Books: Non-Fiction

Reckoning at Eagle Creek: The Secret Legacy of Coal in the Heartland

Book — Non-fiction. By Jeff Biggers. 2014 (2nd edition). 328 pages.
The untold history of coal mining in the U.S. through the lens of race, labor, and the environment.

Time Periods: 20th Century
Themes: Climate Justice, Environment, Labor

reackoningateaglecreek9780809333868Award-winning journalist and cultural historian Jeff Biggers takes us on a journey into the secret history of coal mining. Set in the ruins of his family’s strip-mined homestead in the Shawnee National Forest in southern Illinois, Biggers delivers a deeply personal portrait of the largely overlooked human and environmental costs of our nation’s dirty energy policy over the past two centuries.

Reckoning at Eagle Creek digs deep into the tangled roots of the coal industry beginning with the policies of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson. It chronicles the removal of Native Americans, and the hidden story of legally sanctioned the enslavement of African Americans. It uncovers a century of regulatory negligence, vividly describing the epic mining wars for union recognition and workplace safety, and the devastating environmental consequences of industrial strip-mining.

Reckoning at Eagle Creek is ultimately an exposé of “historicide.” Coal will never be called clean or cheap again. [Publisher’s description.]

ISBN: 9780809333868 | Southern Illinois University Press

Visit Jeff Biggers’ website.


    • 2010 David Brower Award for Environmental Reporting (Sierra Club)
    • Delta Award for Literature (Southern Illinois University)


Climate Justice More Resources Ad | Zinn Education Project“Part historical narrative, part family memoir, part pastoral paean, and part jeremiad against the abuse of the land and of the men who gave and continue to give their lives to (and often for) the mines, [Reckoning at Eagle Creek] puts a human face on the industry that supplies nearly half of America’s energy—it offers a rare historical perspective on the vital yet little considered industry, along with a devastating critique of the myth of “clean coal.” —Publishers Weekly

“…a tour de force.” —Amy Goodman, Democracy Now!

“Jeff Biggers exposes the truth about coal in America — how the myth of “clean coal” destroys even family histories.  But Biggers is a long-time warrior in another fight — to stabilize climate and preserve a good life for young people.  Let us hope his message about dirty coal is read far and wide.” —James Hansen, NASA Goddard Center, author of Storms of My Grandchildren

“As this fine book makes clear, coal has always and ever been a curse, poisoning everything and everyone it touches—right up to the climate on which we depend for our daily bread. What a story!” —Bill McKibben, author of Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet

“[An] enriching history — An important look at the staggering human and environmental costs of mining.” —Kirkus Reviews

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