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Know the West

Necessary evil: a review of Boom, Bust, Boom


Boom, Bust, Boom: A Story About Copper, The Metal That Runs The World
Bill Carter
274 pages, hardcover: $26.
Scribner, 2012.

Arizona is known for the five C's -- cattle, cotton, climate, citrus and the king of them all, copper. Bill Carter's book Boom, Bust, Boom: A Story About Copper, the Metal that Runs the World is more than just an academic foray into the complexities of global copper supply and demand. As copper mining threatens to resume near his home in Bisbee, Ariz., Carter's concern for his family's welfare grows. Bisbee, from the turn of the century through the mid-1970s, was the "Queen of the Copper Camps," until all mining operations ceased in 1975. Now a thriving alternative culture community, Bisbee still bears the scars of its copper mining heyday, including soils tainted by fallout from the smelter used to melt copper ore. Carter's personal experience with arsenic poisoning from vegetables he grew in his own yard is the impetus behind his investigation.

This well-researched narrative describes how copper is found in all corners of the world and every facet of our lives. The author journeys to towns in Arizona and Alaska where the specter of new copper mining has drawn battle lines between people who are concerned about the loss of beloved landscapes and those interested in boosting the local economy.

Most notably, Carter highlights the controversial Pebble Mine proposal in Alaska, whose waste could taint Lake Iliamna and harm the world's largest sockeye salmon fishery. Carter's own experience with commercial salmon fishing in this area, as told in his 2008 book Red Summer: The Danger, Madness, and Exaltation of Salmon Fishing in a Remote Alaskan Village, makes this potential mining disaster even more poignant.

Boom, Bust, Boom is written like a good documentary, exposing the author's struggle to find answers through his own personal journey. "By leaving Bisbee, I am conceding that my wife, kids, and I need more than what the town can offer, and what it can't offer, which is a promise the mine won't reopen." Through Carter's eyes, we are reminded of our inextricable link to this landscape-altering resource -- and the consequences of our dependence.