Something’s Rising by Silas House & Jason Howard

There’s nothing wishy-washy about the point of view of Something’s Rising, a new book about mountaintop-removal coal mining written by two Eastern Kentuckians, novelist Silas House and journalist Jason Howard.

“After carefully examining the issue and learning as much as possible about this form of coal mining, we knew it was wrong,” they write in the book’s introduction. “And even more than that, we knew we had to do something about it. This book is our way of fighting back.”

House, whose novels include Clay’s Quilt (2001) and The Coal Tattoo (2004), and Howard wage their fight with a well-written collection of interviews with and personal testimony from a dozen Appalachian activists. Many of these people have spent years, if not decades, opposing the mining method that blows apart mountains to extract coal and dumps what’s left into valleys and streams.

Many people in Appalachia defend mountaintop-removal mining because it creates jobs in a poor region — even though it creates far fewer jobs than deep mining. They often dismiss criticism by claiming that it comes only from elsewhere — from people who like to admire Appalachia’s mountains but don’t have to live and earn a living among them.

This book tries to refute that argument. The people profiled in Something’s Rising are of these hills, as their ancestors were. The authors detail their own families’ coal-mining heritage. They’re not against coal mining, they’re careful to say; they’re just against the destruction caused by mountain-top removal.

Some of the activists profiled are well-known: Jean Ritchie, the legendary folk singer; country singer Kathy Mattea; and Jack Spadaro, a whistle-blowing federal mine regulator whose attempts to enforce the law against coal companies led the Bush administration to persecute and oust him.

Others are people from Kentucky, West Virginia and Tennessee whom you wouldn’t hear about otherwise. Many were just average folks who hated how mountaintop-removal mining was destroying their communities, culture and environment – and they decided to do something about it.

Beyond making the case against mountain-top ¬removal mining, Something’s Rising gives the reader a window into traditional Appalachian values and culture, and their attachment to a beautiful and rugged landscape that is quickly disappearing beneath coal-company bulldozers.

University of Kentucky historian Ron Eller’s 2008 book Uneven Ground: Appalachia Since 1945 gave a masterful macro look at the region’s issues. Something’s Rising is a good companion because it provides a compelling micro view.

This book takes you into the hearts and minds of some of Appalachia’s most committed citizens and helps you understand their moral outrage at the destruction of their homeland.

RATING 7 / 10