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Archive for November, 2009

This book took me longer to read than most. I set it aside for long stretches, but those stretches rarely felt as long as the stretches I spent reading it.

File this one under corporate history; fawning. It’s by some once-well-regarded hack of a newspaperman (below; author crosses self) who apparently found himself consumed by copper. The first that I found was this, at left, a hagiographic history of the Anaconda Copper Company, the mining behemoth based in Butte, Montana that dominated that state’s economy, politics, and media for the first half of the 20th century and beyond. It was sold off in 1977. BP owns its trail of destruction.

I can’t resist: Anaconda (1957) is the literary equivalent of hard-rock mining. It’s dark, dusty work and you come up with what feels like about $2 a day. I’m only reading it on the off-chance that I might remember something about it that might inform a book I might be trying to write about the Clark Fork River, which as a result of Anaconda’s operations became the most geographically extensive EPA Superfund cleanup site in the U.S., slushed full of toxic mine tailings and bleeding arsenic, a status from which it’s undergoing dramatic remediation.

Not once is an environmental concern or consequence mentioned in Isaac Marcosson’s Anaconda, which is probably the most lasting bit of learning I’ll glean from it. In official circles, nobody knew, and/or nobody cared, and/or it just didn’t matter, because there was so damn much money to be made.

Marcosson came to the subject matter organically, having already written a history of the colonial roots of the American copper refining industry: Copper Heritage (1955). It pretty much started with Paul Revere. And here I’d always thought of Revere as a silver man.

I can’t say when or if I’ll get around to reading Copper Heritage. I know Marcosson’s style now. The Anaconda Company didn’t get rich mining low-grade ore.

Much more fun and at least as informative in this endeavor is The Copper Kings of Montana, a Landmark Book about the epic territorial, litigious and legislative shit-storms between Marcus Daly and William Clark and Frederick Augustus Heinze that preceded Anaconda’s emergence as king of the Butte hill (a hill, in the middle of an American city, that the company later stripped into a pit).

The Copper Kings is peppered with two-color illustrations, prose a sixth-grader could understand (author crosses self), and a childlike appreciation for a little good conflict to move the story along. Anaconda didn’t get to be the largest and most powerful mining conglomerate in the world without stepping on a few toes (or destroying a few rivers), Marcosson unconvincingly to the contrary.

The Copper Kings is simplified truth for sure, a child’s-eye view, but in a lot of ways it’s a much more sophisticated book than Anaconda— a title so enslaved to its master that even a kid could see the chainsPlus: pictures!

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