Readings on Mining/Smelting — selected books
There is a huge literature on mining/smelting and the resource extraction industry. The history is long and complex, the players are many and the economy of mining/smelting is anxiously watched across the political spectrum. Here are a few titles we’ve found to be informative and intriguing. The authors are not cheerleaders for the extractive industry, but instead look at the industry from a number of critical vantage points. Not covered fully is the extensive literature on the health impacts of mining/smelting; Sullivan’s book is an excellent example of much needed public health analysis.
Ascarza, William (2011). Southeastern Arizona Mining Towns (part of the Images of America series). (Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing).
A great pictorial on one of the most mining-intensive regions on the continent, with depictions of a range of towns and mining operations. From iconic photos of the early days of mining to “mineral shows” to mine-workers operating equipment.
Bardi, Ugo (2013). Extracted: How the Quest for Mineral Wealth is Plundering the Planet. (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing).
Building on a history of extraction, the author portrays the “the tragedy of the mineral commons”, identifying overuse and environmental impacts. He provides an overview of options – substitution, recycling/reuse, efficiency – and lays out pathways to reversing the impacts of the Anthropocene Age and its metal extraction/use/waste/pollution.
Carter, Bill (2013). Boom, Bust, Boom: A Story About Copper, The Metal That Runs the World. (Tucson AZ: Schaffner Press).
Journalist Carter writes from the vantage point of someone raising a family in an historic copper town with widespread hazards. He journeys into the world of mining’s mysteries, working to unveil the ownership infrastructure and how corporations romance the communities that live near and work the mines.
Franks, Daniel (2015). Mountain Movers: Mining, Sustainability and the Agents of Change. (London: Earthscan/Routledge).
Franks ( Centre for Social Responsibility of Mining, Queensland, Australia) lays out the Global Mining Initiative, the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative and other protocols that have emerged as possible remedies for the hazards and harms of mining/smelting. Schemas of change agents and various proposals and efforts give a sense of how insiders and outsiders in the mining world are dealing with the challenges.
Hart, Matthew (2013) Gold: The Race for the World’s Most Seductive Metal (NY: Simon & Schuster)
“Ore is a human construct, not a natural one. Nature makes the metal. Ore is made by math. The definition of ore is rock that can be mined at a profit.” Hart journeys into the world of gold – the historic exploration and plunder, the environmental degradation, the various players from “illegal miners” to “artisanals” to the World Gold Council, and gold fever’s unequal effects.
Huggard, Christopher & Terrence Humble (2012) Santa Rita Del Cobre: A Copper Mining Community in New Mexico. (Boulder: University Press of Colorado)
Huggard (historian) and Humble (mine mechanic) join forces to tell the story of “the copper century” as experienced by one community. With attention to labor struggles, ethnic segregation and absentee capitalists, they provide a view of life on (and in) the ground, and the impacts of acid mine drainage and airborne metal contamination.
Klucas, Gillian (2004). Leadville: The Struggle to Revive an American Town. Washington: Island Press.
A rare in-depth look into how one iconic western mining town experienced its transition to federal waste-site and clean-up drama. The outsider EPA staffers face resistance and demonization as they step into one of the most notorious post-mining landscapes. Notable is the chapter “Kids First” on the deliberations between agency, corporation, health providers and parents over the threat of lead to children’s well-being.
LeCain, Timothy (2009). Mass Destruction: The Men and Giant Mines That Wired America and Scarred the Planet. (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press)
From the Berkeley Pit in Butte MT to the Bingham Pit in Utah, mining pockmarks the planet, having provided the metal infrastructure for the world as we know it. The author’s detailed analysis of the environmental and health costs is augmented by an excursion into the cultural promotion of mining (“Copper helps freedom ring” campaign) and the sustained appetite for metals around the globe.
MacMillan, Donald (2000). Smoke Wars: Anaconda Copper, Montana Air Pollution, and The Courts, 1890-1920. (Helena MT: Montana Historical Society Press).
Butte (“The Greatest Hill on Earth”) was the site of unprecedented mining, smelting and pollution. MacMillan portrays the farmers whose loss of livestock to smelter smoke provoked them to take up path-breaking litigation against the copper-kings. In the “war of wealth against health” the copper companies asserted “smoke rights.”
Moody, Roger (2007) Rocks and Hard Places: The Globalization of Mining. (London: Zed Books)
Editor of the Mines-and-Communities website, Moody brings an international and human rights perspective to his examination. Examining “sustainable mining” and other promises, he lays bare the Resource Curse from Chile to South Africa, profiles the implications for women, workers, indigenous communities and explores resistance movements such as the “No Dirty Gold” campaign.
Morin, Bode (2013). The Legacy of American Copper Smelting: Industrial Heritage Versus Environmental Policy. (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press).
