LOST MOUNTAIN by Erik Reece

Reviewed by Nordeen Morello, Book'Em ...take our poll!

Lost Mountain (March 29, 2007) Book-'Em went green for March! Arrayed around a table laden with traditional Saint Patrick's Day fare, we sported shades that ranged from drab olive through a neon lime to discuss an earthen "green" issue. Lost Mountain by Erik Reece tackles the subject of mountain top removal, the strip mining of coal. It is subtitled: A Year In The Vanishing Wilderness, Radical Strip Mining and The Devastation of Appalachia. The dry subtitle belies the text's flow and moments of beauty by author Reece, a writing professor at the University of Kentucky.

The title refers to the ironic name of a particular mountain in Perry County, Kentucky, which Reece clandestinely observed over the course of a year. The title also refers to its ultimate barren appearance and loss of majesty with devastating consequences to local flora, fauna, wildlife and human populations. And this is occurring throughout the mountain ranges of West Virginia and Kentucky today.

This is an eye opening, impassioned presentation of the process, its supposed regulation, and the effects on the environment. It is highly readable, packed with information, and written with an eye towards the natural world as well as the ensuing man-made destruction. Lost Mountain is not a book of overstated rage and rant, it is not whining or guilt-intending, and the author addresses possible solutions in a hopeful ending. But it is very much an indictment of the coal industry, the federal government, and the Congress.

Our members were impressed with Reece's ability to make this forest vivid and real for us. "He describes the forest in such a way, it broke your heart." And we appreciated the author's ease at incorporating literary and philosophical references to smooth and seam what otherwise might have been a burdensome didactic lesson on the science, politics, and economics of coal mining.

Book-'Em really responded to this selection, including one absent member who felt compelled to send this message: "I loved this book! It made me feel that the news is a fraud. How this stuff (sludge flood, etc.) isn't reported and we get much more than anyone wants on Anna Nicole is infuriating to me!" As a media audience, we hear of every mudslide involving homes of the rich and famous. Yet not one major newspaper reported any coverage of the Buffalo Creek, West Virginia, sludge pond break, an environmental disaster of a much greater magnitude (read the book).

Reece shows us that "The poor can see the affluent…the affluent rarely see the poor. The poor have disappeared from the culture at large." In addition, there is a "perception of this land [Appalachia] and these people as damaged goods."

Besides an overview of the geological and ecological history of the region, Reece tutors the reader in understandable language on details of the mining operation, the government agencies overseeing (and overlooking) the mining industry, and the facts and figures of coal in this country, and offers personal looks at the destruction caused. These examples include hundreds of miles of obliterated streams, pollution, loss of certain species populations, respiratory related diseases, cracked and damaged housing foundations, poverty and human loss of pride, dignity and life. "It is painful to read because we benefit from their pain and we are responsible for it," said a member.

We talked about the wasteful nature of Americans, we re-framed some of the problems as class related issues, and we questioned the merit of carbon offsets. At best, they effectively allow the continuation of excess consumption. And we eagerly shared suggestions for individual efforts we could pursue. Change to compact fluorescent light bulbs, clean your refrigerator coils, unplug appliances when you go on trips, and recycle dry cleaner hangers. Each member pledged to use canvas recycling bags for grocery and other purchases and to convert one other individual to do the same. (Join us in this effort.) By then dessert had been cleared; otherwise, we might have looked at local and global efforts and possibilities.

Yes, we urge you to read this illuminating book. Some members thought that it should be required reading at the high school level. Another suggested its use in a One City/One Book campaign. Make Lost Mountain your next book club selection…and then please, pass your copies on to others. Go Green!

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FROM THE EDITORS: Find reviews contributed by other local book clubs at: www.larchmontgazette.com. We'd love to hear from other Larchmont book clubs and readers; email us at publisher@larchmontgazette.com.