Considerable human interest in a well-explored story of strip mining.


An investigative reporter visits the beautiful Appalachian mountains—a little less beautiful than before—and reports just what King Coal has done in the name of energy and, of course, profit.

One of the best things about West Virginia and its neighbors is the terrain, which sits atop a great coalfield. Mining the rich lodes underground is much less efficient than strip mining, so mountains are decapitated to acquire the preferred bituminous coal beneath. The hills and hollows of Coal River Valley are devastated: In addition to coal, mountaintop blasting produces toxic slurry and lakes of sludge together with denuded ancient hardwood forests, displaced animals, dead fish and sick children, some even in danger of black lung disease. In an absorbing tale that echoes the age-old struggle of miners against management, Vanity Fair muckraker Shnayerson (The Killers Within: The Deadly Rise of Drug-Resistant Bacteria, 2002, etc.) portrays an angry citizenry united to fight the area’s biggest polluter, Massey Energy, and its arrogant, hated CEO. Helping the bad guys make molehills out of the Appalachians are the EPA, the Army Corps of Engineers, lazy bureaucrats and judges beholden to the coal interests. Corporate minions redraw maps, blast without notice and destroy the ecosystem without governmental hindrance. Underpinned by a bit of pertinent history and basic ecology, the narrative is instructive, lucidly tracking legal maneuvers and courtroom confrontations. Especially well depicted are the aroused locals, stalwart, stubborn people allied with an odd hedge-fund operator and some bright, energetic lawyers against the clever, wealthy boss of Massey. Now, the author concludes, the good guys have to hold on for a while longer until a new administration (of either party) proves itself willing to let the law prevail.

Considerable human interest in a well-explored story of strip mining.

Pub Date: Jan. 15, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-374-12514-1

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2007

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Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...


A psychologist and Nobel Prize winner summarizes and synthesizes the recent decades of research on intuition and systematic thinking.

The author of several scholarly texts, Kahneman (Emeritus Psychology and Public Affairs/Princeton Univ.) now offers general readers not just the findings of psychological research but also a better understanding of how research questions arise and how scholars systematically frame and answer them. He begins with the distinction between System 1 and System 2 mental operations, the former referring to quick, automatic thought, the latter to more effortful, overt thinking. We rely heavily, writes, on System 1, resorting to the higher-energy System 2 only when we need or want to. Kahneman continually refers to System 2 as “lazy”: We don’t want to think rigorously about something. The author then explores the nuances of our two-system minds, showing how they perform in various situations. Psychological experiments have repeatedly revealed that our intuitions are generally wrong, that our assessments are based on biases and that our System 1 hates doubt and despises ambiguity. Kahneman largely avoids jargon; when he does use some (“heuristics,” for example), he argues that such terms really ought to join our everyday vocabulary. He reviews many fundamental concepts in psychology and statistics (regression to the mean, the narrative fallacy, the optimistic bias), showing how they relate to his overall concerns about how we think and why we make the decisions that we do. Some of the later chapters (dealing with risk-taking and statistics and probabilities) are denser than others (some readers may resent such demands on System 2!), but the passages that deal with the economic and political implications of the research are gripping.

Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our minds.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-27563-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.


“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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