cover image Soul Full of Coal Dust: A Fight for Breath and Justice in Appalachia

Soul Full of Coal Dust: A Fight for Breath and Justice in Appalachia

Chris Hamby. Little, Brown, $30 (448p) ISBN 978-0-316-29947-3

New York Times reporter Hamby debuts with a harrowing and cinematic account of the resurgence of black lung disease among coal miners in central Appalachia. According to Hamby, the disease killed 10,000 American miners between 1995 and 2004, while only 300 died during the same time period in cave-ins and other “singular mine catastrophes” that received much more media coverage. A 1969 law limiting the amount of coal dust allowed in mine air and establishing a federal program to administer workers’ compensation and medical benefits to disabled miners should have “virtually eliminated” the illness, Hamby writes, but weakened unions, roll-backs of safety standards, and aggressive cost-cutting measures by coal company executives led to its reemergence in a “nasty new form.” Hamby centers his story on West Virginia lawyer John Cline and his client Gary Fox, who returned to work after losing a previous federal benefits claim for advanced-stage black lung disease. Readers will cheer for Cline as he unravels the systematic corporate, medical, and legal malfeasance that prevented Fox and other miners from receiving their rightful benefits, and helps push the federal Labor Department to take action in 2016 to prevent coal companies from continuing to sabotage the claims process. This eloquent and sobering reminder of the human damage caused by the coal industry deserves to be widely read. Agent: Esmond Harmsworth, the Zachary Shuster Harmsworth Literary Agency. (Aug.)