Meticulously researched, Ivan Doig’s Work Song is a journey back in time and poweful reminder that Butte’s copper was once worth fighting for

Aug 01, 2010 | 04:55 AM | Kevin Foster

The metals and mining industry hasn't inspired many notable novels; Nostromo, Joseph Conrad's tale of Latin American silver mines, and Emile Zola's Germinal, an exposé of coal mining in 19th Century France, are perhaps the two most famous exceptions.

That's puzzling. The nature of the industry—the transformation of rock into material wealth, the sometimes hellish working conditions and the great mass of men and women who have worked in and around its mines and smelters—would seem to be rich material for fiction.

Ivan Doig, a longtime chronicler of the history of the American West, pursues some of these themes in his new novel, Work Song, set in the copper mining town of Butte, Mont., in 1919. Not that Butte was just any mining town—the "Richest Hill on Earth," as it was known for many years, held at the time the world's largest-known copper deposit. And while the lure of Montana's copper was never quite as strong as that which generated California's gold rush more than half a century earlier, a massive mining industry grew up around the West's reserves of copper, drawing in workers from Europe and beyond.....





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