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King Coal

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  520 ratings  ·  45 reviews
A fellow determined to find the truth for himself about conditions in the mines, runs away from home and adopts the alias "Joe Smith." After being turned away by one coal mine for fear of Hal being a union organizer, he gets a job in another coal mine operated by the General Fuel Company, or GFC. In the mines he befriends many of the workers, and realizes their misery and ...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published January 1st 2007 by Aegypan (first published 1917)
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3.92  · 
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 ·  520 ratings  ·  45 reviews

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Apr 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Dismissing the book as socialist, atheist, outmoded, racist, propagandist, or with some other, yes, accurate (or semi-accurate) descriptor is an easy way to disengage from the actual issues and problems presented by the author and abrogate in oneself the feeling that those injustices so clearly enumerated within actually need to be vigorously sought out, publicized, and fought against in all times and places.

This book obviously takes place over 100 years ago and deals with particulars of that t
James Hatton
Nov 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the story of the lives and deaths of coal miners in the Western United States in the early Twentieth Century. It is about Americans and immigrants in the land of the free, working as slaves, essentially. And then, their fight back.

The postscript to this book is essential. In it, the author presents excerpts of a Colorado Supreme Court judgement against certain political jurisdictions controlled by the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company, which clearly show that the content of the story is bas
Mar 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
You load sixteen tons, what do you get
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store

Those lines, composed by Merle Travis and popularized by Tennessee Ernie Ford, pretty much sum up the situation in coal mining that persisted well into the 20th century. Mines were unsafe; workers had no rights; abusive bosses and owners got rich on the backs of their oppressed employees; unions didn't exist (ironically, as in other industri
Jul 28, 2018 rated it did not like it
Too didactic even for a fellow traveler.
Oct 10, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: literature
It’s interesting that an executive of Massey Energy was sentenced for criminal negligence with regard to a coal mine disaster on the very week I finished King Coal, Upton Sinclair’s muckraking novel about energy companies (the General Fuel Company), coal miners, and unions. Sinclair’s novel was about the events of a great strike by the United Mineworkers in 1914 and this recent court decision took place in 2015. Now, I’m not the most pro-union guy in the world, but I know that unions have been v ...more
Sep 21, 2018 rated it liked it
What to say about this book?

Well. It's the original "slum tourism" aka poverty porn. It's the story of a rich kid, Hal Warner, who wonders what it's like for the other half. So he adopts a generic name and pretends to be just like one of the poor people (he legit fakes their accent and at one point even smears coal on his face to look the part). And falls in love with one of them (Mary Burke). He definitely acts as something of a "white saviour," minus the racial connotation (the people he purpo
Jun 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-owned
It's hard to believe that Upton Sinclair's novel is 100 years old. His prose has the stirring ring of universal truth -- a vibrancy and immediacy that casts his novel not as the document of past historical events or the portrait of an out-dated industrial period in American life, but as an ever-present social and political reality that continues to shape American life as it has done throughout our nation's history. The corruption and autocracy of big business, the exploitation of the working cla ...more
Nicholas Armstrong
Oct 22, 2014 rated it liked it
First of all, it's pretty awesome that Upton Sinclair brought attention to all of the issues that he did. It's even more awesome that he did it through a fictional medium which would be more appetizing and consumable to the broadly uneducated masses. It's amazing to think of it like that, that a man changed world views by showing people a picture of an imaginary world. For some reason, we can much more easily find fault in something like that and then start asking questions of our own. For some ...more
Thom Swennes
Dec 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Social crusaders and lovers of a good story
Slavery wasn't ended with Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation or with the Union’s defeat of the Confederacy. Well into the Twentieth Century slavery prevailed throughout the United States. True, the buying and selling of human flesh was no longer practiced but the Industrial Revolution enslaved humans of all colors and ethnic backgrounds as sure as the Negro was before the War. Big industry exploited the common workers and kept them in poverty all in the name of riches and profit. King Coal by U ...more
Sally Hallman
An eye opener!

