the region was also the first to suffer economic decline that ""eventually closed down almost all anthracite mining everywhere."" The story Wallace tells is a tragedy of short-sighted American entrepreneurs bossing mostly English, Welsh, and Irish miners, ""ignoring the warnings of scientists, disregarding the principles of best practice, deluded by a mythology they and their friends had created,"" until finally they ""had ruined themselves and decimated the communities around them."" The area was the site of the first successful miners' union (the Workman's Benevolent Association), as well as one of the prime loci of the infamous ""Molly Maguire"" trials born of Anglo-Irish hostility. All of this is related in a manner that focuses on the day-to-day participants--owners and miners--and that leaves the impression that any one character could serve in their own right as a subject for a book. So much more than anthropology--a first-rate history that captures a whole society in freeze-frame.

Pub Date: Aug. 20th, 1987
Publisher: Knopf