Review: "Killing for Coal: America's Deadliest Labor War"

Updated on February 17, 2018
Larry Slawson profile image

Larry Slawson received his Masters Degree in History at UNC Charlotte. He specializes in Russian and Ukrainian history.

Killing for Coal
Killing for Coal | Source

Synopsis

Throughout Thomas Andrews’ work, Killing for Coal: America’s Deadliest Labor War, the author explores the underlying causes and origins of the 1914 Ludlow Massacre in Colorado. Offering a unique and direct challenge to modern historiographical accounts on the subject of Ludlow, Andrews argues that the "Great Coalfield War" should not be viewed as a singular event with relatively simplistic causes (Andrews, 9). Instead, Andrews makes the point that the events at Ludlow were multifaceted and can be traced to the decades leading up to 1914; the years in which a growth in capitalism and industrialization across America created and fueled a newfound sense of social-conflict and struggle between workers and their employers.

What prompted this struggle in Colorado? Andrews demonstrates that coal served as the driving force to much of the social-strife that occurred during this time since its extraction forced workers into dangerous (and often deadly) environments, all while industries and corporations exploited their hard-labor for massive profits. Consequently, as mine-workers became more aware of corporate exploitation and the industrial negligence for both their safety and well-being, Andrews argues that the relationship between workers and their employees became tenuous, at best. After years of failed strikes led by workers to rectify these problems (as well as failures in promoting change through unionized efforts), Andrews argues that tensions between workers and their employers finally reached a high point in the early years of the twentieth-century. By 1914, these tensions finally exploded in a wave of violence and dissent, as desperate workers sought frantically to amend their poor working conditions of years past.

Do you agree with Andrews' assessment of Ludlow?

See results

Main Points

Andrews attempts to explain this growth in hostilities by chronicling the development of coal-industries from the mid-1800s to the early- twentieth-century. In doing so, not only does he explain the science behind “coalification” and the efforts of individuals such as William Jackson Palmer to emulate British industries in the United States, but he also discusses coal’s impact on immigration patterns from Europe, the extreme dangers associated with coal-mining, the causes (and effects) of early strikes and unions, as well as the coal industry’s later attempts to stymy organized dissent through the creation of mining towns that sought to eliminate strikers and union supporters. Andrews argues that each of these dimensions surrounding the coal industry, in one form or another, helped to create an environment ripe for hostility and oppression since they all promoted sources of great tension and agitation amongst the mining community; thus, setting the stage for bitter anger, violence, and destruction to occur in the years and decades that followed.

Personal Thoughts

Andrews’ thesis is both well-written and compelling in its presentation. The author's decision to approach the topic of Ludlow in both an environmental and labor history perspective is both impressive and fascinating. The book is well-researched, as the author relies heavily on a multitude of primary sources to back-up his points, including: memoirs, diaries, journals, magazines, interviews, testimonies, court-records, annual reports from companies, census data, letters, and newspapers. Combined with his reliance on secondary sources, Andrews is able to dramatically illustrate the story of Ludlow in a narrative-driven manner that is appealing to not only academics, but general audiences as well. One clear shortcoming of the book, however, lies in its uneven distribution of analysis. Whereas the first half of the book is detail-oriented, Andrews’ book appears a bit rushed in its final chapters. This, in turn, slightly hurts his overall account since the Ludlow Massacre is only briefly discussed (even though it is featured prominently in the title of the book). This does not necessarily hurt his overall thesis, but a stronger rendering of the Ludlow Massacre would have been a welcome addition to this work.

Moreover, the lack of a proper bibliographical section is troubling as well since it is difficult to pinpoint particular types of resources used by the author. Andrews makes up for this deficiency, however, with the inclusion of highly-detailed footnotes that offer an impressive array of background information for particular sections of his monograph. The inclusion of highly relevant (and frequent) quotes from the individuals that witnessed coal’s transformation of America, first-hand, makes for an amazing piece of work that will continue to influence future interpretations on this subject for many years to come.

All in all, I give this book 5/5 Stars and highly recommend it to anyone interested in the labor dynamics of nineteenth and twentieth-century American history. Definitely check it out!

Questions for Further Discussion:

1.) What was Thomas' main thesis? What are some of the main points that Thomas makes in this work? Did you find his argument compelling? Why or why not?

2.) Did you find this work engaging?

3.) Who is the target audience for this piece? Can both scholars and non-academics benefit from the contents of this book?

4.) What are some of the strengths and weaknesses of this monograph? Are there any parts of this book that Thomas could have improved?

5.) What type of primary source material does Thomas incorporate within this work? Does this help his overall argument?

6.) What type of scholarship is Thomas challenging in this piece?

7.) Did you learn anything from the contents of this work that you did not know before?

Works Cited:

Andrews, Thomas. Killing for Coal: America’s Deadliest Labor War. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2008.

Questions & Answers

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      • nipster profile image

        nipster 

        13 months ago

        I don't know much about that part of history but, it sounds strangely familiar to what's happening today. Lower wage employees are getting upset because they feel exploited as well.

        I do however feel the motive is somewhat different. Back then it would seem they unsatified with the pay for their labor because it was dangerous. Now it seems that pay is disputed on the basis that it cannot allow one to keep up with the material standards of our society.

      • Larry Slawson profile imageAUTHOR

        Larry Slawson 

        14 months ago from North Carolina

        @Gilbert I'm glad that you enjoyed!

        @Nathan I'm glad that you enjoyed reading as well! Yes, this is probably one of my favorite books, to be honest. It is very well-written.

      • NateB11 profile image

        Nathan Bernardo 

        14 months ago from California, United States of America

        Sounds like a very interesting book about a very interesting period in American history. Thanks for this thorough review.

      • rebelogilbert profile image

        Gilbert Arevalo 

        15 months ago from Hacienda Heights, California

        Well-thought out book review, Larry.

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, owlcation.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://owlcation.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)