I have a great deal of interest in the business of coal mining, as my grandmother's father and older brothers were lost in the Monogngah W V mining disaster in 1907. I want to understand the world that she lived in and the horrors of the work they did and sadness that must have permeated all of their life. This book helps me to understand the mindset of that time and how my great grandmother must have felt waiting for word after the mine collapse. The interest to you may be in the
Maria Pannell
Apr 16, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I found this book to be a truly captivating representation of the hypocrisy and oppression that the early 20th century coal miners encountered. While the plot is not as notable as his earlier work, The Jungle; King Coal is laced with it's own gruesome depiction of the corruption caused by greed and apathetic treatment toward the mine workers.

Upton Sinclair devoted his life to exposing the flaws of big industry and I think everyone could benefit from reflecting on his work.

I would also recommend
Cathy Sites
Jan 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
I nearly gave up on this book within the first 100 pages, but it does get better as the characters develop and show their true selves. This is an important piece of history for anyone who lives in a coal town or a coal state (like Colorado, least we forget, of which the book is based upon). While not the main character, "Red Mary's" struggle and triumphs over one's "place" was the subtle highlight of this story.
Apr 25, 2012 rated it liked it
if you have ever read The Jungle; just replace "meat packing industry" with "coal mining industry" and you don't have to read this book...

actually, a pretty good read. Sinclair is pretty up front about his socialism...
Apr 07, 2013 rated it really liked it

King Coal is a 1917 novel written by Upton Sinclair. Sinclair was an American writer who wrote nearly 100 books (I'm not sure I could get through 100 Sinclair books) and other works in several genres. I've found that Sinclair seems to write one awful novel after another, not awful in that I can't bring myself to finish the novel the writing is so bad, but I can hardly bring myself to finish the book because of all the terrible things going on in it. Besides writing books Sinclair ran unsuccessfu
Oct 26, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ebook, male-authors
Standard Sinclair fare but that's not a bad thing. Coal then and coal now, apparently, and damn everything else.
Sep 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
As topical today as when it was written (1917). Muckraking of the highest order by a master of the genre. Today, with the economy about as far south as it can be, albeit rebounding somewhat, we read, hear about and experience firsthand curtailment of the rights of workers. The prevailing mentality is "if you don't like no breaks and no lunch periods, there is the door. There will be 45 applicants for your job tomorrow". So it was then and so it is now.

Here in this book the setting was an insula
Amanda Hudson
Oct 13, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The “The Jungle” of coal mining

Classic Sinclair. The “The Jungle” of coal mining. CW for dated sexist, racist, and classist language and themes. Free on Kindle!
Charmaine Elliott
Dec 28, 2016 rated it liked it
I was inspired to listen to more Upton Sinclair books because of that amazing masterpiece, The Jungle. Sadly, this doesn't come close - and it is unfortunately because if I had encountered this first I probably would have been quite dazzled by it. I do like the way SInclair explores the world of work and societal issues. I enjoy the contrasting and conflicting perspectives and agendas. The quality lady interests me here. Who is the one? The fancy fiancé or the daughter of the drunk? And of cours ...more
Shane Jarman
Jan 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
King Coal tells part of the long, underappreciated history of the labor movement in the US by looking at the lives of Colorado coal miners in the early 1900s.

Upton Sinclair did a great job of making this novel accessible to those who might not be familiar with the struggles of the working class. By telling the story from the perspective of Hal, the college-educated son of a coal baron, Sinclair is able to explicitly counter many of the common arguments against unionization and misconceptions abo
Jun 12, 2010 rated it liked it
I listened to the audiobook version of this, and it was good, didactic fiction. Really nicely based upon real research on the coal mining process, the problems involved in organizing a union, the problems involved in enforcing safety provisions, gender relations, inter-ethnic competition and solidarity, etc. Great as a book to assign to students. Especially nice that is an audiobook.

