In the Kingdom of Coal: An American Family and the Rock That Changed the World

In the Kingdom of Coal: An American Family and the Rock That Changed the World

In the Kingdom of Coal: An American Family and the Rock That Changed the World

In the Kingdom of Coal: An American Family and the Rock That Changed the World

Synopsis

A former "Wall Street Journal" reporter tells the extraordinary story of coalthrough the eyes of two families--one the magnates, one the miners--over fivegenerations while locked together, for better or worse, in a common quest.

Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

“A Rock That Burns”

In his film 2001: A Space Odyssey, the director Stanley Kubrick conjured a world in which the sudden and inexplicable appearance of a supernatural black slab on Earth or in space periodically causes momentous changes—transforming apelike cave dwellers, for example, into rational beings capable of organizing communities and working together cooperatively. Yet true human history is stranger and certainly more complex than Kubrick’s 1968 flight of fancy suggested. The resources available to sophisticated humans of the twenty-first century are no different from those that were available to the first Neanderthals. No external intervention was ever needed to change the world—only the human mind’s ability to find those natural resources and devise uses for them. “The thing called man had once been a shrew on a forest branch, ” the anthropologist Loren Eiseley has remarked. “Now it manipulates abstract symbols in its brain from which skyscrapers rise, bridges span the horizon, disease is conquered, the Moon is visited. ”

As early as the 1930s the Soviet geochemist Vladimir Vernadsky made a more startling observation: People—by virtue of their technology as well as their sheer numbers—were themselves becoming a geological force, shaping the planet and its atmosphere just as rivers and earthquakes had shaped its past. Over the ensuing seventy years many scientists and people of conscience routinely held their species responsible for overheating our planet, polluting the atmosphere, threatening the ozone, and otherwise tampering with the balance of nature. Yet by any commonly accepted definition of disorder and change, the turmoil produced by humans since their arrival on the planet remains tiny compared to the anarchy that reigned

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