An experienced editor of books for young people (as well as the editor of A Family of Readers by Martha Parravano and me), Marc Aronson is also one of the genre’s most distinguished historians. His Sir Walter Ralegh and the Quest for El Dorado won both the Boston Globe–Horn Book Award and the inaugural Sibert Medal; he has also written books about the Salem witchcraft trials, Stonehenge, and Robert F. Kennedy. But I never thought to see Marc Aronson and Chilean miners in the same sentence. I just had to find out what spurred his latest book, Trapped: How the World Rescued 33 Miners from 2,000 Feet Below the Chilean Desert, which receives a starred review in the September issue of the Horn Book Magazine.
1. You are best known as a historian — what led you to write a book about such a recent event?
Marc Aronson: My real interest is always linking past and present and that is what happened with Trapped. Namrata Tripathi, my editor at Atheneum, said she thought the miner story might make a good book, so I began to see if I could weave together the drama of the events with larger stories about mining and the underground world, and the more research I did the more fascinated I became by both threads.
2. Why do you think kids — boys especially — are drawn to books about disasters? (I know we all are, but disaster books are the mainstay of the “reluctant reader” shelf.)
MA: As you said in A Family of Readers, if you don’t read much, whatever you read better be worth it — and a true story that pulls you along a tightrope between life and death is about as compelling (and stripped of meditations on the subtle vagaries of interior emotion) as you can get.
3. What was the most foreign aspect of the research and story for you?
MA: Learning about mining, mine procedures, going into a mine, understanding the mentality of miners. Outside of singing earnest songs about the Cumberland Mine Disaster in my childhood lefty summer camp, I had never thought about their world. Mining always meant Wales, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, John L. Lewis — all completely alien from the life of a Jewish boy from an arty family on the Upper West Side in New York.
4. Which of the miners would you most like to talk to, and what would you ask him?
MA: Luis Urzúa, the captain. I would ask him: what did he think would have happened if they had not been reached for another week and how would they have behaved as men began to die? Or, as I asked the rescuers, what would he want to say to American kids reading about his story?
5. If you had been in that mine and they said they could send down one book for you to read, what would it be?
MA: In the mine I would have wanted something really long and really funny, maybe the collection of Mark Twain short stories that I loved as a child. But if I were on a different sort of desert island, not underground, maybe Proust or Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities or even Gibbon’s History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire — one of those really long books any cultured person is supposed to have read but which I’ve managed to skip.
From the August 2011 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.