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Black Gold: The History of How Coal Made Britain

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Told through the stories of real people, Paxman's history travels to Wales and the North of England, where communities were built on mining; to the industrial revolution; to the families who profited on coal and remain the richest in the country; to the beginnings of time and coal's geological formation; to the great tragedies such as Aberfan; to the picket lines of the miners' strike; to the formation and fruition of the Labour party. Failing to know the role of diamond mining in South Asia is perhaps a very minor point, but failure to understand the British Empire’s relation to Africa is more serious.

He does not pull his punches when describing the great wealth accumulated by land owners who were lucky enough to find the black gold on their land and the sufferings imposed on the workforce. And all of it thanks to the legions of men who travelled into the earth to hew the ‘black gold’ by hand. The involvement and descriptions of the politicians that are part of the story of coal are dealt with in a very Paxmanesque style and I loved this. And then we come to the most dreadful woman in Britain's political history and her brutal vindictive and duplicitous behaviour is starkly brought into the light.Despite such a lack of broader knowledge of nineteenth-century history and her salting her pages with jargon, Miller has a great many interesting and informative things to say about the fiction she discusses.

It describes how the closure of almost all pits in the 1980s and 1990s meant the end of the social institutions that had been built around the mines. This was a great read and whilst Britain’s dominance in the Industrial revolution was based on coal for which we are grateful I feel annoyed that miners were an ignored underclass with such a poor deal. This means, in particular, that they lay a heavy emphasis on the report that Nicholas Ridley (later a minister in the Thatcher government) drew up in 1977 for tackling strikes in nationalised industries, extracts of which were leaked to the press. Many of his most vivid descriptions, however, are of unbearable suffering, as he tells the stories of some of the worst coal-mining disasters. By the middle of the nineteenth century, great numbers of British citizens were for the first time able to see what they were doing after sunset.Jeremy Paxman is quite an old man now and apparently has health problems but, in my opinion, it is still better to have the book read by him than anyone else. Laced with Paxman's trademark acerbic wit and corruscating thumbnail sketches of the great and good. Paxman organizes Black Coal by first explaining how coal and steam power developed, after which he devotes a great deal of space to the terrible working conditions of the miners and mine disasters that killed hundreds of people. It wasn't an exhaustive history and some aspects were dwelt on for longer than others - naval developments had much more coverage than railways and I was surprised that the traditional birthplace of the industrial revolution in Shropshire didn't get much of a mention.

Jeremy Paxman's book examines the important role coal played in Great Britain's history, making us a rich country whilst making the landowners on whose land the coal was located rich in turn. Most purchases from business sellers are protected by the Consumer Contract Regulations 2013 which give you the right to cancel the purchase within 14 days after the day you receive the item. He talks candidly about the many diseaters that have befallen the coal industry and paints miners as heroes of the land.There is overall sympathy for the workers and the exploitative owners are shown in their true colours. Sure, “steam made it possible to mechanise almost anything, from spinning and weaving, through the manufacture of wire, ships and needles, to the threshing of corn, the tanning of leather and the folding of envelopes. I interpret literary form and genre as signals for habits of mind and ways of thinking about the world that have material causes as well as long-term effects” (2-3). The one criticism I will level at Paxman is that he's political views can sometimes become all too clear I think he should have taken a more neutral view at times. Unlike Paxman, Miller, who is writing a work of literary criticism interspersed with an environmental polemic, rarely explains any positive effects of coal and steam, so for most of the book it seems solely an example of exploitive capitalism with benefits solely for the very few.

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