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The Devil Is Here in These Hills

Green delivers a well-researched, thorough history of coal in West Virginia from 1877, when a railroad was built that provided access to coal fields and started a coal rush in West Virginia, to the mid 1930s, when a combination of union action, economic developments, and federal legislation established protections and benefits for union coal miners.

In between, you'll find dastardly private police forces, cheating wives, mad preachers, fanatic newspapermen, gunslinging rogues, blood feuds, knee-deep mud, coal dust explosions that kill hundreds of men--and soldiers who shoot and bomb hundreds more. It's the story of a war, an actual shooting war, fought on American soil, pitting American workers against American industry in courtrooms, pitch-dark holes in the ground, and battlegrounds on the steep forested hills of West Virginia.

In many ways THE DEVIL IS HERE IN THESE HILLS is about a second Civil War, one that I didn't learn about until I was an adult. As the internet kids say, I was yesterday days old when I learned that Americans have been bombed from the air on American soil (other than at Pearl Harbor, the Tulsa race riots, and the MOVE bombing in Philadelphia... so maybe it's not that uncommon after all). Like the other Civil War, it's clear who the good guys are, and it's also, unfortunately, clear that the 'good guys' also kind of suck.

As a writer, I was fascinated by this book because I'm using it as background research for a novel, and I was able to pull seeds of characters and/or events from nearly every chapter. As a political organizer it's incredibly motivating to read about the frustrating, difficult work of creating a union: all the pettiness and back-stabbing, the strikes that didn't work, the workers who were blacklisted and lived in shitty cold tents where their kids caught pneumonia, the leaders who betrayed the people who had put trust in them. All that happened, and the union won anyway!

Well. It won in some ways, for a while. This is America, after all.


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