Reviews and News
Following almost a decade of effort and litigation, Steve Jobs finally succeeded in tearing down the Daniel Jackling house in Woodside, California. I wrote an op-ed piece updating the story for the High Country News "Writers on the Range" syndication service. The op-ed was published in a number of western newspapers, but you can read the version published in the ASPEN TIMES here:
A September 13, 2010, interview about Mass Destruction on Yellowstone Public Radio's RealTime with George Cole. To listen to a podcast of the interview, click on the URL below and scroll down to the archived interview, "Timothy LeCain":
University of Delaware piece on the book and Marsh Prize:
April 2, 2010
BOZEMAN -- Montana State University historian Timothy J. LeCainrecently received the prestigious George Perkins Marsh Prize for the best new book in environmental history.
The award-winning book, Mass Destruction: The Men and Giant Mines that Wired America and Scarred the Planet, tells the story of two enormous open pit copper mines, the Berkeley Pit in Butte and the Bingham Pit in Utah. The American Society for Environmental History presented the prize to LeCain during its March meeting in Portland, Ore.
The ASEH prize committee praised LeCain's book as "a great read" that is also "gutsy, eloquently written and narrated, and carefully argued." The result is a book that "takes the reader on a marvelous journey, which starts with cosmic super-giant stars and their role in the creation of copper and ends with the engineers that built the technologies of ‛mass destruction' to access the king metal."
LeCain, an associate professor in MSU's Department of History and Philosophy, spent nearly a decade researching and writing Mass Destruction, but said his fascination with Butte's Berkeley Pit goes back to his early childhood. Born and raised in Missoula, LeCain vividly remembers visiting the Berkeley Pit as a young boy.
"I was fascinated by the pit and the giant shovels and trucks, but also a bit troubled and frightened," LeCain said, explaining that Butte and the pit seemed shockingly different and distant from the family's home in Missoula Valley.
"In a sense, Mass Destruction is an outgrowth of that vague boyhood sense that my sheltered life in Missoula somehow depended on that harsh industrial world in Butte," LeCain said.
Previous recipients of the Marsh Prize include eminent authors and historians like William Cronin, Elliot West, Thomas Andrews, and Karl Jacoby. The prize is named after the 19th Century American scholar and writer, George Perkins Marsh, who is often cited as the nation's first environmentalist. His insights into the role of forests in preserving water supplies influenced the creation of the Adirondack Park in upstate New York, one of the nation's earliest large-scale nature preserves.
Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135
One of the most prestigious prizes in environmental history, the George Perkins Marsh Prize is awarded by the American Society for Environmental History for the best book of the year. Below is the citation that accompanied the award, which is also posted on the ASEH website with a list of previous winners at:
"Timothy J. LeCain’s Mass Destruction: The Men and Giant Mines That Wired America and Scarred the Planet won the George Perkins Marsh Prize from the ASEH because it is gutsy, eloquently written and narrated, and carefully argued. It is a fine example of “envirotech” scholarship, a sub-field within environmental history concerned with the intersection of technological systems and their inventors, the science that underscores those systems, the environments that comprise or fuel those systems and, more often than not, the landscapes that are utterly destroyed by them. LeCain takes the reader on a marvelous journey, which starts with cosmic super-giant stars and their role in the creation of copper and ends with the engineers that built the technologies of “mass destruction” to access the king metal. As LeCain tours ranchlands strewn with dying livestock with faces devoured by industrial poisons, the reader learns in no uncertain terms the connections between technologies, economies, engineered environments, and the bodies that live on and near them. LeCain proposes that historians often talk of mass production and mass consumption, but rarely of the mass destruction that underlay the mining that produced the copper that connects virtually every element of modern life, from refrigerator coils to battleships. The writing is eloquent and it effectively leads the reader through the story at a brisk pace. For LeCain, technological systems, ranch lands and the livestock that dwell there, engineered subterranean environments, riparian ecosystem, Rocky Mountain cities, and the porous human bodies that call these places home all seamlessly connect, both in his narrative and his analysis. It is a great read."
