Saturday 18 February 2023

Guest Review: Black Gold: The History of how Coal Made Britain By Jeremy Paxman

From the best-selling historian and acclaimed broadcaster 

Coal is the commodity that made Britain. Dirty and polluting though it is, this black rock has acted as a midwife to genius. It drove industry, religion, politics, empire and trade. It powered the industrial revolution, turned Britain into the first urban nation and is the industry that made almost all others possible.

In this brilliant social history, Jeremy Paxman tells the story of coal mining in England, Scotland and Wales from Roman times, through the birth of steam power to war, nationalisation, pea-souper smogs, industrial strife and the picket lines of the Miner’s Strike.

Written in the captivating style of his best-selling book The English, Paxman ranges widely across Britain to explore stories of engineers and inventors, entrepreneurs and industrialists - but whilst coal inevitably helped the rich become richer, the story told by Black Gold is first and foremost a history of the working miners - the men, women and often children who toiled in appalling conditions down in the mines; the villages that were thrown up around the pit-head.

Almost all traces of coal-mining have vanished from Britain, but with this brilliant history, Black Gold demonstrates just how much we owe to the black stuff.

Review: Jeremy Paxman is a television journalist and presenter. He has also written a number of books on historical topics. This, his latest book, covers the history of coal, its extraction from the ground, the people who carried out the work, and the uses to which it was put.

Because Britain had large reserves of good quality coal, and this was used to power the Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries, Britain became the first urban nation. The book traces the history of coal mining, examining the social history of: those who exploited the coal reserves; those who carried out the often back-breaking, dirty and dangerous work of mining it; and those who exploited its uses for generating heat, power and new chemical compounds.

As may be expected, the most recent history of coal mining, from the 20th century onwards, is covered in greater depth. This encompasses: the year 1913, just prior to the First World War, when a record amount of coal was extracted from mines; the nationalisation of the coal industry in 1947; its subsequent privatisation in 1994; and the closure of the last deep coal mine in 2015. Also featured in the book is the effect of labour organisation in the mines, with the General Strike of 1926 and the year long miners’ strike of 1984-1985 being given prominence.

The author, Jeremy Paxman, has a reputation for being a formidable interviewer and not suffering fools gladly, and this comes across in the book. Some of his comments about certain individuals are quite scathing. Overall, I found this this to be an interesting book about an industry, and way of life, that appears to have run its course. I would recommend it to all with an interest in social and industrial history.

To order your copy now, just click here!

No comments:

Post a Comment