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By Virginia Heffernan

Like to learn a little more about the fascinating business of mining? I’ve assembled a list of non-fiction books about North American minefinders and other explorers that FIFO workers might enjoy from their own workplaces in the wild.

Gold Diggers, by Charlotte Gray

Gray is a master of bringing history to life though meticulous research, compelling characters and fluid writing. This story of the Klondike gold rush chronicles the exploits of the inexperienced miners, entrepreneurs and writers who ventured north in freezing temperatures over forbidding terrain to seek their fortune. By the summer of 1898, tens of thousands of souls (nine men for every woman) had crammed into Dawson, a swampy collection of wooden buildings and tents incapable of handling the influx. As the lure of adventure, wealth and whiskey trumped the practicalities of survival, mayhem ensued.

Annals of the Former World, John McPhee

The setting of this Pulitzer Prize-winning book spans the entire USA. Intrigued by geological terminology such as “dike swarm” and “strike slip” that sent shivers through his bones, McPhee set off on a series of road trips through the continent accompanied by noted geologists. He compiled his research in Annals over two decades and in five distinct sections, allowing readers to venture in and out of the text at will.

McPhee explores not only the wonders of geology, but the characters who study and practice the arty science. The geologists he encounters agonize over the clash of mineral exploration with environmental protection and geologic versus human time. “It makes you schizophrenic,” explains tectonics expert Eldridge Moores. “A million years is a small number on the geologic time scale, while human experience is truly fleeting – all human experience, from it’s beginning, not just one lifetime.”

The Big Score, by Jacquie McNish

This is the tale of the battle for Voisey’s Bay, a rich nickel mine in Labrador. The story illustrates both the trials of exploration in a remote, windswept area of Canada and the outrageous means by which tycoon Robert Friedland pumped up the value of Voisey’s Bay and eventually snared Inco – one of the largest mining companies in the world - in a $4.3 billion deal.

McNish makes effective use of dialogue to recreate dramatic scenes, fashioning a page turner about a mineral discovery and its tortured route to development. Several scenes remain embedded in my mind – Friedland slapping the sole of his shoe on Inco’s boardroom table in a fit of toddler rage, for instance, or a snowmobile and its driver slowly sinking through the melting sea ice.

Barren Lands, Ken Krajick 

I have yet to read this one, but it’s on my wish list. The rush for diamonds in the Northwest Territories (NWT) of Canada was just as frenzied as the Klondike gold rush a century earlier. And the prologue to the land grab was even more intriguing.

Geologists Chuck Fipke and partner Stew Blusson – perpetually broke but determined – followed a trail of diamond indicator minerals for years across hundreds of kilometres until they finally reached their bedrock source in the barren lands of the Northwest Territories.

Their find eventually spawned several diamond mines and transformed Canada’s north. The centuries old proverb "faux comme un diamant du Canada" (as fake as a Canadian diamond) was laid to rest. Later, Fipke’s divorce settlement ($200 million) became one of the world’s most expensive.

Editor's note: Another great non-fiction read is Digger, written by Max Anderson and published by Mining Family Matters. It tells the funny and poignant tale of how Max left a well-paid job in London to try his luck on the goldfields of Western Australia. For details and to order a copy, please click here


More gems from Virginia:

Virginia Heffernan is a former exploration geologist who met her Welsh husband when they were both working on a gold project in Namibia. They live in Toronto with their teenage son. Virginia mostly stays put these days (she's now a freelance writer and member of the Professional Writers Association of Canada), but Roger continues on his global quest for the next big ore deposit. To check out Virginia's work, visit www.geopen.com