Summary and book reviews of Big Coal by Jeff Goodell

Big Coal

The Dirty Secret Behind America's Energy Future

By Jeff Goodell

Big Coal
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  • Hardcover: Jun 2006,
    352 pages.
    Paperback: Apr 2007,
    352 pages.

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Book Summary

In the tradition of Rachel Carson and Eric Schlosser, the veteran journalist Jeff Goodell examines the danger behind President George W. Bush's recent assertion that coal is America's "economic destiny."

Despite a devastating, century-long legacy that has claimed millions of lives and ravaged the environment, coal has become hot again -- and will likely get hotter. In this penetrating analysis, Goodell debunks the faulty assumptions underlying coal's revival and shatters the myth of cheap coal energy. In a compelling blend of hard-hitting investigative reporting, history, and industry assessment, Goodell illuminates the stark economic imperatives America faces and the collusion of business and politics -- what is meant by "big coal" -- that have set us on the dangerous course toward reliance on this energy source.

Few of us realize that even today we burn a lump of coal every time we flip on a switch. Coal already supplies more than half the energy needed to power our iPods, laptops, lights -- anything we use that consumes electricity. Our desire to find a homegrown alternative to Mideast oil, the rising cost of oil and natural gas, and the fossil fuel-friendly mood in Washington will soon push our coal consumption through the roof. Because we have failed to develop alternative energy sources, coal has effectively become the default fuel for the twenty-first century.

Introduction


It’s easy to forget what a luxury this is—until you visit a place like China. Despite its booming economy in recent years, the insulating walls of modern life have not yet been fully erected there. In restaurants, the entrées are often alive in a cage in the dining room. Herbs and acupuncture needles inspire more faith than pharmaceutical drugs. Toilets stink. In rural areas, running water is a surprise, hot water a thrill. When you flip the switch on the wall and the light goes on, you know exactly what it costs—all you have to do is take a deep breath and feel the burn of coal smoke in your lungs.

To a westerner, nothing is more uncivilized than the sulfury smell of coal. You can’t take a whiff without thinking of labor battles and underground mine explosions, of chugging smokestacks and black lung.

But coal is everywhere in twenty-first-century China. It’s piled up on sidewalks, pressed into bricks and stacked ...

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About the Book

For most of us, the word "coal" conjures up images of puffing smokestacks in a nineteenth-century industrial city or the dark, dank atmosphere of a coal mine. Few of us think of coal when we power up our laptop, turn on the television, or load our iPod. But we should. Few of us fully realize the role that coal plays in America and around the world.

Coal executives, government officials, and energy companies have long promoted coal's virtues as a cheap, plentiful, homegrown source of energy. But coal has a dark side in the toll it takes on our health, our environment, and our communities.

In the tradition of Rachel Carson and Eric Schlosser, acclaimed journalist Jeff Goodell travels around ...
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Reviews

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Did you know that?

  • More than 1/2 of the USA's electricity comes from coal.
  • The USA burns more than a billion tons of coal a year. That's an average of 20 lbs per person per day.
  • Coal plants account for 40% of carbon dioxide emissions in the USA.

Goodell presents a wealth of fascinating facts such as these in his well researched book, which does an excellent job of presenting the case without overloading the reader with scientific jargon or too much statistical information.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

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Media Reviews
The New York Times - William Grimes

The United States has enjoyed a free energy ride for a century and more, and the coal companies have made out like bandits all along the way. Now the day of reckoning has come. We — and, in a just world, they — are going to pay a price, either today or tomorrow. Mr. Goodell, in this well-written, timely and powerful book, makes it crystal clear what the stakes are.

Publishers Weekly

Goodell has a talent for pithy argument-and the book fairly crackles with informed conviction.

Booklist - Gilbert Taylor

Goodell particularizes his objections in detail useful to those who closely follow environmental issues.

Library Journal

Tragically relevant.

Kirkus Reviews

The coal economy is little documented and not well understood, but his book makes a welcome corrective. Eye-opening and provocative.

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Facts & Stats according to Big Coal

  • More than 1/2 of the USA's electricity comes from coal.
  • The USA burns more than a billion tons a year - an average of 20 lbs per person per day.
  • Coal plants account for 40% of carbon dioxide emissions in the USA.
  • According to alternate energy guru Amory Lovins of The Rocky Mountain Institute, by the time you mine the coal, haul it to the power plant, burn it, and then send electricity over the wires to a light bulb, only about 3% of the energy in a ton of coal is transformed into light. Just the energy wasted by coal plants in the USA would be enough to power the entire Japanese economy!
  • In the 1920s there were more than 700,000 USA coal miners, today there are more ...

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