Praise for The Day the Earth Caved In:

“[Quigley’s] scene-by-scene narrative reads like fiction but inspires outrage in the muckraking tradition of Lincoln Steffens and Rachel Carson.”

The New York Times

"[A]s a piece of explanatory journalism, The Day The Earth Caved In shines."

Washington Post Book World

“It is quite a story.”

The Wall Street Journal

“The descendant of Centralia, Penn. miners, former Miami Herald reporter Quigley reveals the moral complexities and political machinations surrounding the underground fires that virtually destroyed this small Pennsylvania town.

She begins in 1981, when a schoolboy slipped into a Centralia sinkhole and was nearly killed by the underground heat and toxic fumes. The narrative then retreats to Memorial Day 1962, when a blaze that began at the town dump moved underground to ignite the underlying seams of coal. The ensuing decades brought ineffectual remedies, illness, public outcry, political shape-shifting and finger-pointing. Locals emerged as heroes, heretics, Cassandras and curmudgeons. Villains appeared, too – mostly, in the author’s view, Reagan-era functionaries trying to reconcile their political philosophy (government is bad) with Centralia’s poisonous and fiery realities. Quigley records Gov. Richard Thornburgh’s highly emotional 1981 visit and blasts feckless Interior Secretary James Watt repeatedly. The media both helped and hurt. People magazine wanted – and got – a photograph of a local man frying eggs over one of the vents; Nightline swooped into town in the early 1980s; but then the press went home and forgot about it all. Quigley conducted hundreds of hours of interviews with residents and read alpine stacks of government reports, newspapers and magazines as part of her massive research effort. She sadly records the split in the community between those who wanted the government to pay for relocation and those who intended to stay no matter what. Ultimately, the town voted for relocation, the federal government provided some funds and most of the principals in the story moved on. But not all: About a dozen resolute folk remain, while tongues of fire continue to lick below.First-rate research and journalism combine to tell a sad, often infuriating tale."

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“In 1962, an underground fire began in a large abandoned mine in Centralia, Pennsylvania. The fire continued to simmer but apparently posed no threat to the townspeople whose homes and recreation areas sat on the ground above the mine shaft. Then in 1981, a 12-year-old boy was sucked through the weakened ground in his backyard into a muddy, steaming cauldron, barely escaping alive. When investigation revealed the full extent of the danger, the town and its residents were launched on a long, frustrating odyssey that drew in federal and state governments, the national media, hordes of attorneys, and large corporations. Quigley, the granddaughter and great-granddaughter of Centralia miners, is a former business reporter for the Miami Herald. In her engrossing saga, government agencies at both the federal and state levels are shown as irresponsible and craven, and the greed of corporations is sickening. But the townspeople, striving for economic justice while clinging to the hope of saving their threatened community, wear the mantle of nobility.”

"The Day the Earth Caved In: An American Mining Tragedy is a meticulous account of the tangled saga of hometown, history and Reagan-era governmental red tape. Author Joan Quigley, a former business reporter for the Miami Herald, and a descendant of coal miners, uses her own family history to illustrate the stubborn determination of those who have toiled in the anthracite coal region of Appalachia."

“’Scores of journalists,’ Quigley writes, ‘descended on Centralia, grappling for insight into why this town, with no stoplight or movie theater, no restaurant or grocery store, exercised such a hold over its residents.’ Her explanation: five-generation clans proud of their homes, their children, the town their immigrant ancestors settled. In a word, community.
Quigley had entree to that community: Her grandfather and great-grandfather had been miners there, and she first saw the fire herself when she was 15. She introduces us to Tom Larkin, a seminarian turned short-order cook in search of his life's purpose, which became leading Centralia's activist band; Catharene Jurgill, who joined those activists at the cost of her marriage; Helen Womer, whose loyalty to the town made her its last fierce holdout. Then there are Dave and Eileen Lamb, whose asthmatic daughter, Rachel, sickened by the gases, ended up on oxygen. Governor Richard Thornburgh's visit to the family's modest row house is the book's most poignant scene.
Quigley, a former Miami Herald reporter, weaves these stories into an environmental expose.”


“And that is really what Quigley's excellent study, The Day the Earth Caved In, is about. It takes up several fascinating topics -- among them the history of 19th Century mining, the thermodynamics of mine fires, the politics of coal -- but her central question is: ‘Why did so many residents want to stay in Centralia, even as toxic fumes and cave-ins beset part of the community they loved?’
The answer is complex, but Quigley, a former Miami Herald reporter and descendant of Centralia miners, unravels it. It involves individual, family and town histories. If it were strictly about the fire and its politics -- i.e., dodging responsibility for paying to douse it -- her book could be a third less long, but would be half as interesting."

Louisville Courier-Journal

“This book should be required reading for residents of those homes in its path, and for the rest of us curious about how the fire won.”

Cleveland Plain Dealer

"Quigley takes this complex story involving politics, science and history and weaves it into something that informs and entertains."

Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader

The Day the Earth Caved In is at once a horrifying tale of corporate and political callousness and an inspiring story of how ordinary Americans banded together to save the only town they ever knew. Quigley’s riveting account of the nation’s most devastating mine fire will change the way you think about so-called natural disasters, and the emotions we attach to the places we call home. This is an extraordinary book.”

Sean Wilentz, author of The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln
“Joan Quigley, the granddaughter of coal miners, has combined meticulous reporting and personal passion to bring us this important book  - one that illuminates an underground blaze that many corporate and government officials sought to smother and conceal."

Gay Talese, author of A Writer's Life

“In “The Day The Earth Caved In,” Joan Quigley has written both a requiem and an indictment. It is a requiem for the destruction of her coal-mining hometown and an indictment of the corporate and political leaders who let that tragedy happen. If you can imagine a book that combines the gritty dignity of “How Green Was My Valley” with the muckraking of “Silent Spring,” then you have some sense of this deeply affecting work.”

Samuel G. Freedman, author of Who She Was: My Search for My Mother’s Life

"Quigley's tale of good battling evil is a real-life epic of corrupt
government officials, murderous corporations and the unlikely heroes who
fight for their basic human rights. It's all here; made in America. You'll
feel enraged to know the truth of what happened in our mountains and proud of
your fellow Americans who took on Goliath."

John Passacantando, Executive Director, Greenpeace USA

“Joan Quigley’s work-in-progress … is a multilayered and passionate study of a community in flames: the old mining town of Centralia, Pennsylvania, which sits atop an underground fire that has been burning for more than four decades. After the fire nearly took the life of a young boy, the community mobilized in an attempt to force the government to take action on “an environmental calamity rivaling Love Canal.” Quigley, a daughter of Centralia, offers a haunting depiction of small town neighbors struggling against a powerful industry and a distant government - and finally, against one another - in their attempt to cope with an environmental catastrophe and the savage backwash of industrial change.”

Judges’ Citation, The J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award (2005), administered by Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University.