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Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia
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Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia

3.92 of 5 stars 3.92  ·  rating details  ·  1,828 ratings  ·  273 reviews
For New York Times reporter Dennis Covington, what began as a journalistic assignment—covering the trial of an Alabama pastor convicted of attempting to murder his wife with poisonous snakes—would evolve into a headlong plunge into a bizarre, mysterious, and ultimately irresistible world of unshakable faith: the world of holiness snake handling.Set in the heart of Appalach ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published August 11th 2009 by Da Capo Press (first published 1995)
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May 30, 2013 Mike rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone
Recommended to Mike by: Jake Reiss, Owner of The Alabama Booksmith, Homewood, Al.
Salvation on Sand Mountain: Dennis Covington's Adrenaline Rush

Mark 16:15-20
King James Version (KJV)
15 And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.

16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.

17 And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;

18 They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt the
Petra X
A journalist, himself from the South, is investigating a story where a cult snakehandler had attempted to kill his wife with rattlesnakes. The deeper he gets into the story, the more he becomes enamoured of snake-handling as a religious act. A believer now, the journalist joins the Church of Jesus With Signs Following and becomes a snake handler himself. Ultimately, the investigation left behind, his liberal political beliefs conflict with the traditional religious ones of the Church and, quite ...more
Jun 23, 2013 Brian rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Brian by: Petra X
"There are moments when you stand on the brink of a new experience and understand that you have no choice about it. Either you walk into the experience or you turn away from it, but you know that no matter what you choose, you will have altered your life in a permanent way. Either way, there will be consequences."

-Dennis Covington, "Salvation on Sand Mountain"

I'll admit to being hardwired to loving journalist non-fiction books - the ones where the author can't help but become part of the story t
Matt Glaviano
Jan 31, 2008 Matt Glaviano rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Matt by: Erin from Half Price Books on Lane Ave.
Shelves: 2008
Convington’s book is an affective memoir about his experiences with snake handling churches in the Appalachians. A journalist by trade, he is sent to cover the trial of a preacher accused of killing his wife with rattlesnakes. In the process, he becomes enthralled by the handlers and their faith, leading him, eventually, to become one himself.
I found a couple of things about this text interesting. One way I viewed this book was as a break down of objective journalism, in which the journalist
What was originally intended to be a meditation on the trial of a Holiness pastor, Glenn Summerford, who was convicted of using snakes to kill his wife morphed into a rather bizarre memoir that follows the spiritual development (?) or devolution of an erstwhile Methodist to snake-handling Holiness followers in Scottsboro (yes, *that* Scottsboro**) Alabama. He traces his ancestors back to earlier generations of snake-handlers assuming in a rather Lamarckian fantasy that their fascination with hol ...more
This is certainly a one of a kind book. It started as an research piece for the author's spot in The New York Times centered on the trial of a back-sliden, snake handling preacher who tried to murder his wife with the tools of his trade. This quickly evolves (or devolves depending on your vantage) into a book focused on the hidden but still rip-roaring practice involving poisonous serpents and the connection those believers feel to God only through the use of taking up rattlers, the drinking of ...more
Katy Meldau Cummings
Salvation on Sand Mountain is loaded with characters that fit every stereotype you've ever heard of backwood Southern Appalachian mountain folk, so extreme you have to check the book cover several times to make sure this isn't fiction. Covington gracefully side steps the predictable exhibitionist freak show and instead expounds on the history, humanity and passionate belief of people most America have called trash for a very long time.

Are you a believer? a non-believer? So is Dennis Covington.
Interesting account of a minority religious tradition. The author understands what I think is the core of all religion, the need for wordless profundity, mystery, and palpable otherness, and, as a result, he's sympathetic to the subject, which is unusual nowadays.
Christina G
This takes a look at a fascinating group of people - snake-handling and strychnine-drinking Christians in Appalachia. Some of these people have been bitten by poisonous snakes hundreds of times, yet they continue to take up snakes at services, believing that the spirit has made them invulnerable. I'm still undecided as to whether I think these people are sadly deluded or frustratingly stupid, but Dennis Covington writes about them with compassion, even handling some snakes himself.

