Review: "The Face of Decline: The Pennsylvania Anthracite Region in the Twentieth Century"

Updated on August 7, 2019
Larry Slawson profile image

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

The Face of Decline: The Pennsylvania Anthracite Region in the Twentieth Century.
The Face of Decline: The Pennsylvania Anthracite Region in the Twentieth Century. | Source


In Thomas Dublin and Walter Licht’s book, The Face of Decline: The Pennsylvania Anthracite Region in the Twentieth Century, the authors provide a systematic analysis of the rise and fall of anthracite mining during the twentieth-century. Throughout their analysis, the authors point out that anthracite’s demise was neither singular nor simplistic. Instead, the authors aptly demonstrate that the region’s economic decline was multifaceted and can be traced to many factors, including: the depletion of surface-level coal deposits that occurred from strip-mining and over-production, coal’s new competition with superior fossil-fuels (such as natural gas and oil), as well as failures to expand coal-consumption into broader markets. According to the authors, these problems were further compounded by the Great Depression. As tensions between workers and mining operators reached an all-time high, layoffs and wage restrictions became an all too common thread for the mining community during this time. With unions failing to acquire adequate concessions for workers, and politicians failing to intervene with appropriate policies and measures to alleviate the growing concerns, both Dublin and Licht argue that the anthracite region began its dramatic fall by the middle of the century. Although World War Two provided a sense of recovery for the coal industry (due to the tremendous needs of the wartime economy), the authors argue that this intermission was temporal, as investors used the wartime years as an opportunity to diversify their companies in a manner that effectively ended anthracite mining as a dominant industry in the decades that followed.

Main Points

Using a social, environmental, and labor perspective to argue their main points, both Dublin and Licht address how working class men (and women) fought to survive this newfound change in their livelihoods after years of operating within the coal mines. Because of the coal industry’s long-term presence in the Pennsylvania anthracite region, the industry’s collapse forced families to adapt to a brand new work (and cultural) environment; an environment often devoid of jobs, industry, and businesses since the coal companies had effectively prevented competition from entering these communities for decades. To adapt, the authors argue that local communities were forced to come together as they attempted to rebuild their society through government aid, petitions, fundraisers, and events designed to attract businesses to their area. As a result of these changes, the authors argue that women were often forced into the workforce (against the wishes of men) as a means of supplementing their husband’s incomes (typically derived from pensions, social security, or wages made from commuting to neighboring regions for work). As such, the author’s make the case that anthracite’s decline fundamentally altered the former coal-communities in a number of dramatic ways. Yet, surprisingly, the author’s make the point that these communities remained close-knit through the duration of it all, as neighbors, former co-workers, friends, and family all maintained strong relations and sympathies toward their heritage, community, and coal-based history; even as many moved away or migrated to neighboring areas looking for better opportunities; and even as de-industrialization had largely destroyed and crippled their communities and way of life, economically.

Personal Thoughts

All in all, both authors provide a thorough and well-argued account of the coal industry’s development (and demise) across Pennsylvania from the nineteenth to the early twenty-first century. The thesis of this book is well-articulated and presented. Moreover, I was particularly impressed with the considerable amount of detail that both of the authors incorporate within this work and the large array of primary source materials that they use to support each of their claims. These sources include: oral interviews (from miners, union officials, politicians, and mine officials), local newspapers (such as the Scranton Times), federal census figures, bank records, corporate documents and reports from local mines, union documents, Congressional hearings from the Senate and House of Representatives, as well as bankruptcy proceedings (particularly from P&RC&I).

While this book was clearly intended for a more academic audience (considering its publication through Cornell University Press), general audience members can equally appreciate this book due to its narrative-driven style and easy-to-read format. I was also highly impressed with the large array of graphs and statistical data that was incorporated within the confines of this work. The charts and data provided by the authors allow for an interesting comparison of facts and figures that give the reader a chance to trace population growth, migrations, and production figures. These charts and statistics – coupled with the vast array of photographs included – provide a nice visual and numerical representation of the narrative they are constructing. This, in turn, adds a substantial degree of clarity and persuasiveness to their overall argument and claims.

In regard to shortcomings of this book, I was a bit disappointed with the lack of information pertaining to coal mines operating outside of the Pennsylvania anthracite region (for comparative purposes). Although they briefly discuss the Central Appalachian coal industry during the closing arguments of the book, more information on this particular aspect would have been a great addition to their overall book. Moreover, while I was impressed with the level of statistics and data used in this book, particular chapters seemed to focus too much on quantitative-based research. This was particularly evident in the “Sons and Daughters” chapter, in which the use of statistical research seemed to overshadow the narrative portions of their discussion. Attempting to follow each statistical claim proved to be quite challenging since the authors jump from one claim to the next in rapid succession. This is not necessarily a bad thing, however, as their main argument remains intact for the duration of the chapter.

In closing, Dublin and Licht’s book is a great addition to current scholarship and offers an account that fits nicely alongside Thomas Andrews’, Killing for Coal. I give this book 5/5 Stars and highly recommend it to anyone interested in a history of American coal-mining during the twentieth-century. Definitely check it out if you get a chance!

Will coal be an important source of energy in the future?

See results

Questions for Further Discussion

1.) What was Dublin and Licht's thesis? What are some of the main points they make in this work? Did you find their thesis to be persuasive? Why or why not?

2.) Did you find this work engaging?

3.) Did Dublin and Licht do a good job with their organization of this book? Were the chapters organized in a logical manner?

4.) What were some of the strengths and weaknesses of this work? Are there any particular areas that the authors could have improved?

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

6.) Did you learn anything from reading this book that you did not know before?

7.) What type of primary source material does Dublin and Licht incorporate? Does this reliance help or hinder their main points?

Suggestions for Further Reading

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

Freese, Barbara. Coal: A Human History. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Publishing, 2003.

Green, James. The Devil is Here in These Hills: West Virginia's Coal Miners and Their Battle for Freedom. New York, NY: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2015.

Works Cited:

Dublin, Thomas and Walter Licht. The Face of Decline: The Pennsylvania Anthracite Region in the Twentieth Century. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2005.

© 2017 Larry Slawson


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • FlourishAnyway profile image


      3 years ago from USA

      This was a very well written review and extremely timely given the political atmosphere and empty promises that we face. We need to accept that coal is not coming back and the people of these regions need to retool for success in other industries.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, 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:

    Show Details
    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 or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    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)
    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.
    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)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)