REVIEWS FROM THE REV: “Coal: a human history” by Barbara Freese.

What a neat book from a woman who was working in government in Minnesota, and wanted to know where her electricity was coming from.  The result is a concise and illuminating history of how coal came to be the fuel that powered our industrial revolution.

The short moral of this story is that we would not be where we are today without coal.  Burning wood and charcoal got us only so far, and was running out.  Coal was a vast storehouse of ancient solar energy buried beneath the ground that we humans, once we got it figured out, learned to exploit in pretty amazing ways.

Of course, as Bill McKibben points out, a properly functioning coal-fired electricity-generating coal-fired plant is an operation that is killing us and our environment even as it operates exactly as it was designed to do.

But this book is not a polemic.  It’s a clear-eyed appreciation of the realities of burning that much coal and releasing that much stored carbon.  The power coal has given us is astounding, but so were the impacts on the lives of those who lived in the smoky cities of London or Pittsburgh at the turn of the century.  The problem is, we are still dependent on this fuel source.  And the more interesting revelation of this book is how our use of coal is actually increasing, even as the reality of this increase becomes ever more hidden from our view.  Because we don’t live in smoke-choked cities, it can be easy to think that the sulfur dioxide being churned out by the ton isn’t really out there.  Thanks to this book, I now know that it is.

I highly recommend this book.  It is a charming — yet sober — blend of historical anecdote, geologic history, human inventiveness and popular science.  You’ll be a better human for having read it!

The rev gives it four Dimetrodons out of four!

 

 

 

 

t.n.s.r. bob

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