White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America
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The New York Times bestseller A New York Times Notable and Critics' Top Book of 2016Longlisted for the PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award for NonfictionOne of NPR's 10 Best Books Of 2016 Faced Tough Topics Head OnNPR's Book Concierge Guide To 2016's Great ReadsSan Francisco Chronicle's Best of 2016: 100 recommended booksA Washington Post Notable Nonfiction Book of 2016Globe & 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.
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Street Date:
06/21/2016
Language:
English
ISBN:
9781101608487
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      • value: History
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      • value: inequality
      • value: Social Justice
      • value: Elvis Presley
      • value: Sociology
      • value: Economics
      • value: hillbilly
      • value: dark money
      • value: educational books
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fullDescription
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.
gradeLevels
      • value: Grade 9
      • value: Grade 10
      • value: Grade 11
      • value: Grade 12
reviews
      • premium: True
      • source: Publisher's Weekly
      • content:

        Starred review from April 25, 2016
        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.

      • premium: True
      • source: Kirkus
      • content:

        Starred review from May 1, 2016
        A rigorously researched study of the entrenched system of racial classification that dispels many myths about American national identity.In this impressive work of social history, Isenberg (American History/Louisiana State Univ.; Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr, 2007, etc.) challenges head-on America's "fable of class denial." From the first indentured servants brought to Plymouth and Jamestown to the caricatured hillbillies of Duck Dynasty, the existence of "waste" people, or impoverished, ignorant, landless whites, has persistently run against convenient notions of the upstanding American founder--i.e., moral, hardworking "entrepreneurial stewards of the exploitable land." Dumped on the Colonies, the vagrant, often criminal poor from England and elsewhere were considered expendable and often exploited. As a key to the story, Isenberg looks at the early settlement of North Carolina, which became a "renegade territory, a swampy refuge for the poor and landless," situated between elite Virginians and slaveholding "upstart" South Carolinians. Contrary to the mythmaking of the exceptional early American in writings by Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, and Thomas Jefferson, based on theories of "good breeding" and yeomanry, a whole class of common people grew up as a byproduct of the slaveholding states, living on the margins of the plantations: dirt-poor Southerners (literally "clay-eaters") who were considered lazy and racially degenerate. Moreover, the enormous new swaths of Western land were largely populated by a new class of "squatters" or "crackers," considered "mangy varmints infesting the land" and represented by the first Westerner elected president, Andrew Jackson. Isenberg examines some surprising sources of these early stereotypes of white trash, such as Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp (1856), in which the author "described poor whites as a degenerate class, prone to crime, immorality, and ignorance." From the eugenics movement to the rise of the proud redneck, Isenberg portrays a very real and significant history of class privilege in the United States. A riveting thesis supported by staggering research.

        COPYRIGHT(2016) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

      • premium: True
      • source: Library Journal
      • content:

        May 15, 2016

        Isenberg (Fallen Founder) sets out to find the lower classes that, over time, have been variously cast as degraded, despoiled, and even demented. In doing so, the author argues that their presence and persistence counters the promise of American progress, for it suggests that class was, and is, more resilient than the American Dream would have it. Failing populist moments, the white "trash" remained disfranchised and dismissed, or feared for their supposed debilitating effects on morality. Isenberg takes the long view, from the convicts that the British transported to the colonies to segregationists, "trailer trash," the friendly yokelism and folk "wisdom" of The Beverly Hillbillies and The Andy Griffith Show and now Duck Dynasty. The author largely identifies "white trash" as a Southern phenomenon (the urban poor are not part of the society surveyed) but provides an astonishingly wide and copious canvas by describing the ways "white trash" appeared or were seen as individuals of concern in popular culture, political rhetoric, scientific theories, pseudoscientific policies, and literature. The narrative incorporates people as varied as Lyndon B. Johnson, Harper Lee, and Tammy Faye Bakker to show that the exceptions to the supposed American exceptionalism were, and are, its fundamental fact and foil. VERDICT Essential reading for a new perspective on the role of class in American society.--Randall M. Miller, St. Joseph's Univ., Philadelphia

        Copyright 2016 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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The New York Times bestseller
One of New York Times's 100 Notable Books 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...
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