“In his book Coal River, a passionate indictment of the strip-mining industry, non-fiction writer Michael Shnayerson makes his case for the peculiar status of West Virginia . . . You need Shnayerson’s true story about a crusading lawyer who fought not only the coal companies but also the federal government, because administrators with the latter weren’t enforcing laws that could have stopped the big strip-mining machine. Slicing off the tops of mountains to get to the coal is cheaper, frankly, than tunneling down into the earth to get it. Never mind that the lopped-off parts of the mountains end up choking streams and laying waste to wide stretches of the prettiest earth God ever made.”—Julua Keller, Chicago Tribune“Shnayerson, a contributing editor to Vanity Fair, takes on this environmental outrage with the muckraking zeal of a latter-day Upton Sinclair or Ida Tarbell . . . As his reporting amply shows, mountaintop removal is a pernicious practice—environmentally wanton, culturally disruptive and dangerous to miners and residents alike. Lovett and other profiled activists (whether or not they strap on shining armor in the course of their efforts) are doubtless working on the side of the angels. And although there are some West Virginians who argue that the high-minded crusade may put many real-life miners out of work, Shnayerson is persuasive when he notes that mountaintop mining produces far fewer jobs than underground mining does, and that the jobs it does create tend to be lower-paying and non-union . . . Coal River, like the muckraking classics it emulates, may end up being most valuable as a call to arms.”—The Washington Post Book World“Michael Shnayerson has ventured into one of the roughest and remotest parts of America and emerged with a brilliant and devastating work on the greed of the coal mining industry. I found myself hoping that certain people named in this book will read it and experience that sick fear of knowing their game is about to come to an end. Indeed, that is one of the very satisfying things about this book: As horrifying as the story is, there is the real and very beautiful possibility that justice will prevail in the end.”—Sebastian Junger, author of The Perfect Storm"This damning account of mountaintop beheading and rampant watershed destruction in four states of Appalachia should be obligatory reading for every Congressperson who deserves the name of lawmaker (and the lobby-led political hacks who claim it, too). Uncommonly well-written and well-researched, Coal River is an enthralling story of the few Americans courageous enough to ‘tell truth to power’ and oppose the crudest sort of environmental desecration and pollution for profit."—Peter Matthiessen“Coal River is the dismaying story of Armageddon in Appalachia. At one time the powerful forces of ignorance and greed are dooming America’s landscapes, our culture, and our democracy.”—Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.“The coal that generates our electricity and lights our homes also poisons our air. Along the Appalachians of West Virginia, as Michael Shnayerson shows in this heartbreaking book, the relentless quest for ever more coal has leveled ancient mountain tops, corrupted politicians, destroyed communities, and sickened their people. Forty-five years ago, in his classic Night Comes to the Cumberlands, Harry Caudill warned of this looming disaster. Now, in his equally powerful book, Shnayerson reveals the price all of us must pay for ignoring Caudill’s warning.”—Jason Epstein“In an absorbing tale that echoes the age-old struggle of miners against management, Vanity Fair muckraker Shnayerson portrays an angry citizenry united to fight the area’s biggest polluter, Massey Energy, and its arrogant, hated CEO. Helping the bad guys make molehills out of the Appalachians are the EPA, the Army Corps of Engineers, lazy bureaucrats and judges beholden to the coal interests. Corporate minions redraw maps, blast without notice and destroy the ecosystem without governmental hindrance. Underpinned by a bit of pertinent history and basic ecology, the narrative is instructive, lucidly tracking legal maneuvers and courtroom confrontations. Especially well depicted are the aroused locals, stalwart, stubborn people allied with an odd hedge-fund operator and come bright, energetic lawyers against the clever, wealthy boss of Massey. Now, the author concludes, the good guys have to hold on for a while longer until a new administration (of either party) proves itself willing to let the law prevail. Considerable human interest in a well-explored story of strip mining.”—Kirkus Reviews“Through vivid first-person reporting and a thorough culling of court transcripts, newspaper clippings and corporate reports, Vanity Fair contributing editor Shnayerson has crafted an incriminating indictment of the Appalachian ‘King Coal’ industry in West Virginia, and of the man he defines as its rapacious kingpin, Massey Energy’s CEO, Don Blankenship. The author’s sympathies lie clearly with opponents of mountaintop mining, most prominently young attorney Joe Lovett and citizen activist Judy Bonds. Both have fought against a form of mining that shears off the tops of hills and dumps rubble into valleys and streams—a process abetted by the collusion of the state’s often-lackadaisical Department of Environmental Protection, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ propensity to grant stream-destroying permits without oversight and the easing of environmental controls by the Bush administration. Shnayerson’s compelling take on toxic mining methods and their heartrending impact on Appalachian inhabitants and their culture, has a wider focus than Erik Reece’s 2006 title, Lost Mountain, which reported on one mountaintop’s destruction, and strong echoes of the stomach-churning legal machinations recounted in Jonathan Harr’s 1995 bestseller, A Civil Action.”—Publishers Weekly
Michael Shnayerson is a contributing editor to Vanity Fair. His books include The Car That Could: GM’s Revolutionary Electric Vehicle and The Killers Within: The Deadly Rise of Drug-Resistant Bacteria with co-author Mark J. Plotkin.