COAL: The Rock That Burns by Walter Hatter

COAL: The Rock That Burns

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About the only distinction this humdrum book can claim is that it attempts to work in some industrial history, but it does that poorly too. Harter's history of coal-use, his descriptions of coal-formation, the various kinds, and their mining (the first four chapters) are wordy and repetitive; the slightly unusual, potentially interesting subject of peat remains obscure in the absence of photos (the design and illustration are mediocre throughout); the book runs to dime-store awe (in twelve lines: ""mysteries,"" ""wonders,"" ""marvels,"" ""riddles"") and hackneyed figurations (typically, a coke oven ""could be a scene from Dante's Inferno""). More seriously, while the perils of mining are identified, we're told that they've been ameliorated by unspecified ""better safety laws"" and--flatly too--that ""Deep-pit mining can never be completely safe."" But it's the history of mine labor that's most wanting. The account of the Molly Maguires begins with their terrorist activities, maintains that ""the average miner was appalled,"" treats the infiltrator who brought them down as a hero--and, while acknowledging the justice of their cause, never mentions the injustices committed in suppressing them (including the doubt that the second ten hanged were guilty as charged). And, recounting the growth of the UMW, Harter has the union winning strikes without saying why they were striking or what (the eight-hour day, the health and welfare fund, etc.) they gained. Incompetent and unreliable.

Pub Date: April 30th, 1979
Publisher: Elsevier/Nelson