A Human History


By Barbara Freese

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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around February 9, 2016. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

“Engrossing . . . Coal, to borrow a phrase, is king.” — New York Times Book Review

In this remarkable book, Barbara Freese takes us on a rich historical journey that begins hundreds of millions of years ago and spans the globe. Prized as “the best stone in Britain” by Roman invaders who carved jewelry out of it, coal has transformed societies, launched empires, and expanded frontiers. It made China an eleventh-century superpower, inspired the Communist Manifesto, and helped the North win the American Civil War. Yet coal’s transformative power has come at tremendous cost, from the blackening of our lungs and skies, to the perils of mining, to global warming. Now updated with a new chapter describing the high-stakes conflict between coal’s defenders and those working to preserve a livable climate, Coal offers a captivating history of the mineral that helped build the modern world but now endangers our future.
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  • A New York Times Notable Book
  • "An absorbing book that never loses its grip. Barbara Freese is a splendid writer and takes the coal of the whole world into her compass."
    New Scientist
  • "A magnificent and plaintive ballad to the black stone that radically altered the path our lives have taken."
    Providence Journal
  • "Freese makes her points convincingly and eloquently.... Freese paints a fascinatingly wide swath."
    Philadelphia Inquirer
  • A thoroughly absorbing history."
    Boston Herald
  • "An engrossing account of the comparatively cheap, usually dirty fuel that supported the Industrial Revolution, inspired the building of canals and railroads to move it, and once made London and Pittsburgh famous for their air."
    New York Times
  • "Freese's passion for coal is born out of her work.... Freese's book is as much about the growing scientific evidence of the damage coal causes to the environment as it is about the social history of the Industrial Revolution."
    Financial Times
  • "Freese has a deft style and a knack for explanatory metaphors. And she enlivens her meticulously researched history with anecdotes and surprising facts.... Above all, Freese is a strong storyteller who captivates with detail."
    Minneapolis Star-Tribune
  • "A rich social, environmental and political history that ends on a note of warning about the continued use of coal despite detrimental effects on the environment."
    The Oregonian

On Sale
Feb 9, 2016
Page Count
384 pages
Basic Books

Barbara Freese

About the Author

Barbara Freese is an environmental attorney and energy policy analyst, who for more than twelve years helped enforce her state’s environmental laws as an Assistant Attorney General in Minnesota. Freese lives in St. Paul, Minnesota.

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