Joe Bageant's Deer Hunting with Jesus belongs to the tradition of books that has given us Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed, Upton Sinclair's The...moreJoe Bageant's Deer Hunting with Jesus belongs to the tradition of books that has given us Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed, Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, and Jim Goad's The Redneck Manifesto. These books all aim to clarify the position of an all-too-often-overlooked cultural group and, in doing so, they ultimately aim to help this group.
This book is by turns funny and heartbreaking in its description of people who make little money, vote Republican en masse (whether this is in their economic interests or not), see buying a doublewide trailer as a good investment, value their guns and the traditions that they accompany, are overwhelmingly Christian and fundamentalist at that, fight amongst themselves, and cannot afford healthcare, too often dying alone in substandard nursing homes because neither they nor their families can afford better. Bageant walks the fine line between mocking people who don't see the ridiculousness of some of their actions, pitying them for the poverty and suffering they endure and the hopelessness of the life they are raised to lead, and evoking righteous outrage on the behalf of those who are taken advantage of by other humans with more money and a better education.
If you or your family belong to the social class or cultural group described by Bageant, you will recognize the experiences and values he describes and will benefit from his explanation of the sources of said values and his defense of the people who live these lives. He is able to put this way of life in a larger context that shows how limited and tragic this life can be while refusing to trivialize or demonize it. While he himself has moved away from most of the hallmarks of this lifestyle, he has lived and he still loves parts of it and the people who live it.
If you do not belong to the group Bageant describes, you need to read this book and learn about the people you likely never think about and know little to nothing about. Bageant deals with the stereotypes (and their basis in reality) but he goes beyond that to explain why people behave in this way, what in their history and present experiences leads them to these beliefs and behaviors, and what they gain from continuing in these habits. There are too many Americans who belong to the culture described by Bageant for them to be easily ignored--and yet they are ignored. This is dangerous for them and for everyone else.(less)