Saturday, October 30, 2010
The Age of Smoke -- SOLD
ISBN 10: 0-8229-4364-6
Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2009
Back when I was in grad school, my advisor kept reminding there's "more to history than just one damn thing after another." Someone should have told Frank Uekoetter that. This is a solidly researched book, it's jam-packed with facts, but there comes a point where the reader starts to suffer from information overload and just wants to know what it all means. I'm not sure Uekoetter ever quite gets to that point.
On the other hand, when it comes to tracking the evolution of air pollution and regulation in the U.S. and Germany, this book does lay out a clear time line, from worrying about coal smut back in the 1890s to passage of the Clean Air Act and other legislation in the mid-twentieth century. If a person happened to be a grad student or an environmental historian looking for a topic for further research, Uekoetter provides plenty of tantalizing leads: a few pages about Milwaukee, a few pages about Chicago, a quick mention of St. Louis, and so on.
In short, this is a book packed full of facts, dryer than dust (which counts as an air pollutant, too, but doesn't get quite as much attention as chemical plumes and coal soot), that would be a good addition to the book shelf of any academic specializing in environmental issues, which is why I read it (even though I'm no longer an academic). If I was still teaching science and technology courses, I'd hang on to it simply because it would be a good source for finding specific examples I could weave into lectures about industry, regulation, and pollution. For the general reader, however, it may prove more soporific than enlightening.
Still, if you think it could be useful, The Age of Smoke can be yours for $12.50 plus shipping costs ($3 for media mail, $6 for priority, and $13 for international).
Update: Unbelievable. Somebody actually bought this. Yes, it's solid, scholarly work, but it's also boring as hell.