As the author describes in the afterword, Tigana is a novel that employs the fantasy genre to explore some of the key and critical features of our recent history. The characters -- and cultures -- are realistic in how they respond to large-scale oppression. The novel deeply explores how oppressive regimes can dominate a conquered people, how some of the conquered resist, and how others are seduced into collaboration. Like real life, "clean" endings with no unanswered questions are avoided.
There are some great parts, such as the history of coal in the UK, US, and China and its role in social history. However, I found it lacking in other areas of coal history I've read about in other books. Notably, Daniel Yergin's _The Prize_ discusses how WW1 was shaped by oil and coal use and how Nazi Germany used coal-to-liquids fuels produced in slave factories attached to concentration camps to compensate for oil shortages. These facts and South Africa's history of subsidizing coal fuels seem critical to understanding modern coal economics and lobbying. However, the book instead presents a litany of air pollution and climate problems with coal, which applies to pretty much all fossil fuels -- I've heard similar material before in now-countless newspapers and books. As a result, this large part of the book seems to me more like polemic than erudition. Overall, I'd say I learned something new from about 45-50% of the book, with not much new in the rest of it. Really, the book's more a persuasion piece, and I was looking for a lot more new information when I invested the listening time.
This book is a perfect example of how empathy can change a person. From a militant revolutionary socialist and member of the working class to a person who sees the need to live based on true emotion, the main character, Hyacinth Robinson, demonstrates perfectly how politics and regard for others play in the battle for minds.
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