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Coal: A Human History (2003)

de Barbara Freese

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6041328,993 (3.72)16
The fascinating, often surprising story of how a simple black rock has altered the course of history. Prized as "the best stone in Britain" by Roman invaders who carved jewelry out of it, coal has transformed societies, powered navies, fueled economies, and expanded frontiers. It made China a twelfth-century superpower, inspired the writing of the Communist Manifesto, and helped the northern states win the American Civil War.Yet the mundane mineral that built our global economy-and even today powers our electrical plants-has also caused death, disease, and environmental destruction. As early as 1306, King Edward I tried to ban coal (unsuccessfully) because its smoke became so obnoxious. Its recent identification as a primary cause of global warming has made it a cause celebre of a new kind.In this remarkable book, Barbara Freese takes us on a rich historical journey that begins three hundred million years ago and spans the globe. From the "Great Stinking Fogs" of London to the rat-infested coal mines of Pennsylvania, from the impoverished slums of Manchester to the toxic city streets of Beijing, Coal is a captivating narrative about an ordinary substance that has done extraordinary things-a simple black rock that could well determine our fate as a species.… (mais)
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Written with enough detail to tie into the reasons for coals importance in the old and new epochs but with sufficient lightness that a general reader will find it highly entertaining. And even for a seasoned reader of technology and the world, like myself, enjoyed this wonderful book.

Some of the insights I could kick myself for not considering such as cheap fuel and sunlight on offer compared to slums, dinginess, and expensive fuel would make the US highly attractive in the pre-1900 world. ( )
  dieseltaylor | Feb 1, 2020 |
This is an interesting overview of the complex relationship between coal and humankind, how the natural resource propelled people into the industrial age and many technological advancements even as it kills with both intimate and widespread forms of poison. The focus is on the zones: Britain, western Pennsylvania, and China. Freese's approach is even-handed, blunt in her descriptions of coal as a blessing and a curse. ( )
  ladycato | Mar 27, 2018 |
From the title, I was expecting a commodity history, like some of Mark Kurlansky's excellent works about cod and about salt. This book has a little of that at the beginning, but most of it is about environmental damage and climate change. Even the role coal miners played in the union movement was barely mentioned. That said, I give the author credit for her clear, engaging writing style. ( )
  LynnB | Aug 14, 2017 |
This book actually frightened me. I constantly ignore the reality of the mistakes the world makes because the ultimate outcome scares the shit out of me. Please read. ( )
  TinaMReid | Apr 23, 2017 |
I love books that describe how a single commodity slots into and shapes human history; this book is a fabulous example of the genre. There is ample biology, geology and politics to keep the reader fascinated. A stunning read! ( )
  martensgirl | Sep 18, 2013 |
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The fascinating, often surprising story of how a simple black rock has altered the course of history. Prized as "the best stone in Britain" by Roman invaders who carved jewelry out of it, coal has transformed societies, powered navies, fueled economies, and expanded frontiers. It made China a twelfth-century superpower, inspired the writing of the Communist Manifesto, and helped the northern states win the American Civil War.Yet the mundane mineral that built our global economy-and even today powers our electrical plants-has also caused death, disease, and environmental destruction. As early as 1306, King Edward I tried to ban coal (unsuccessfully) because its smoke became so obnoxious. Its recent identification as a primary cause of global warming has made it a cause celebre of a new kind.In this remarkable book, Barbara Freese takes us on a rich historical journey that begins three hundred million years ago and spans the globe. From the "Great Stinking Fogs" of London to the rat-infested coal mines of Pennsylvania, from the impoverished slums of Manchester to the toxic city streets of Beijing, Coal is a captivating narrative about an ordinary substance that has done extraordinary things-a simple black rock that could well determine our fate as a species.

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