I didn't real
An oddly affecting book, more memoir than journalism. The snake handling was fascinating and the reason I wanted to read this. What I didn't expect was that the author would have such affection for the handlers, and they for him. Yet, he had a creepy quality (the author, not the handlers) where he would only give fragments of himself. And my cynical soul wondered why his professional photographer (who covered wars in El Salvador) could run out of film just when the author took up his first snake ...more
Dennis Covington was a reporter covering the juicy case of a backwoods Appalachian snake-handling preacher accused of the attempted murder of his wife. By poisonous snake. Yes, I said snake.

He came to the small community and began to learn about the preacher and his wife and the snake-handling congregation, where he eventually committed a reporter's greatest sin: he became personally involved with his subjects. He even moved to the area and joined the church as a full-fledged snake-handling mem
Miranda (M.E.) Brumbaugh
I couldn't put this sucker down. The religious aspect of exploring the Holy Spirit, which still scares the hell out of me to this day, along with speaking in tongues, prophesying and healing with anointed oils--it's all in here. I grew up in a Holiness church so I was familiar, all too, with it all but the snake handling and strychnine drinking. Now I have somewhat of an understanding of why people do those things, too.

This was matched by highly informative accounts of the different types of sna
I've been wanting to read this book since it came out. The author of this book was an interesting narrator for this unusual story. What started out as curiosity led to a much more personal relationship with the church members. I enjoyed reading Covington's take on the phenomemon, and felt that he did a good job in putting the snake handling in context of the culture of the Appalachian people, while still getting drawn in on a personal level. It certainly got me interested enough to try to find o ...more
A re-read. This book first appealed to me when I was a recent college graduate with a double-major in religious studies and anthropology. The subject is theologically interesting: the Holiness churches as offshoots of Pentecostal movement; the Church of Jesus with Signs Following as a Jesus Name church; "Jesus Onlys" in contrast to the Trinitarian "three-God people." This is all totally heretical, of course (and they don't care one whit). This is not memoir, not journalism, not a straightforward ...more
Jared Logan
This is a non-fiction account by writer/journalist Dennis Covington of his time among the snake-handling pentecostals of southern Appalachia. I was interested to read it because I was raised pentecostal. My church never handled snakes, but we did speak in tongues and jump and fall and shake with the spirit. I wanted to know more about this more extreme branch of the religion I was raised in. I'm an atheist now but this kind of fringe belief stuff fascinates me, even more so because in a small wa ...more
Cooper Cooper
This is a book about the snake-handling cults of the American southeast. The first one started in 1910 as an offshoot of the Holiness church, in turn an offshoot of the Pentecostal church. The snake handlers from many states know each other and many are inter-related by marriage, but there is no overarching organization: each local church is separate and autonomous and interprets the Bible in its own way. But all believe fiercely in the Holy Spirit, and strive mightily to attain the altered sta ...more
This book takes us inside the world of snake handlers who pick up dangrous poisonous reptiles in the midsts of religious fervor as a way to get closer to God. As such, it is about as foreign to me and my tradition as one can get. I don't so much read the Bible as analyze it, always in the light of centuries of commentary that have accrued through Jewish history. This approach, rigidly intellectual, has little room for the kind of out-of-body spiritual experiences this book describes. I have to a ...more
This book touched me in a personal way, a way in which I can not rationally expect it to touch you since you are not me and have not shared my upbringing and experiences. I can gladly recommend it as a tourism book, a way for an outsider to view some hidden parts of Southern culture, but so much of my own delight in this story is the simple descriptions that ring so true for me because I grew up in Appalachia, I spent the majority of my life there, I've known those people well. Covington's style ...more
Galen Johnson
First, I'm not sure what this book is, besides non-fiction; the book jacket says "religion/history" but then the author-blurb describes it as "memoir". Whatever of those it is, it is a poor example. I was excited to read this book because it had been recommended by a number of people and the topic seems just fascinating. Unfortunately, the writing was so terrible that I couldn't get into the topic and if this hadn't been a book club discussion book, I would have abandoned the book.
First complai
This is a book written by a journalist about his journey into the world of snake handling churches.

