The deepest coal mine in North America was notoriously unpredictable. One late October evening in 1958, it "bumped" - its rock floors heaving up and smashing into rock ceilings. A few miners staggered out, most of the 174 on shift did not.
Nineteen men were trapped, plunged into darkness, hunger, thirst, and hallucination. As days and nights passed, the survivors began to hope for death by gas rather than from thirst. Above ground, journalists and families stood in despairing vigil, as rescuers brought out scores of the dead. The hope of finding life undergound faded and families made funeral preparations.
Then, a miracle: Rescuers stumbled across a broken pipe leading to a cave of survivors, then a second group was discovered.
A media circus followed. Ed Sullivan, then the state of Georgia, invited survivors to visit. Publicity, politics, and segregation sorted the men differently than they had ordered themselves. Underground, the one black survivor nursed a dying man; in Atlanta, Governor Marvin Griffin said: "I will not shake hands with a Negro."
If every great writer has one tale of peril, heroism, and survival, Last Man Out is Melissa Fay Greene's. Using long-lost stories and interviews with survivors, Greene has reconstructed the drama of their struggle to stay alive