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Black Gold: The History of How Coal Made Britain

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An interesting book, somewhat spoiled in the audiobook format by Mr Paxman’s somewhat mumbled narration. I found the book very informative and it explained well the plight of the average miner and not only the working conditions they suffered under but the constant strife on wages and working hours particularly with mine owners. Mum, look what they’ve done to your coal hole,’ says one character when she sees how the new owners of a former council house have adapted the cellar.

I grew up up in the South Wales valleys, with relatives and friends who worked in the mining industry . Jeremy Paxman is quite an old man now and apparently has health problems but, in my opinion, it is still better to have the book read by him than anyone else. Black Gold is much more than the story of an industry: it is a history of Britain from an unusual angle, vividly told, that throws new light on familiar features of our national landscape . Both in differing extents relate the story of coal to nineteenth- and twentieth-century British politics, particularly the importance of coal in the British empire.The footnotes alone are worth reading and tell us, for example, that London’s remaining 1,300 gas lamps are tended by four lighters who travel on motorbikes. Good to have the broad sweep of the history of the significance of coal in this country, and the impact on global and national history. Here are two very different kinds of books about the extraction of coal — that is, mining — but both agree, as Paxman says, that “the history of its extraction is the story of Britain. Even after its mind was concentrated by a threatened strike in February 1981, the Conservative government did not have a coherent strategy. a really comprehensive history of coal mining in Britian, albeit a little lacking when discussing the 1984/85 miners strike but that's likely down to my personal interest.

Apparently Miller remains unaware of the obvious fact that Tzarist and Communist Russia and Communist China, Nazi Germany, and various empires around the world, including the indigenous ones she discusses, all mined extensively. Some parts of the book were rather too political for my taste, but overall it was an interesting read. The terms in which they talk put one in mind of military veterans, though – intriguingly, in view of the bitter conflicts on picket lines – one ex-miner compared his working life to that of a policeman. I think it is something to do with the horror and wonder of the industry; the danger, the long term impacts, the communities that build up around mines, the vile impact of unfettered capitalism that made many fabulously rich whilst killing those tasked with digging this filthy commodity out of the ground. Men hunched over many miles down below, their back scraping against the rocky walls above in darkness.He is critical of Arthur Scargill while acknowledging that his claim that the government planned to close a great many pits - derided and disbelieved at the time including by Paxman- turned out to be completely true.

This did liven up the book although I did think some of his input was unnecessary, such as speculating whether the mining village of Aberfan had contributed to one of the most famous disasters by allowing the waste heap to stay in an unsafe position. Perhaps it is, as readers of Paxman’s book might conclude, because it was so closely tied to Britain’s status as a great power and because so many British people still feel a half-guilty regret about the loss of that status. Factual, engaging and alas sad, insomuch that whilst we now know the cost to the climate of coal usage that the country was built on the work in harsh conditions for many families. The narrative covers all this, as well as the push for nationalisation, then de-nationalisation when it was clear the industry was on its knees and the rise of mining Unions, in particular the NUM. Coal and the mining of it may be old-fashioned and something we prefer not to think about, but it mustn’t be forgotten.Told through the stories of real people, Paxman's history travels to Wales and the North of England, where communities were built on mining; to the industrial revolution; to the families who profited on coal and remain the richest in the country; to the beginnings of time and coal's geological formation; to the great tragedies such as Aberfan; to the picket lines of the miners' strike; to the formation and fruition of the Labour party. This book is a highly readable account of the coal industry and the uses to which coal could be put. It was a world of "allotment associations, pigeon and poultry clubs, brass bands, choirs, youth organisations, whippet racing and eagerly contested giant-vegetable competitions" .

Perhaps, as readers of Beynon and Hudson might conclude, it is because the Left once seemed so much more united, even when its leaders did not, in fact, serve the interests of miners very well.As is quoted here, Heseltine opined that all he had done was shut down a dirty, dangerous industry and there is some truth to that I think. Jeremy Paxman's book examines the important role coal played in Great Britain's history, making us a rich country whilst making the landowners on whose land the coal was located rich in turn. Such combinations of omitting important facts with a lack of rhetorical strategies that might cover for them weaken an intriguing and often convincing argument. Yet Paxman’s book could hardly be more colourful, and I enjoyed every page enormously … A mining community, as Paxman points out, was not just a place of dirt and danger. When my grandfather died his post mortem report stated that he had lungs consistent with heavy smoking.

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