He starts his book by covering the trial of a preacher in one of these churches who has been accused of trying to kill his wife by holding a gun to her head and making her stick her hand in a cage with a deadly rattlesnake in it, the story gets even weirder from this point.

This is a non fiction book, the people Mr. Covington talks about are real and while some of them are odd, he also manages to s
Rhonda Browning White
Covington’s book comes across as (at times painfully) honest. He delves into the world of religious signs-following from the observational point of a journalist, but soon finds himself enmeshed in the practice of snake-handling. He doesn’t sugar-coat what he sees or feels, and he doesn’t depict the people of Southern and Central Appalachia as ignorant hillbillies, which I sincerely appreciate. Instead, he tells the story with reverence, as the handlers themselves might tell it, and doing so, rev ...more
Andrea Badgley
Fascinating nonfiction read about the culture of snake handling Pentacostalists in Southern Appalachia. The author originally approached the story as a journalist covering an attempted murder trial. A snake handling preacher was convicted of putting a gun to his wife's head and forcing her to put her hand in a rattlesnake cage, where she was then bitten. The author covered the story, but was captivated by the snake handlers' culture, and as he got deeper into their stories while simultaneously t ...more
I thought this book was a diatribe on zealous emotional hysteria. The author's backwoods religious roots underpinned his mind being swept off a cliff in the religious fervor of the snake handlers Many of whom were bitten and died despite the Holy Ghost's mantle of protection. I think I would have rather read a book about accounts of Voodoo mysticism or African paganism than this story of hillbilly redneck ignorance. The sweeping grand reviews of this book just reveal the relative value of tradit ...more
I can't quite put my finger on how I feel about this book, but I do know that it continues to crawl around the edges of my mind, 2 days after I finished it. It was recommended by a friend because of the snake handling aspect, but there is more to it than that. Why do these men handle snakes at worship services? How has this type of church developed and what need does it fill in the people who attend? What generally is the role of faith and fear in life? Why is it pretty much limited to Southern ...more
I was excited to find a copy of this book in a used bookstore. It's been on my "to read" mental list ever since it was first published back in 1995.

The author, who is a journalist, starts out trying to tell an objective story about snake-handling religions in Tennessee. But as he delves deeper into their lives and beliefs, he begins to find out a lot about his own heritage and family. That fact alone is what made the book so interesting for me (although it is the very thing that many readers com
A while back, a story hit the national news about a preacher at a snake handing church who had died after being bitten by a snake he was handling at a service. The reactions to this story were entirely predictable. Much mockery, ridicule, and heavy doses of schadenfreude.

While I wasn't surprised by these reactions, they bothered me. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a fan of snake handling. I think they misinterpret both the biblical passage in Mark about handling serpents and, most importantly, the
3.5 stars. First of all, Covington’s writing is spellbinding. Even if he were describing less sensational events, I think I would have still been enamored with his prose. I also appreciate how difficult it must be to write about a staunchly vilified practice with any degree of credibility. The depictions of snake handlers that circulate within the public imagination are preoccupied with deranged, suicidal mountain men and their backwards beliefs. Trying to transform that initial association into ...more
Jul 19, 2007 Sonanova rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: non-fiction fans, anthro students, spiritual interests, christians and non-believers
A very human exploration of what it means to be spiritual. In a non-exploitive manner, the writer spends time among a community of charismatics who practice snake handling. As every anthropologist knows, the way to truly understand is to be both participant and observer and the writer does this without straying too far from his goal of an unbiased introduction. Very facinating read - and a bit of a southern travelogue as well.
It is surprising to see honesty from authors, particularly when they come from a journalistic background. Everyone has an agenda and nobody wants to look stupid. Everyone, apparently, except for the New York Times reporter who wrote this book about snake handlers in the American South. He is unusually honest about the most embarrassing thing a modern, educated, liberal man can be: he is religious and prepared to accept the possibility of God being an active intercessor in our lives. How crazy is ...more
One of my favorite books of non-fiction. On a personal level, relates to a time and place and event in my past. (Come back & review in more detail....)

In the same vein as local journalist/author Scott Carrier's writing. Those of you who enjoy Carrier's writing - I would recommend Dennis Covington's, Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia.

(National Book Award Finalist.)
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