A fascinating chronicle of a vanished industry and a commodity which was once essential to every aspect of life in Britain. The history spans the opening of the first coal mines and finishes with the decline of the industry. If you already know British history then some of the information won’t be new to you, but it gains new context here, demonstrating how coal, this dirty rock which caused so much human misery and polluted the environment, was a vitally important factor in the development of the country. Coal and the mining of it may be old-fashioned and something we prefer not to think about, but it mustn’t be forgotten.
The book is a grim read, with its details of horrific mining accidents, the working conditions, disputes, deadly smogs and exploitation. It also reinforces the usual way of business and profit being prioritised over welfare, safety and the environment. I was surprised to read that these concerns began very early in the coal industry, even pre-dating the Industrial Revolution, but I suppose that like the international slave trade, it was too profitable for the people in power to let morality triumph over money-making.
I found the writing style to be generally readable although the economic bits were a little dry and there were some odd figurative phrases. Paxman’s trademark acerbic observations, particularly of politicians, are in evidence. The book includes notes, illustrations and an index.
In summary, a very informative and worthwhile read, although the content is depressing and you may wish to read something light-hearted afterwards to try and clear the smog from your brain.
Published in 2021.