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When Miners March: The Battle of Blair Mountain    by William C. Blizzard order for
When Miners March
by William C. Blizzard
Order:  USA  Can
Mountain Whispers, 2007 (2007)
* * *   Reviewed by Lance Victor Eaton

With more corruption than in Enron, and the kind of violence one expects to see in Iraq, this audiobook brings to life a world of miners, unions, and government interventions that is simultaneously shocking and inspiring. In the first decades of the twentieth century, the United Mining Workers banded together in West Virginia to establish a union and protect miners who were exposed to horrible conditions that threatened their safety, health, and economic freedom. As workers strived to gain rights, owners pushed them to further depths of degradation.

Blizzard takes listeners on a journey - written by the son of a union leader in this battle - through the mining tunnels of West Virginia, collecting a history filled with official documents, speeches, and the oral histories of people who survived one of the most deadly assaults by the United States government on its own people. These events culminated in the Battle of Blair Mountain in early September 1921, where machine guns, aerial bombs, and other extreme tactics were used to assault U.S. citizens. Over ten thousand miners converged on Blair Mountain in late August to confront mine owners' henchmen and federal troops. Though deaths were few considering the amount of firearms used, casualties numbered in the hundreds.

What has the potential to be a drab and sluggish history turns into a riveting and exciting event because of the audiobook quality. The sound editors gracefully blend an extensive mix of sound effects, background noise, and soundtrack to parallel Ross Ballard's energetic rendering of the text. An endless array of sounds - such as moving trains, gunshots, battle scenes, and crowded rooms - keep a running scene in listeners' minds. Subtle additions - like an echo to a quoted voice or the steady rhythm of pick axes banging at rocks - provide listeners with the appreciation and ambience of the many first hand accounts. With command of the narrative and a flair for drama, Ballard also injects a building tension into lengthy descriptions and sections of inaction. He breathes vitality into history. His southern twang gives a native feel to this regional history. Occasionally, his choices for a quoting voice sound more comical than genuine, but overall, his narrative drive and determined pace enhance the audiobook.

Some sixteen catchy and powerful songs are sprinkled throughout the audiobook and compiled together as a soundtrack on the last CD. Most songs including the title track, When Miners March, were written specifically for the audiobook while some were previously released. Though none of these songs emerged directly from the Battle of Blair Mountain or even United Mine Workers, their lyrics and soul still inspire listeners with the miners' struggle.

Note: When Miners March (an 8 CD-set) can be ordered from Audiobooks.

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