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

3.75  ·  Rating details ·  21,486 ratings  ·  3,287 reviews
In her groundbreaking history of the class system in America, extending from colonial times to the present, Nancy Isenberg takes on our comforting myths about equality, uncovering the crucial legacy of the ever-present, always embarrassing––if occasionally entertaining––"poor white trash."

The wretched and landless poor have existed from the time of the earliest British col
Hardcover, 460 pages
Published June 21st 2016 by Viking
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Sarah Smithers It was fascinating to me...I am so glad I read this, and especially now, as it explains to me what the heck is happening in the country..
Apparently , …more
It was fascinating to me...I am so glad I read this, and especially now, as it explains to me what the heck is happening in the country..
Apparently , it's nothing new.
She laid out the history of the founding of this country and what was happening and how the governing guys tried to do something about the poor and the vagabonds and the squatters....and it was very easy to follow.
And then delved into politicians trying to court the trash vote while legislating against them..
I'm recommending this to all my friends..

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Will Byrnes
“All history is the history of class struggle.” Sound familiar? It should. Well, the actual quote, from Karl Marx and Frederick Engels’ Communist Manifesto, is “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.” Doesn’t have quite the same ring, but it gets the job done, however transmogrified it might have been in popular recollection and various translations. And it may or not be the case. Certainly in America one is considered suspect for subscribing to the notio ...more
Felice Laverne
“If this book accomplishes anything it will be to have exposed a number of myths about the American dream, to have disabused readers of the notion that upward mobility is a function of the founders’ ingenious plan…”

Nancy Isenberg’s White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America is a tour de force of research and hard-hitting assessments of our country’s attitude toward the “poor” and “shiftless” masses. It delves into the historical inaccuracies and missteps of a nation, our na
Miranda Reads
Nov 07, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: audiobook
I initially read the title and reserved this book under the impression that this would be a humorous look into white trash history.

I assumed wrong.

This was the history of the poor, white American as I've never heard it before.
Americans lack any deeper appreciation of class. Beyond white anger and ignorance is a far more complicated history of class identity that dates back to America’s colonial period and British notions of poverty.
The history (unsurprisingly) constantly cycles - going fro
Sep 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
In All the King’s Men, Robert Penn’s classic novel of American politics, the protagonist is Willie Stark, the demagogic and corrupt governor of an unnamed state (Willie is based on Huey Long of Louisiana). The tragedy of Willie – and All the King’s Men is an archetypal tragedy – is that he started out as a good man. He was a backcountry bumpkin who managed to rise out of poverty to become an idealistic young lawyer. Willie runs for County Treasurer promising transparency and honesty. He loses to ...more
J.L.   Sutton
Jan 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
This was a fascinating history from beginning to end, maybe more so because this history has not entirely played out. In White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America, Nancy Isenberg shows the ways in which Americans have both recognized and embodied the lower classes of our society. This bottom rung of American society has variously been denigrated as waste people, offals, lubbers, clay eaters, rednecks, hillbillies and perhaps most famously, white trash. The examination of white ...more
Of the good: Isenberg argues that we do not give the history of poor whites nearly the due it deserves, and makes a striking claim for the centrality of that history to any understanding of the United States. It's a provocative position, and one that she makes good with - following her train of thought from the colonial period to the present day, it's clear that we are a nation obsessed with class distinctions, peddling a mythology of the exact opposite.

Of the not-so good: Isenberg does not give
Jim Marshall
Jul 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
While reading this extraordinary history of the white underclass in America, I was reminded of how much of my life was spent in and around house trailers. I’m not talking about those doublewide, wannabe condos with designer touches, landscaped lawns, and air-conditioned club houses a short golf-cart ride away. I’m talking about 10-12 feet wide, 60-80 feet long pill-shaped homes that still have the tires attached. My mom and dad brought me home to such a trailer when I was born. Almost all of my ...more
Jun 18, 2016 rated it it was ok
2.5 star to be fair. It's written poorly, first of all. It could easily have been edited to half of its size for the pure information it contained in total. It's verbose and with immense repetition of basically what is a colonist theory detailing to origins of present class barriers in the USA. As if the point that there ARE definitive class bars and levels within the USA and that it is not a classless society just because it is a republic is some kind of epiphany. It's hard for me to imagine an ...more
Shauna Howard
Jul 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This book could easily be the only American history book that one would need to read to gain a greater understanding on the socio-economic problems in America. I'm not sure how I found it, but this book is one of the most informative books that I will probably read this year. Because of this book, I refuse to have any discussions about racism in the United States unless the conversation includes a willingness to take a historical "step back" & understand how classism & capitalism has failed ever ...more
Aug 05, 2016 rated it it was ok
Nancy Isenberg's tome on the history of poor whites in America is expansive and thorough. Starting with the earliest colonists and progressing to modern day America, she illuminates the somewhat hidden history of poor white families in their many incarnations over the past four centuries. Spoiler alert: rich white men have always hated poor white men only slightly less than they hate brown people.