January 2010, Volume 15, Issue 1
Reviewer Allen Dietrich-Ward finds Mass Destruction to be "a highly readable and intellectually engaging text that will help to shape the future direction of a range of subfields from environmental to economic history and beyond."
The full text of the review is available at:
The December 2009 edition of Choice, the review journal of the American Library Association, had a very positive review of Mass Destruction:
LeCain (history, Montana State) writes skillfully and eloquently about the history, the engineering challenges, the successes of production and resulting consumption, and the environmental consequences of open-pit copper mining, mainly in the first half of the 20th century. He begins with the saga of Daniel Jackling, the legendary mining engineer who dared to change from the traditional underground excavation mining method to unprecedented open-pit massive removal of copper ore at the Bingham Pit near Salt Lake City, Utah, and the Berkeley Pit at Butte, Montana. The author portrays the incredible machines of rock removal and transport, the towering stacks for smoke dispersal, and the energy and scale of production in the context of the human and environmental impact of producing copper--and, significantly, other metals as well--for an increasingly addictive technological society the world over. With clarity and reason, LeCain analyzes this undeniable and inextricable connection between the technology of producing nature's raw materials and human and environmental imperatives. This book provokes serious second thoughts about the future of the exploitation of nature's bounty, and it should appeal to a wide audience, especially modern resource companies and conservationists. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through professionals; two-year technical program students; general readers. -- T. L. T. Grose, emeritus, Colorado School of Mines
Good words from the FEMINIST REVIEW:
In Mass Destruction, Timothy J. LeCain carefully examines the industrial open-pit mining industry in America, and its technological, social, and environmental impact on our modern world.
Full disclosure: Books like this have a tendency to take my enviro-angst to a whole new level. I consider myself concerned with environmental issues, but I clearly have not yet reached Colin Beavan (a.k.a. did-not-use-toilet-paper-for-a-year-man) levels of environmental virtue. I would say that I have a moderate to high level of "impact guilt"; I carpool, but feel bad for not owning a hybrid or taking the bus. I recycle, but feel remorseful for buying food with lots of packaging. Mass Destruction took me from a vague kind of guilt when throwing my towels into the dryer straight to an appendicitis-like pain when thinking of all the copper wiring that has made my lifetime of electricity use possible.
If you have never seen pictures of the Bingham Pit Mine outside of Salt Lake City, Utah, its scope will definitely take your breath away. Measuring two and a half miles wide and three-quarters of a mile deep, the mine is one of only two man-made objects that are visible from space. LeCain sees this as fitting, “given that the astronauts’ technological home away from home in space would most likely contain copper, aluminum, gold, and other metals mined in open pits.” However, LeCain argues convincingly that the rise of technological innovation and efficiencies that sent Americans to the moon has also created the potential for the worldwide depletion of natural resources and irrevocable damage to ecologically important areas. LeCain describes the proliferation of “dead zones,” which are areas near pit mining operations that have been so besieged and exploited that they essentially become sterile, and even poisonous.
Even more alarming is LeCain’s assertion that as developing countries takes on American-style production and consumption habits, the environmental crises created by open pit mining will grow exponentially. Yet, in the fair-minded style LeCain uses throughout the book, he argues that America should not ask the rest of the world to abandon their lucrative mining operations due to environmental impact. Now that we have benefited from the mineral riches we have extracted, we cannot hypocritically expect the rest of the world to sit by and pass up the opportunity such technology provides to its people. The obligation of America, according to LeCain, will be in scientific advancement: finding ecologically sound methods for mineral extraction. His hope is that these advancements will provide an increased quality of life for people around the world.
I fervently hope LeCain is right that our future is one where technology and ecology coincide. However, barring the simultaneous worldwide vaporization of every iPod, Hummer, and coal-fired power plant, I have trouble believing humanity will ever be able to use earth’s resources with anything remotely resembling sustainability. But that could just be my enviro-angst talking.
Review by Jennifer Wedemeier