THE BATTLE OF BLAIR MOUNTAIN: The Story of America’s Largest Labor Uprising by Robert Shogan tells the nonfiction side of the struggle John Sayles dramatized in Matewan, a grimly familiar account of mine owners doing everything legal and illegal to crush the union movement in West Virginia, including murder, eviction, and enlisting legal and political power on their side. This was made simpler in the wake of the Bolshevik revolution and the Palmer raids, as everyone was wildly terrified of the threat of Red Subversion, so claims the union had a sinister agenda seemed all too pluasible. As drama, this would be rather inconclusive (realizing the odds against them are overwhelming, the militants just peter out—which may explain the downbeat end of Matewan), but certainly absorbing as history.
CATCHING FIRE is, of course Book 2 of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy as Katniss discovers her defiance of the Capitol has made President Snow very, very, very unhappy and become the spark for increasing levels of civil disobedience. It’s therefore not that startling when the rules change and she and Peeta get dragged back in for a new round of Games. A solid follow-up, though I’m curious if Collins can pull off a hat trick (once open rebellion breaks out, I assume it’ll be less fresh than the more restricted maneuvering here).
THE LOST CITY OF Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann, chronicles the interrelated stories of Percy Fawcett, a British explorer who disappeared in the Amazon seeking El Dorado (or more accurately the city he believed the source of the myth), the countless expeditions who followed him (many coming to very bad ends) and Grann’s own decision to journey up the Amazon and see if he could learn Fawcett’s fate. I was a little wary Grann would turn this into the excuse for a travelogue (I hate books that use the nominal topic mostly as an excuse for travel stories) but he keeps his own experiences carefully tied to the subject of his story. His conclusion is that Fawcett and his son did indeed die mid-journey, though the cause may never be known—and that Fawcett wasn’t far off in believing the Amazon could support a true civilization. Grann does an excellent job portraying the inhospitability of the Amazonian rain forest (it’s understandable why a lost city there seemed so incredible to Europeans), and the excitement of mapping the world back in the days when Fawcett was exploring. Very good.

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  1. Pingback: An idle thought (#SFWApro) | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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