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White Trash : The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America
by Nancy Isenberg


Overview - The New York Times bestseller
A New York Times Notable and Critics' Top Book of 2016
Longlisted for the PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction
One of NPR's 10 Best Books Of 2016 Faced Tough Topics Head On
NPR's Book Concierge Guide To 2016's Great Reads
San Francisco Chronicle's Best of 2016: 100 recommended books
A Washington Post Notable Nonfiction Book of 2016
Globe & Mail 100 Best of 2016

- Formidable and truth-dealing .
  Read more...

 
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More About White Trash by Nancy Isenberg
 
 
 
Overview
The New York Times bestseller
A New York Times Notable and Critics' Top Book of 2016
Longlisted for the PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction
One of NPR's 10 Best Books Of 2016 Faced Tough Topics Head On
NPR's Book Concierge Guide To 2016's Great Reads
San Francisco Chronicle's Best of 2016: 100 recommended books
A Washington Post Notable Nonfiction Book of 2016
Globe & Mail 100 Best of 2016

-Formidable and truth-dealing . . . necessary.- --The New York Times
-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 history 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 who boosted Trump all the way to the White House 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.

 
Details
  • ISBN-13: 9780670785971
  • ISBN-10: 0670785970
  • Publisher: Viking
  • Publish Date: June 2016
  • Page Count: 480
  • Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.5 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds


Related Categories

Books > History > United States - General
Books > Social Science > Social Classes & Economic Disparity
Books > History > Social History

 
Publishers Weekly Reviews

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)

 
BookPage Reviews

The long, buried history of America's class separation

Our understanding of the past often relies on mythmaking or selective memory. So it has been with American history. We often think of ourselves as a “classless society,” but the impoverished and landless are often missing from our story. Using a wide range of sources, historian Nancy Isenberg seeks the truth in her superb White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America. This survey of social class is sweeping, detailed, carefully documented and well written. It shows that, contrary to what we may believe, marginalized and expendable people have been part of our heritage from the start. 

Most British colonizing schemes in the 17th and 18th centuries were built on privilege and subordination. Wishing to reduce poverty in England, those regarded as idle and unproductive, including orphans, were sent to North America where they worked as “unfree” laborers. Waste men and waste women, as they were called, were an expendable class of workers who made colonization possible. 

The much admired thinker John Locke, who greatly influenced American revolutionaries, was also a founding member of and the third largest stockholder in the Royal African Company, which had a monopoly over the British slave trade. Contemptuous of the vagrant poor in England and preoccupied with class structure, Locke, in his Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina (1669), basically declared war on poor settlers in the Carolinas. The area divided into two colonies in 1712, and Isenberg traces in detail the curious history of why North Carolina became, as she writes, “the heart of our white trash story.” 

Government efforts to improve the lives of the poor have repeatedly met with strong resistance. The Freedmen’s Bureau, established in 1865 to extend relief to “all refugees, and all freedmen,” and the Resettlement Administration of the 1930s both failed to produce long-term success. 

Isenberg writes: “Pretending that America has grown rich as a largely classless society is bad history, to say the least. . . . Class separation is and always has been at the center of our political debates, despite every attempt to hide social reality with deceptive rhetoric.”

Her incisive and lively examination of this phenomenon deserves a wide readership.

 

This article was originally published in the July 2016 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

 
BAM Customer Reviews