Industrial archaeologist Morin examines the challenges facing smelter communities in Tennessee, Michigan and Montana as they move from high production to shutdown to environmental cleanup through Superfund. He charts the complex local dynamics as communities deal with the environmental health hazards while trying to rebound through heritage projects that are often seen as the sole promise of community survival.
Mumford, Lewis (1963). Technics and Civilization. (NY: Harcourt, Brace & World)
Although not only about mining, this classic treatise on development and economy identifies mining/metal-work as fundamental to the world’s workings – and riven by absentee ownership, hazardous working conditions, the export of profits away from working communities and the curse of “the miners pile” (amassing value for market).
National Academies Press (2005). Superfund and Mining Megasites: Lessons from the Coeur d’Alene River Basin. (Washington DC: National Academies Press)
A federal report on the history, mining operations, contamination and remediation in “the box” (a high hazard area around Kellogg ID), amidst the broader Coeur d’Alene basin stretching from Montana to Spokane WA. Historical profile of a region besieged by lead exposure, with some of the highest blood lead-levels in children ever recorded. Detailed document of health risk assessment, ecological risk, and remediation alternatives.
Perales, Monica (2010). Smeltertown: Making and Remembering a Southwest Border Community. (Chapel Hill NC: University of North Carolina Press).
Not a critique of the mining/smelting industry, but a thoughtful journey into the lives of people whose community was banished and dispersed due to extensive lead exposure. Perales offers an appreciative memory of a complex and vibrant place … “smelter people” who were “100% Mexican.” Perales insightfully balances the serious health risk with the risk of a community’s fracturing and dislocation.
Robbins, William (1994). The Capitalist Transformation of the American West: Colony & Empire. (Lawrence KS: University of Kansas Press).
An examination of the material conditions that allowed for and shaped the west’s economy and political life. Mining is central to this story. The focus on US-Mexican Borderlands offers valuable background to the continuing struggle on the border today.
Robertson, David (2006). Hard as the Rock Itself: Place and Identity in the American Mining Town. (Boulder CO: University of Colorado Press).
Geographer Robertson looks into the meaning of the often forgotten “former mining towns” where the landscapes and the people are neglected, both during mining operations and after. He challenges the disregard often heaped on mining (and post-mining) communities, reminding us that place is meaningful, even when it is found disturbing or repellent by those who don’t live there. The book explores the connections and contrasts between three mining areas: Cokedale, CO; Toluca IL; and Picher in the Tri-State Lead & Zinc Mining District (where Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri meet).
Sullivan, Marianne (2014). Tainted Earth: Smelters, Public Health and the Environment. (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press).
This is an excellent analysis of the public health impacts of the smelting process, as uncovered through a careful analysis of three smelting sites: Tacoma Washington, El Paso Texas and Bunker Hill/Kellogg Idaho. Through extensive historical analysis of the public record, Sullivan identifies the often overlooked and taken-for-granted risks (metals, sulfur dioxide) posed to smelterworkers, their families and their communities.
Weston, Julie Whitesel (2009) The Good Times are all Gone Now: Life, Death and Rebirth in an Idaho Mining Town. (Norman OK: University of Oklahoma Press).
This is not an analytic or critical examination, but a personal journey into the meaning of mining for the community that depends on it and then sees it slip away as livelihood and financial support. Silver Valley is left with extensive environmental damage, health risk and a ski-resort promised as an exit strategy for the community’s woes.
Veltmeyer, Henry and James Petras (2014). The New Extractivism: A Post-Neoliberal Development Model or Imperialism of the Twenty-First Century? (London: Zed Books)..
With a focus on Latin America, this analysis examines foreign direct investment into resource extraction, the externalization of profit and the negative impacts on workers’ well-being and the environment. Also explored is indigenous/class resistance to the extraction of resources and a critical assessment of “sustainability” initiatives.
Welker, Marina (2014). Enacting the Corporation: An American Mining Firm in Post-Authoritarian Indonesia. (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press).
Based on extensive research at Newmont Mining’s Denver headquarters and its operations in Indonesia, Welker examines the many implications and interpretations of this corporation – as employer, ore producer, promoter of sustainability, environmental threat. A very thoughtful exploration of the evolving Corporate Social Responsibility movement, with a view to how “host communities” experience the corporation.
Writers Project of Montana (Compiled by Workers of the Writers’ Program of the Works Project Administration in the State of Montana (1943, first publication; 1970; 2002 by Riverbend Publishing). Copper Camp: The Lusty Story of Butte, Montana: The Richest Hill on Earth. (Helena MT: Riverbend Publishing).
This collection is focused on stories, offering an ode to the people who worked the mines, not the Copper Kings who owned them. There are selections focusing on labor struggles, especially those that brought mineworkers against mine owners and state power. There are unvarnished depictions of the unparalleled dangers of mining. Also offered – a chronology of political events in one of the most significant and explosive metal-resource-centers in world.