Royce (Country Miles Are Longer than City Miles, 2006) looks at the glory days of uranium mining in the American West.
The author draws on black-and-white images from a never-before-published 1970s photo essay by photographer Martin about Utah’s uranium mines to takes readers on a journey through the history of uranium mining. The book covers its early days—before the properties of radiation were discovered around the turn of the 20th century—as well as the industry’s heyday in the 1940s, when the demands of the Manhattan Project and the fledgling nuclear industry meant a booming market for every ton of ore the mines could produce. The book includes an oral history from Brenda Migliaccio, the daughter of a prominent mining family, as well as anecdotes from others in the industry. The text is illustrated with evocative images of the mines’ stark environment, and the author describes an engaging world, full of classic Old West characters and a handful of East Coast and European scientists who supplied the theoretical knowledge that made the miners’ finds so valuable. Several times, the author includes a story about a possibly apocryphal visit from Marie Curie, and it’s a tale that’s clearly important to local residents, even if, according to the author, it can’t be confirmed in the historical record. The book would likely have benefited from a stronger edit, as frequent grammatical errors and flowery prose drag down the narrative. The book’s subject, however, is an intriguing and specialized one, and this history will likely find a receptive audience among historians and enthusiasts of the Four Corners region. The author’s passion for his topic, and his desire to see this story told, is evident throughout.
A blend of oral history, natural history and travelogue that brings an oft-forgotten corner of the West to life.