Named to the New York Public Library's "Books for the Teen Age 2004" list.
Chicago Tribune's favorite books: Nonfiction
December 7, 2003
Last Man Out: The Story of the Springhill Mine Disaster
By Melissa Fay Greene
Harcourt, 342 pages, $25
A thrilling retelling of the 1958 Nova Scotia mine collapse in which 174
men were trapped underground.
LAST MAN OUT INCLUDED IN TORONTO GLOBE 100:
[Fabulous fiction, brilliant biography, powerful poetry, hair-raising history it's all here in our sixth annual selection of the year's best books.]
Last Man Out: The Story of the Springhill Mine Disaster
Of 174 men trapped in the Springhill mine in 1958, 75 either died instantly or after lingering and unspeakable agony. Of the 99 rescued, only those from the miraculous Group of Twelve and Group of Seven (surviving six and nine days respectively) appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. Last Man Out, by a natural-born storyteller from the U.S. South, is as good a book about a Canadian disaster as you're likely to find. Greene dug up taped interviews with all 19 of the last men out and many wives and widows. In vivid prose and with high sensitivity, she has created a book that's deep, moving and timeless. Harry Boyle
Cox Enterprises/ Cox News Service includes LAST MAN OUT by Melissa Fay Greene on their list of "TOP BOOKS OF 2003: A roundup of the year's best nonfiction books"
"Last Man Out" by Melissa Fay Greene (Harcourt, $25). The Atlanta author
of "Praying for Sheetrock" and "The Temple Bombing" revisits the coal mine
catastrophe of Oct. 23, 1958, when 174 miners were trapped underground in
Spring Hill, Nova Scotia, and 75 died. Greene meticulously re-creates the drama
around the nation's first televised disaster.
"Last Man Out" named a NOTABLE BOOK by the New York Times Book Review.
"This is a fine, harrowing, brutally detailed work that will make you savor daylight in a way you never have -- unless of course you're already a coal miner."
author of Isaac's Storm and The Devil in the White City
"....a nail-biting account of how the men struggle to keep hold of their spirits as they starve and wait, sharing dreams of sunlight and family. The fate of the men who did not survive is grotesque almost beyond bearing, but the lacerating effects of momentary fame damage the survivors also. In a series of devastating, finely drawn portraits, Greene deeply examines the lives o her characters, showing their intimate, playful sides as well as the sturdy reticence of men too strong to admit they may be doomed. BOTTOM LINE: A TRAGIC TRIUMPH."
Arion Berger, PEOPLE, May 26,2003.
"....[a] most vivid account of horror and heroism, of exemplary human behavior under the most adverse circumstances and of the buffoonery of those who tried to exploit those admirable survivors."
John F. Stacks, CHICAGO TRIBUNE, Sunday June 22, 2003 [front page Books section]
"[Greene] writes about the futile explorations and attempts to escape, the incremental loss of light as one by one the battery-powered lamps were exhausted until the men waited in impenetrable blackness, the acceptance of death by some, the rejection by others, the thirsts so great that men drank urine, the emergence of unexpected strengths and finally the delirious joy of salvation. It is a good survival story... a portrait of the modern era in its embryonic state and a story that for thoughtful readers can serve as a reflection on present times."
William Langewiesche, THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW, Sunday, April 27, 2003
"LAST MAN OUT, by a natural-born storyteller from the American South, is as good a book about a Canadian disaster as you're ever likely to find... 45 years have passed since the bump, and one might therefore wonder why anyone would devote years of her life to resurrecting its story, but by combing all the interviews with her own vivid prose and high sensitivity to human anguish, Greene has created a book that's far more deep, moving and timeless than anything you'll ever see on "The National."
Harry Bruce, THE TORONTO GLOBE & MAIL, Book Section, May 3, 2003.
"With every book, Greene further refines her art of rich, literary nonfiction. And she continues to find these perfect stories -- stories that stand on their own but also serve to show something much bigger, much darker, below the surface."
