Saturday, September 11, 2010

King Coal by Upton Sinclair

I am a huge fan of Upton Sinclair. The muckraker of the early twentieth century wrote a number of books causing great change in our country. Among these, none was greater than his unveiling the truths of Chicago's meat packing industry through The Jungle. I have since devoured other Sinclair books like Oil! (the excellent book behind the not-so-great movie There Will Be Blood).

The format of King Coal is very similar to the plot of Oil!. It's protagonist, Hal, leaves behind his wealthy family to understand the labors of working men while sympathizing greatly with the laborers who otherwise have no voice. Hal leads the effort to unionize the work force while an underground explosion results in a great mine tragedy.

As a reader, I was drawn to the plight of the workers as I recognized how they are exploited by the companies. There was no concern for the workers' safety ("Damn the man! Save the mules!"). Sinclair goes on to note that neither elected officials nor the unions provided the protections necessary for the men's safety and well-being.

Based on the Colorado mine strikes of 1914-1915, the situation for American miners had not much improved by the mid-1970s. While reading this book, I also watched the excellent documentary Harlan County USA. After all of this, my thoughts are with today's coal miners who continue to suffer tragedy.

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