" Formidable and truth-dealing...necessary." - The New York Times
With the election looming, this eye-opening investigation into our country s entrenched social hierarchy is acutely relevant. Read more...
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"Formidable and truth-dealing...necessary." -The New York Times
With the election looming, this eye-opening investigation into our country s entrenched social hierarchy is acutely relevant. O Magazine
In her groundbreaking bestselling history of the class system in America, Nancy Isenberg upends histroy as we know it by taking on our comforting myths about equality and uncovering the crucial legacy of the ever-present, always embarrassing if occasionally entertaining poor white trash.
When you turn an election into a three-ring circus, there s always a chance that the dancing bear will win, says Isenberg of the political climate surrounding Sarah Palin. And we recognize how right she is today. Yet the voters boosting Trump have been a permanent part of our American fabric, argues Isenberg.
The wretched and landless poor have existed from the time of the earliest British colonial settlement to today's hillbillies. They were alternately known as waste people, offals, rubbish, lazy lubbers, and crackers. By the 1850s, the downtrodden included so-called clay eaters and sandhillers, known for prematurely aged children distinguished by their yellowish skin, ragged clothing, and listless minds.
Surveying political rhetoric and policy, popular literature and scientific theories over four hundred years, Isenberg upends assumptions about America s supposedly class-free society where liberty and hard work were meant to ensure real social mobility. Poor whites were central to the rise of the Republican Party in the early nineteenth century, and the Civil War itself was fought over class issues nearly as much as it was fought over slavery. Reconstruction pitted poor white trash against newly freed slaves, which factored in the rise of eugenics -a widely popular movement embraced by Theodore Roosevelt that targeted poor whites for sterilization. These poor were at the heart of New Deal reforms and LBJ s Great Society; they haunt us in reality TV shows like Here Comes Honey Boo Boo and Duck Dynasty. Marginalized as a class, white trash have always been at or near the center of major political debates over the character of the American identity.
We acknowledge racial injustice as an ugly stain on our nation s history. With Isenberg s landmark book, we will have to face the truth about the enduring, malevolent nature of class as well."
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-04-25
- Reviewer: Staff
Isenberg (Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr), professor of history at Louisiana State University, tackles a topic rarely addressed by mainstream American writing on race and class as she skillfully demonstrates that “class defines how real people live.” Opening with a myth-busting origin story, Isenberg reveals the ways English class divisions were transplanted and embraced in the colonies at the expense of the lower classes. Colonization and expansion were accomplished because elites believed the poor were valuable only for the labor they provided for the nation. Isenberg then shows how words such as squatter, cracker, and white trash are rooted in public discussions over politics and land. Eugenics entered the conversation in an early 20th-century effort to breed out misfits and undesirables, and the Great Depression forced reevaluations of poverty and what it meant to be a “poor white” in the 1930s. In the book’s final section, a delectable mixture of political and popular culture, Isenberg analyzes the “white trash” makeover of the late 20th century thanks to movies such as Smokey and the Bandit, politicians Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, and Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s televangelism. A Marxist analysis of the lumpenproletariat this is not, but Isenberg’s expertise particularly shines in the examinations of early America, and every chapter is riveting. Illus. Agent: Geri Thoma, Writers House. (June)