Puts the human faces of dozens of miners their kinfolk on a grave mining disaster. (5 b&w photos, not seen)



Paperback true-crime author Olsen thoroughly combs the Sunshine Mine fire of 1972, a disaster that claimed 91 lives, for both the terrible facts and the human interest.

In a hardrock silver mine such as Sunshine, he writes, fire was an unlikely hazard. So when wisps of smoke began to work their way through the shafts, it didn’t alarm the miners, who thought it was probably a small flare-up that would soon dissipate. That would not be the case, Olsen reveals in this near blow-by-blow account. The smoke soon became thick as sludge and was followed by a sharp spike in carbon monoxide, a few good whiffs of which dropped the miners where they stood. This carefully braided story weaves profiles of the men—hard and bitten as nails, fiercely loyal, and, though wise to the ways of rock under intense pressure, not exactly cautionary by nature—into the chronicle of the disaster’s progress. An evacuation got half of the them to the surface, but many of their brethren suffocated in poisonous gas. Astonishingly, two men way down at 4,800 feet survived for a week after they found a clear patch with water. Nasty scapegoating of the men by the mine owners and the Bureau of Mines ignored the fact that the principal culprit was a flammable urethane foam already banned in England. Olsen’s narrative is brisk and often grim: “One crewman had to puncture a corpse with a pick to drain the gases and fluids so it could be put into the bag.” Wisely, however, he chooses not to whip the morbidity into a froth. He also details the consoling, positive fallout from the tragedy: the creation of the first federal agency solely responsible for mine safety and an array of new rules to preclude the obvious failures at play in the Sunshine incident.

Puts the human faces of dozens of miners their kinfolk on a grave mining disaster. (5 b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Feb. 8, 2005

ISBN: 0-609-61016-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2004

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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