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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 203

Coal: A Human History is American author and attorney Barbara Freese's 2016 book chronicling the political, natural, and social history of the mineral coal throughout the ages.

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As a non-fiction history text, Coal: A Human History does not have characters in the traditional sense of literature. However, two corporate characters are present. They are, first, humanity, which collectively takes the role of protagonist on an 800-year quest for fuel and energy. The antagonist, a non-corporeal and collective character, is the mineral coal, which offers to humanity the solution to its fuel and energy demands but at an ever increasing environmental cost.

Beyond these corporate characters, a number of individual personages are highlighted throughout the story. They include American railroad magnate Franklin Gowen, the union-busting head of the Reading Railroad whose plans for expansion of the railroad industry demand "a cheap and steadily growing coal supply." Also included is King Edward I, whose early attempts to ban coal in medieval England turned out to be fruitless; and Ralph Waldo Emerson whose line "coal is an ever portable climate" forms the title to one of the volume's chapters.

Other characters in the book include Hugh Platt, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Josiah White, and the Duke of Wellington.

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