Last Man Out


The Story of The Springhill Mine Disaster

In October 1958, a subterranean catastrophe collapsed the deepest mine on the planet, in the coal-mining town of Springhill, Nova Scotia, Canada.

A hundred men died. Long after hope was gone, rescuers continued the dreary task of recovering bodies until, in a miraculous discovery unequaled in modern times until the Chilean rescue, they found a dozen men walled-in, alive, and they brought them to the surface.
Two days later, a second mind-boggling discovery was announced to the world: a vertical mile underground, six more men clung to life. One in their group had died and others were near death.

The fantastic rescues received global coverage, the first such stories of the television era. In the U.S., in the State of Georgia, a fantastic PR plan was hatched by the tourism staff of white supremacist governor Marvin Griffin. ‘Let’s invite the survivors of Springhill to come recuperate on the Georgia coast in an all-expenses-paid vacation! The whole world will watch. Then folks will want to come to Georgia’s beaches for vacation instead of Florida’s!’ The invitation was relayed and accepted before the last men were brought out of the pit and hospitalized.

The last man out, a father of twelve children, was Afro-Canadian miner, Maurice Ruddick, who had nursed and befriended his fellows underground, becoming an overnight folk hero.

He was black, Georgia was segregated, there was no place for the Ruddick family to stay on the beach, and Governor Griffin tried to avoid shaking his hand. The clever PR idea turned into an internationally-reported American insult of a Canadian hero.


A New York Times Notable Book
Chicago Tribune’s Favorite Nonfiction Books 2003
Toronto Globe Best Books of 2003
Cox News Best Books of 2003
A New York Public Library Best Book, 2004


“….[a] most vivid account of horror and heroism, of exemplary human behavior under the most adverse circumstances and of the buffoonery of those who tried to exploit those admirable survivors.”

–John F. Stacks, Chicago Tribune

Last Man Out, by a natural-born storyteller from the American South, is as good a book about a Canadian disaster as you’re ever likely to find… by combing all the interviews with her own vivid prose and high sensitivity to human anguish, Greene has created a book that’s… deep, moving and timeless.
–Harry Bruce, The Toronto Globe and Mail

“With every book, Greene further refines her art of rich, literary nonfiction. And she continues to find these perfect stories — stories that stand on their own but also serve to show something much bigger, much darker, below the surface.”

–Teresa K. Weaver, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“….a nail-biting account of how the men struggle to keep hold of their spirits as they starve and wait, sharing dreams of sunlight and family…In a series of devastating, finely drawn portraits, Greene deeply examines the lives of her characters, showing their intimate, playful sides as well as the sturdy reticence of men too strong to admit they may be doomed. BOTTOM LINE: A TRAGIC TRIUMPH.”

–Arion Berger, People

“[Greene] writes about the futile explorations and attempts to escape, the incremental loss of light as one by one the battery-powered lamps were exhausted until the men waited in impenetrable blackness, the acceptance of death by some, the rejection by others, the thirsts so great that men drank urine, the emergence of unexpected strengths and finally the delirious joy of salvation.”
–William Langewiesche, The New York Times Book Review

“…This story is extraordinary for many reasons, which Melissa Fay Greene makes clear in her claustrophobic page-turner Last Man Out.
–Nan Goldberg, The Newark Star-Ledger

Last Man Out is the riveting story of a mine disaster, filled with incomparable second-by-second detail of men fighting for their lives… and an inquiry into the ripple effects of catastrophe.”

–Samuel G. Freedman, author of  Small Victories and Jew vs. Jew

“Melissa Fay Greene so captures the experience of being trapped in the absolute night of a failed coal mine that you can almost see the pale beams of dying headlamps and taste the last sips of coal-laced drinking water. Having shared the experience, a sympathetic reader cannot help but marvel at the absurdity of the disaster’s aftermath. This is a fine, harrowing, brutally detailed work that will make you savor daylight in a way you never have — unless of course you’re already a coal miner.”

–Erik Larson, author of Isaac’s Storm and The Devil in the White City

“This is a superb study of the human condition in extremis… Greene’s previous books, Praying for Sheetrock and The Temple Bombing, were National Book Award finalists. Last Man Out will challenge those readers who tend to prolong the pleasure of a compelling book by rationing the last chapters: they set the book aside after savoring one page and return to it later. This book is sure to break them of that habit.”

–Alan Prince, BOOKPAGE, April 2003

“Melissa Fay Greene, who proved herself a good hand at compelling nonfiction in “Praying for Sheetrock” and “The Temple Bombing,” continues her string of successes with Last Man Out… Greene, focusing on two groups of survivors, captures for us some of the agony of their waiting, raging with thirst in utter darkness, for rescue or, what seems increasingly likely, death…Then, when she tells the stories of each survivor’s recovery, the narrative opens up, like the petals of a flower.”

–Roger K. Miller, THE DENVER POST, Sunday, March 23, 2003