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[Excerpt] According to Kent A. Curtis, the biggest obstacle for miners in the American West was uncertainty. Gold, silver, and copper were randomly dispersed in the ground, making it impossible for any extractor to know where rich deposits might be found. Overcoming uncertainty was a crucial step in the process of transforming America into a “mining nation” by the 1880s. To do this, miners increased the scale of their operations, causing environmental devastation in parts of western Montana, where the study is set. Producers that became large enough churned out metal, copper most importantly, in vast quantities, causing consumers to disassociate the finished product with the adverse effects of production. Gambling on Ore blends the history of capitalism with environmental history to show the corporate causes and environmental effects of industrial metal production. The book is organized in an intuitive way, tracing the development of three types of mining in chronological order, starting with a chapter on small-scale gold mining, moving on to a chapter on silver lode mining, followed by two chapters on large-scale copper production.


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Newton, J. L. (2014). Mining in the west: Knowing nature through uncertainty and the problem of the declensionist narrative in environmental history [Review of the book Gambling on ore: The nature of metal mining in the United States, 1860-1910, by K. A. Curtis]. H-Net Reviews. Retrieved from