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

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  2,590 Ratings  ·  352 Reviews
A journalist describes an assignment in the mountains of Alabama which led to his spiritual journey into the world of holiness snake handling, a faith whose followers characteristically place themselves in life-threatening situations. Reprint. Tour. NYT.
Paperback, 240 pages
Published March 1st 1996 by Penguin Books (first published 1995)
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Petra Eggs
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
Sep 28, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone
Recommended to Lawyer 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
Jan 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Brian by: Petra Eggs
"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 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Jeff Jackson
Mar 11, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A believer's account of being drawn into the ecstasies of serpent handling and strychnine drinking. Written in prose that's by turns luminous, lyrical, raw-edged, and droll. Although this is non-fiction, it's the closest modern writing I've read to Flannery O'Connor. It shares her bloody vision of faith and redemption as dangerous and disruptive forces to those who seek them.
4.5 stars.
Jul 28, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jared Logan
Jul 09, 2013 rated it it was ok
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
Jun 05, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jan 30, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religion
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
Sep 04, 2013 rated it did not like it
I was really disappointed in this book. I wanted to read it to learn more about the crazy people who handle snakes, but the author is just as crazy as they are. He barely delved in to the psychological reasons why these people might be drawn to such an extreme form of worship, but seems to take everything at face value (I.E "it's the spirit!") They were horrible people, and I question the judgement of a man (journalist or not) who would take his wife and children to see religious fanatics pass a ...more
Aug 26, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: religion
This book started out well, but eventually became the self-absorbed journey of one journalist trying to fit in among the snake handlers, but not really. Ugh. It started out as one thing, but denigrated into another. I actually skimmed through his whole chapter on how he really belonged to the snake handling culture, because he used to catch water snakes as a boy...honestly.
Aug 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
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.
C.E. G
Apr 22, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fun-nonfiction
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
Sep 18, 2007 rated it really liked it
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
Feb 21, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
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
Oct 27, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Aug 13, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2012
An amazing narrative of faith, redemption, fundamentalism and the search for God and family in the Appalachian South. Oh and snakes, did I mention there is lots and lots of snakes? Covington approaches his subject (Holiness, snake-handling mountain churches) with a love and empathy that makes the differences between ALL the families of belief seem at once dangerous and large while simultaneously delicate and beautiful.
Cooper Cooper
Aug 08, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 28, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Historia pisarza, który zamiast napisać po prostu artykuł o kościele wężowników, dał się porwać południowemu mistycyzmowi i stał się jednym z wyznawców. Szkoda tylko, że najciekawsza część reportażu - ta, w której do autora dociera, że czas najwyższy rzucić wężownictwo w diabły - to jedynie ostatnie 40 stron. Ogólnie wieje nudą.
Galen Johnson
May 04, 2011 rated it did not like it
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
Jun 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: re-read, 2011-reads
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
Mar 02, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Mar 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What can I say? This is one of the most vivid books I have ever read about religion and Christianity in the southernmost reaches of Appalachia--in northeastern Alabama and northwestern Georgia, where I have resided my entire life. I had little to no knowledge of these groups until I read this book however. Particularly interesting to me were the tales of the happenings in Kingston, Georgia, which really is not that far from me geographically. We have relatives living on and preaching in Sand Mou ...more
Mar 12, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: alabama
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
Andrea Badgley
Jul 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Rhonda Browning White
Feb 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
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