Spoiler alert: It is disappointing, though, that we find out the protagonist is not really a wage worker but an up
Gregory Sotir
Apr 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
A good read. The style is social realist, and as such rather flat, but the novel tells of an important time when people actually did heroic things for others with little thought for their own gain. The good hardworking people are truly good, and the evil oppressors are truly evil. I wanted more exposure of the corrupting influence of coal, but Sinclair is happiest in the hovels of the working class rather than the back rooms of state house. In any event, this was a book that was difficult to put ...more
Tanya Faberson
Jun 16, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I really can't say how profoundly affected I was by this book. I have been interested in the history of coal camps, and the coal industry overall, for years, but never delved into it head first until about two years ago. I can say honestly that Sinclair's portrayal of labor relations, politics, and humanitarian struggles are just as true today as they were when he wrote this. I've seen things first hand... and at times it's disheartening to know that while some things have changed, so many other ...more
John Convery
Mar 18, 2012 rated it liked it
When I bought my Kidle I set to reading a bunch of books in the public domain, with the goal of "paying for" the thing by not spending on books for a while. King Coal was free and worth every penny.

Sinclair had an axe to grind, and he did so reasonably well. Interesting but by no means great art. More of a period piece than anything else.

Me, I'm easily amused, so I liked it. Reminds you there was a time when unions were necessary to help working people defend themselves from ruthless capitalist
Dec 30, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: exposé-fiction

TRIGGER WARNINGS: guns, violent content, racism (Japanese), racist slur for Spanish & Italian people (starting with "D", in narrative), racist slur for Hungarian people (starts with "H", in narrative), racist slur for Mexican people (starts with "G", in narrative), racist slur for African-American/Black people (starts with "N", in narrative and speech, frequent), racist slur for Italian people (starts with "W", in speech), kidnapping/police corruption, sexual assault

A very importan
Scott Smith
Aug 23, 2014 rated it really liked it
This book has really stuck with me. Just as Upton Sinclair exposed the meatpacking industry in The Jungle, here his target is the coal mining industry during the 1910s. Hal Warner, a rich young guy determined to find the truth for himself, is the hero of this tale of appalling conditions, corporate greed and an unjust system of "slave" labor. Sure, it's occasionally a bit flip, maybe slightly over-dramatized. But the messages from that long-ago time still ring true today.
Feb 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
One of Sinclair’s great muck raking novels, King Coal focuses on the human abuses of a huge coal mining company in 1910. Affluent Hal Warner, AKA Joe Smith, spends his summer vacation from college living the life of a coal miner to see the real story for himself. The lessons learned are still relevant today: reference the 2010 Chilean mine disaster.
Kurt Kirsch
Sep 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A treat for the inner socialist. Great reminder that "the gap" is nothing new. Takes us back to a time when retaliation against labor was much more overt than today. We've actually come a long way.
Nick Draeger
Dec 30, 2014 rated it liked it
"That's the rule they apply to all the world - if anything goes wrong with you, it must be your own fault. It's a land of equal opportunity."

"And you'll notice," said the organiser, "that the more privileges people have had, the more boldly they talk that way."
Oct 12, 2009 rated it liked it
Sinclair was unquestionably on the side of the angels, and I love him for it, but he wasn't what you'd call a great writer, on the evidence of this novel. That said, it does pick up a bit towards the end, which also features an incongruously zany cross-dressing episode.
Feb 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
I can understand why Upton Sinclair was such a successful author. This was an excellent book showing the conditions of mine workers and the beginnings of unions (more so the resistance of companies to allow them). I thought he would be difficult to read but he was not. I really enjoyed the book.
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Let's Read Togeth...: Ep. 44 - King Coal with Mike Fallek 1 1 Dec 23, 2015 08:27AM  

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Upton Beall Sinclair, Jr. was an American author who wrote close to one hundred books in many genres. He achieved popularity in the first half of the twentieth century, acquiring particular fame for his classic muckraking novel, The Jungle (1906). To gather information for the novel, Sinclair spent seven weeks undercover working in the meat packing plants of Chicago. These direct experiences expos ...more
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