Timothy J. LeCain’s Mass Destruction: The Men and Giant Mines That Wired America and Scarred the Planet won the George Perkins Marsh Prize from the ASEH because it is gutsy, eloquently written and narrated, and carefully argued. It is a fine example of “envirotech” scholarship, a sub-field within environmental history concerned with the intersection of technological systems and their inventors, the science that underscores those systems, the environments that comprise or fuel those systems and, more often than not, the landscapes that are utterly destroyed by them.
LeCain takes the reader on a marvelous journey, which starts with cosmic super-giant stars and their role in the creation of copper and ends with the engineers that built the technologies of “mass destruction” to access the king metal. As LeCain tours ranchlands strewn with dying livestock with faces devoured by industrial poisons, the reader learns in no uncertain terms the connections between technologies, economies, engineered environments, and the bodies that live on and near them.
LeCain proposes that historians often talk of mass production and mass consumption, but rarely of the mass destruction that underlay the mining that produced the copper that connects virtually every element of modern life, from refrigerator coils to battleships. The writing is eloquent and it effectively leads the reader through the story at a brisk pace. For LeCain, technological systems, ranch lands and the livestock that dwell there, engineered subterranean environments, riparian ecosystem, Rocky Mountain cities, and the porous human bodies that call these places home all seamlessly connect, both in his narrative and his analysis. It is a great read.
George Perkins Marsh Prize Committee:
Brett L. Walker, Chair