Teresa K. Weaver, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, April 6, 2003
"Last Man Out is the riveting story of a mine disaster, filled with incomparable second-by-second detail of men fighting for their lives... and an inquiry into the ripple effects of catastrophe."
Samuel G. Freedman, author of Small Victories and Jew vs. Jew
"Melissa Fay Greene so captures the experience of being trapped in the absolute night of a failed coal mine that you can almost see the pale beams of dying headlamps and taste the last sips of coal-laced drinking water. Having shared the experience, a sympathetic reader cannot help but marvel at the absurdity of the disaster's aftermath. This is a fine, harrowing, brutally detailed work that will make you savor daylight in a way you never have -- unless of course you're already a coal miner."
Erik Larson, author of Isaac's Storm and The Devil in the White City
"This is a superb study of the human condition in extremis... Greene's previous books, Praying for Sheetrock and The Temple Bombing, were National Book Award finalists. LAST MAN OUT will challenge those readers who tend to prolong the pleasure of a compelling book by rationing the last chapters: they set the book aside after savoring one page and return to it later. This book is sure to break them of that habit."
Alan Prince, BOOKPAGE, April 2003
"...This story is extraordinary for many reasons, which Melissa Fay Greene makes clear in her claustrophobic page- turner "Last Man Out."
Nan Goldberg, THE NEWARK STAR-LEDGER, Sunday, March 30, 2003
"Melissa Fay Greene, who proved herself a good hand at compelling nonfiction in "Praying for Sheetrock" and "The Temple Bombing," continues her string of successes with "Last Man Out"... Greene, focusing on two groups of survivors, captures for us some of the agony of their waiting, raging with thirst in utter darkness, for rescue or, what seems increasingly likely, death...Then, when she tells the stories of each survivor's recovery, the narrative opens up, like the petals of a flower."
Roger K. Miller, THE DENVER POST, Sunday, March 23, 2003
"It's hard to imagine a scenario more terrifying than being trapped in a gaseous, crumbling coal mine two miles beneath the earth's surface in utter darkness, without food or water, while your gravely injured colleagues howl in agony all around you. Actually, there is one thing more terrifying: knowing you'll probably die there. This is the premise of author Melissa Fay Greene's engrossing book, Last Man Out, which recreates the Springhill, Nova Scotia mine disaster of 1958...Greene is successful not only in capturing the misery of the trapped men but also in giving context to the horrifying event. Educated men don't descend the mines to make a living; men with no alternatives do. Their strength and dignity in the face day-to-day adversity makes Last Man Out a thoroughly humbling read."
Kim Hughes, Amazon Canada, March 27, 2003
"A strikingly told story of a Canadian mining catastrophe. In 1958, in the prettily named Springhill, Nova Scotia, a rush of subterranean energy compressed the deep chambers of the town's coal mine, thrusting the floors of the tunnels against their roofs. Two-and-a-half miles underground, dozens of men were trapped in small pockets of space soon to be in utter darkness, the maze of tunnels crushed about them, gas seeping here and there. Through interviews with survivors, the autobiography of the local doctor, and, most fascinatingly, a study of survival strategies conducted after the disaster, the award-winning Greene recreates the extraordinary efforts undertaken by those trapped and those on top to keep themselves from flying apart under the circumstances. She tracks in excruciating detail the actions of two groups of men -- seven in one, twelve in another -- as they tended the injured, scrounged for food, devised ways to make contact, considered whether or not to cut off one man's arm that had been pinned inside a wall of fallen coal, forcing him into a standing slouch....Greene concludes with a portrait of the ghastly emotional consequences of the ordeal that did not disappear in the light of day...she captures the gloom in all its manifestations. Its release so soon after the widely publicized Pennsylvania mining disaster and rescue should boost the book commercially, but this sensitive account stands on its own artistic merits."
Kirkus Reviews (2/1/03)