Bookshelf

Bookshelf provides descriptions and notices of recent publications on Pennsylvania subjects.

The Ephrata Commune: An Early American Counterculture

by E.G. Alderfer
University of Pitts­burgh Press, 1985 (273 pages, paper, $8.95)

Based on six years of pains­taking research. The Ephrata Commune is both a scholarly study and a dramatic chronicle of a unique social order and religious experiment formed on the eighteenth-century frontier in Lancaster County. Ephrata was established upon the personality of Conrad Beissel, a probing mystic who came to America in 1720 after having been exiled from the German Palatinate. His cha­risma and exceptional talents attracted other German set­tlers who were enlivened by his vision of a community formed in the image of apos­tolic Christianity. The Ephrata story has an unusual epic quality. Its antecedents are traced in this work from the earliest Christian communi­ties, through the “heretical” sects of the medieval period to the so-called left wing of the Reformation, the great Ger­man mystics and the Pietist movement. Most of Ephrata’s members came from this unor­thodox tradition and their commune evolved without a preconceived plan. The com­munity was not without inter­nal strife, however, as a crisis arose between the few who strove, on the one hand, for power over Beissel and cham­pioned a materialistic econ­omy, and the majority, on the other, who followed Beissel’s spiritual objective. More crises followed and Ephrata never fully recovered. In detailing the story, the author has care­fully preserved the chronology of Ephrata’s events in order to place its internal development and its crises in the context of movements and events in the world surrounding it. This interrelationship is, perhaps, the most distinguishing fea­ture of the book, thus avoiding the provincialism of most of the previous literature regard­ing Ephrata.

 

The Kingdom of Coal

by Donald L. Miller and Rich­ard E. Sharpless
University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985 (360 pages, paper, $17.95)

Subtitled Work, Enterprise, and Ethnic Communities in the Mine Fields, this book is the first comprehensive history of one of America’s first great industries and of the people who made it great – from the miserably paid immigrant mine workers to the powerful, seemingly omnipotent coal barons. It is also the story of America’s industrial revolu­tion. Beginning with the dis­covery of hard coal in Northeastern Pennsylvania in the early nineteenth century, the Anthracite Empire, by World War I, was a powerful combination of mines and railroads, producing one hun­dred million tons of coal a year and employing one hundred and eighty thousand men. While it freed America from its dependence on foreign coal and helped trigger a national industrial explosion, the cost was staggering. The land was ravaged almost beyond sal­vage; forests were completely stripped; streams and rivers were contaminated by raw sewage from coal settlements and acid seepage from the mines. But the human cost was even more appalling: working in total darkness, often knee-deep in water, men and boys learned that risk of death was part of their jobs, and, if they lived, that the black lung disease would be more terrible than death. The grim conditions forced miners to organize in what Clarence Darrow called “the greatest conflict between capital and labor which the world has ever seen.” The miners and their families – European immi­grants who came to mine coal and who stayed to build tightly knit ethnic commu­nities – are the focus of The Kingdom of Coal.

 

Latrobe’s View of Amer­ica, 1795-1820

by Edward C. Carter II, John C. Van Home and Charles E. Brownell, editors
Yale University Press, 1985 (400 pages, cloth, $35.00)

Benjamin Henry Latrobe, America’s first professional architect and engineer, was also a superb draftsman and watercolorist (see “Benjamin Henry Latrobe: The Artist as Commentator” in this issue) who recorded the American landscape during a period that is largely unrepresented picto­rially. Many of Latrobe’s ren­derings are the earliest – and in some cases the sole – known views of particular sites; thus the views and accompanying commentary in this colorful book constitute a unique im­age of early America. The many drawings, sketches and watercolors in this volume­ – part three of a four-segment series – cover a wide variety of subjects: rivers, roads, bridges, canals, flora and fauna, and people in their homes, at work and at play. Whenever possible, the edi­tors use Latrobe’s own words to describe the scenes he de­picts, and supplement his commentary with excerpts from the writings of other contemporary travelers. Tn addition, the editors have provided their own commen­tary to explain each view and identify the buildings or lo­cales depicted, and have given enough background informa­tion to make the drawings valuable historical documents in their own right.