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« The Price of Motherhood, by Ann Crittenden | Main | My Local Zoning Board: Conflicts of Interest »


Big Coal, by Jeff Goodell

By an everyday book reader
June 1, 2007

Coal is hot. Press accounts hail it as "the energy of our future." Given the recent assertions made by the Bush administration, it would seem that coal is a glistening new energy alternative, the answer to the current oil crisis.

Few of us realize that coal is already one of America's biggest and most influential industries: "Big Coal" provides more than half of the electricity consumed by Americans today. Every time we flip a light switch or turn on the television, we burn a lump of coal. And coal's dominance is growing. The problem, Jeff Goodell points out in the eye-opening call to action, is that on close examination, the glowing promise of coal quickly turns to ash.

Coal mining practices are setting us up for economic and environmental catastrophes.

Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America's Energy Future
by Jeff GoodellBook Picture

Softcover: 352 pages
ISBN: 9780618872244, 0618872248
Houghton Mifflin
April 2007

Forty percent of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere each year comes from coal-fired power plants, and pollution from these plants has killed more than half a million Americans in the last two decades. But we've become so complacent about our energy future that we haven't invested in alternatives. In this essential work, Goodell clearly explains how we got here and discusses how we can get out.

"It's hard to write a lively book about the coal industry, but Goodell, a Rolling Stone contributing editor and the author of Our Story, a book about a 2002 mine accident, has managed to pull it off. His evocative prose carries the narrative from rural West Virginia to the Georgia state legislature and a small Chinese village, with plenty of stops in between. One of his best lines: The Georgia legislative session is forty days of big hats, big bellies, and big cigars." - Juliet Eilperin - The Washington Post

Jeff Goodell is the author of the New York Times bestseller, Our Story, an account of nine Quecreek miners who were trapped underground in 2002, among other books. He is a contributing editor at Rolling Stone and is frequent contributor to the New York Times Magazine, and his work has appeared in the New Republic, Wired, and GQ.

"The United States has enjoyed a free energy ride for a century and more, and the coal companies have made out like bandits all along the way. Now the day of reckoning has come." - William Grimes - The New York Times

Television news shows tout the potential of liquid coal fuel for cars, and industry pundits cite reports that the U.S. has a 250-year supply of coal buried underground. Journalist Jeff Goodell, however, tells a different story. He agrees that coal is cheap and abundant, but he argues that it is the worst possible energy choice. He asserts that coal overheats the climate; causes grave health problems for tens of thousands of Americans; hurts our environment and our economy; and hobbles our ability to deal realistically with our energy problems. His book is well researched and vigorously argued.

"After a generation out of the spotlight, coal has reasserted its centrality: the United States 'burn[s] more than a billion tons' per year, and since 9/11 and the Iraq war, independence from foreign oil has become positively patriotic. Rolling Stone contributing editor Goodell's last book, the bestselling Our Story, was about a mine accident, which clearly made a deep impression on him. Our reliance on coal-the unspoken foundation of our 'information' economy-has, Goodell says, led to an 'empire of denial' that blocks us from the investments necessary to find alternative energy sources that could eventually save us from fossil fuel. Goodell's description of the mining-related deaths, the widespread health consequences of burning coal and the impact on our planet's increasingly fragile ecosystem make for compelling reading, but such commonplace facts are not what lift this book out of the ordinary. That distinction belongs to Goodell's fieldwork, which takes him to Atlanta, West Virginia, Wyoming, China and beyond-though he also has a fine grasp of the less tangible niceties of the industry. Goodell understands how mines, corporate boardrooms, commodity markets and legislative chambers interrelate to induce a national inertia. Goodell has a talent for pithy argument-and the book fairly crackles with informed conviction." - Publishers Weekly

Big Coal does an excellent job of exploding many of the myths about coal, and shows why our continued dependence on it is such an enormous problem. The book is a thoughtful combination of reporting and analysis.

"Enlightening and disturbing..." - Rolling Stone

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