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8 October 2011 TRAPPED: HOW THE WORLD RESCUED 33 MINERS FROM 2,000 FEET BELOW THE CHILEAN DESERT by Marc Aronson, Atheneum, August 2011, 144 p., ISBN: 978-1-4169-1397-9


"Can I go buddy

Can I go down

Take your shift at the mine?

-- Hunter, Garcia, & Lesh, "Cumberland Blues"


"Copper is a chemical element with the symbol Cu (from Latin: cuprum) and atomic number 29. It is a ductile, semi-precious metal with very high thermal and electrical conductivity. Pure copper is soft and malleable; an exposed surface has a reddish-orange tarnish. It is used as a conductor of heat and electricity, a building material, and as a constituent of various metal alloys."

-- Wikipedia


"But then, at the end of the 1800s, the world went electric. First telegraphs, then telephones -- talk ran on copper wires. Just at the moment when the world suddenly needed more copper, a new process was invented that made it easier to separate the metal from other rocks. So even as metalsmiths crafted the Bronze Age, coppersmiths made possible the Age of Electricity. Today, the average American uses sixteen pounds of copper a year -- at home, work, and at school. Five pounds of that is recycled, but that means for every American, eleven new pounds of copper must be found, mined, processed, and shipped."

-- TRAPPED, p.20


I've not had much opportunity to read or write about books over the past month or so, as I've been deep in the midst of repairing and painting our house. In the process, I've frequently had my hands on copper pipe (which is around ten bucks for a length of the half-inch diameter stuff at Home Depot) and on copper electrical wiring (which snakes its way behind all of the walls in the house). I know my way around these essential construction materials pretty well, having grown up helping install plumbing in new homes and repairing it in older homes. I was using a pipe cutter before I could read, cutting away used fittings and solder from old pieces of copper pipe which could then be sold at a good price to the scrap metal place for recycling.


So, I've known about the chemical properties and practical uses of copper, and I knew that it was mined and refined. But I never really thought about the mining process, the work -- and danger -- going into retrieving the ore that eventually becomes a run of pipe or a stretch of wire behind a wall in a house.


"'We all agreed that we should all share the food that was there. You just had to rough it. Every twenty-four hours eat a small piece of tuna. Nothing else.'

"'Small' meant as little as possible -- about half a soda-bottle-cap-full -- twice every forty-eight hours, along with a sip of milk, which was turning sour, a bite of canned peach, and a cracker. Oily water, perhaps taken from the ground, or drained from the machines, soon joined the milk."


TRAPPED by Marc Aronson alternately drops us a nearly unimaginable distance into the ground, where we spend time with 33 miners in Chile who were trapped last year when 1.4 billion pounds of rock suddenly closed up their one route home, and sets us alongside those, aboveground, who were desperately trying to reach the miners before they died. In a departure from his books about what happened a long time ago, Marc Aronson steps into the role of a journalist to tell a current story about the race to save the lives of these 33 miners, and how the miners, themselves, were first and foremost responsible for coming out of that half-mile-deep hole alive.


"Alejandro Olave is an expert at figuring out where a drill is going underground and when it is shifting away from the proper path. He knew why they were having so much trouble. The maps they were using 'had not been updated.' Brown was told that the shelter [the miners were, hopefully, alive in] might be anywhere within eighteen feet of where they were aiming. But the target itself was only about seven and a half feet wide. They were digging blind through thousands of feet of rock to find a small target, which was not where it was supposed to be. That is way too much room for error."


But thanks to an international outpouring of assistance, including everyone from NASA and submarine commanders to drilling experts and psychologists, the miners were found to be alive and were able to be furnished with food and supplies for the months that it required to safely dig an escape route and build them an escape capsule.


It has to bolster one's faith in humanity to see how, in times of need, people of so many nations can actually come together to solve a crisis.


If there is one amusing aspect of this true survival story, it is the outpouring of assistance from companies such as Sony, Apple, and Samsung who provided consumer products to help keep the miners occupied for the time between when they were discovered alive and when their rescue was completed. (What would you want at hand for recreation if you were going to be trapped in your basement for the next couple of months?)


Author Marc Aronson concludes the story by sharing his research process for the book -- a not-to-be-missed lesson in information literacy for young researchers..Given that it takes increasing effort and energy to extract valuable metal ores -- like copper -- on which we depend, I am hoping this book inspires readers to think about what they are doing before tossing in the garbage any recyclable metal products that -- after the finding, mining, processing, and shipping -- have only been used once.


Richie Partington, MLIS
Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.com
Moderator http://groups.yahoo.com/group/middle_school_lit/

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