"I want to express the feelings, the fear, the responsibility, the nobility of coal mining – digging every day at death’s door and not actually knowing if it is real."

The life of a coal mining family is rendered in nostalgic detail in this memoir and family history. Bibb tells stories of his childhood and adolescence growing up in West Virginia in the throes of the mining life, which offers his family steady work but often at the expense of their health. While much of the book celebrates his rural upbringing and strong family and community bonds, Bibb also wonders about the dangerous side effects of coal mining and the inequities between the coal magnates and the workers they employ. At times, he extends his insight to include the plight of the working class, victims of hazardous working conditions and mistreatment fueled by profit-seeking managers and corporations. With a steady mix of biographical detail and social criticism, the book helps bring to light ignored and forgotten communities built and maintained on the backs of workers.

Bibb is a storyteller who brings his childhood homes, siblings, teachers, and towns to life with descriptive details, interesting anecdotes, and reverence for a past that has shaped him. At times, the narrative is choppy and uneven, leaping to different places and times, which limits the full development of powerful themes that are hinted at in this personal account. Bibb’s story never feels bleak or even tinged with regret, but he hovers around the legacy of the greed and spoil inherent in the coal mining industry. Just as he seems to be building toward hefty criticism and first-person truth in the face of power, he hushes himself and redirects back to story, memory, and snapshots of family life. Stories like Bibb’s about workers and work, of rural living and of making a living, of reflection and wonder, as well as critique and appreciation, are valuable for they keep the past alive and help steer us to a better future.

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