Black Gold: The History of How Coal Made Britain

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Black Gold: The History of How Coal Made Britain

Black Gold: The History of How Coal Made Britain

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A Hovis television advertisement of 2008, celebrating the last hundred years of British history, featured miners, along with V-E Day parties and a Churchill speech, though, revealingly, it depicted a scene of a picket line in 1984 rather than of an actual working mine. Overall would recommend it if interested in British history, especially 20th century political history. Nonetheless, it provides a rousing finale to a vividly told and enjoyable book that throws new light on familiar features of our national landscape.

During one strike, George V was more disturbed by the possibility that pit ponies might be left untended than he was by the plight of the miners. How much has neglecting “mineral substrata” actually distorted our reading of, say, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South, George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda, and Anthony Trollope’s The Way We Live Now? A 1914 calculation showed that a miner was severely injured every two hours, and one killed every six hours.Their story is also central: the miners’ struggles for safety and status; the inseparability of mine and community; and their famous fight against decline; later tell the story of 20th century Britain.

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.I was surprised how ignorant I was of its history, I’d never been a huge fan of Paxman’s sneering and aggressive interviewing style but this history has given me an insight into his outlook, and it’s rather attractive. Over a quarter-century on Newsnight, he revolutionised the cosy relationship between interviewer and politician and, more than any other interviewer, took the side of the viewer against the guest. This suited the Department of Health and Social Security, since men defined as suffering from long-term illnesses were removed from the unemployment statistics. Men hunched over many miles down below, their back scraping against the rocky walls above in darkness.

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