While I must respect the research and effort that went into this volume, I admit that it was very ha
Nov 30, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: deck, nonfiction
Review by Haiku

Naked in repose
Silvery silhouette girls
Adorn my mudflaps

In WalMart toy aisle,
Wailing boy wants wrastlin’ doll.
Mama whups his ass.

Damn, in that tube-top
You make me almost forget
you are my cousin.
Much has been said about the subject of slavery in America, mostly focusing on black slavery, conjuring up images of powerless people being shipped over in horrific conditions. Most people in the world regard it as a vile chapter in history, and a part of history that disgraced Americans and Brits as well.

A few quotes from the book to set the tone and wet the appetite:

(view spoiler)
Jan 02, 2017 rated it liked it
It’s an impossible task really. 400 years of class in America concentrating on the white poor. Despite it’s brick-like size it can only do so much and this focus is off putting with the noticeable avoidance of black slavery and native peoples. But Isenberg is up front, she’s interested in examining crackers, rednecks, hillbillies and the titular white trash.

I’m a Canadian so I have no idea what gets taught in schools across the United States. I’m sure it’s as defanged and sterilized as what we
Paula K (on hiatus)
White Trash by Nancy Isenberg is quite an eye opener. This is a 400 year US history lesson that states class has been with us since the Mayflower landed. I thought the British sent all their convicts to Australia to colonize, but I had little clue that the same happened in America. She talks about the white poor and slavery from the days of Franklin, Jefferson, the Civil War, LBJ to the present. Though the names given to the white and landless poor have differed over the years, they have always ...more
Jan Rice
I have thought of the problem of confining people in classes, castes and races as roughly analogous to curtailing the varieties of seeds and plants: you never know which ones will grow and thrive in the changing environment and which will now fail. If you've suppressed or gotten rid of all but the few that do well in the immediate situation, what will happen when things change and the only ones now available aren't suited to survive?

America is a case in point. Everyone knows we were started by
Clif Hostetler
Jun 27, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
This is a history focused on the permanent underclass of a theoretically classless society. The United States aspires to live by its founding declaration that, "all men are created equal." So how can class be an issue?(view spoiler)

The jarring insensitivity of the title for this book prompts me to begin this review by making a few comments about it. After all I presume readers of my reviews are polite company, and the term "white trash" is
Nancy Oakes
Oct 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
actually, like a 3.75 rounded up

I absolutely have to thank the publisher for my copy. I was on the edge of buying this book when I got the email, so thanks very, very much.

I didn't actually read this book in two days, so don't let the starting/ending dates fool you. I don't think you can read this book in that amount of time since there's a wealth of information to sift through here. There is a more expanded version of this post at my reading journal, so feel free to go long or to take the sho
Feb 18, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This is another book that's supposed to explain Trumpism. I'm sorry but I think the emperor is naked. This is not so much history as media criticism by someone who sat indoors watching Andy Griffith and Deliverance and dug up some show trivia. The concluding paragraph tells us: "The very existence of such people--both in their visibility and invisibility--is proof that American society obsesses over the mutable labels we give to the neighbors we wish not to notice." What substance is there in th ...more
Leo Walsh
Aug 10, 2016 rated it really liked it
We American fancy ourselves classless. We tell ourselves that with hard work, anyone can succeed -- like the runaway waif Ben Franklin. And while we admit that America began as a slave state, we often think that white supremacy is a thing of the past. And that African-Americans can achieve anything they want... with a little hard work.

Nancy Isenberg deconstructs this myth in her excellent history, "White Trash."

In it, she takes a long, hard look at America's elite and how they have denigrated
Dec 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: auth-f, x2016-read
Thoughts later.
Waiting for a hardcopy from the library so I can revisit points and collect my thoughts.
This book made me think. A lot.
Ginger Stephens
Mar 07, 2017 rated it did not like it
The question that I found myself asking throughout the whole book: How do you turn a book about white trash into boring academia? On the whole I found this book confusing. It started out with a discussion of the Ewells from "To Kill A Mockingbird," so it seemed to start in a spot that most Americans understand. Then, it lost its way. I suspect that Nancy Isenberg does not understand the difference between being poor and being white trash. All Southerners know the difference. I suspect most North ...more
Book Riot Community
“Waste people.” “Offals.” “Rubbish.” “Lazy lubbers.” “Crackers.” These are some of the names given to the poor in America spanning from colonial times to the present day, where the term “white trash” has taken over. Isenberg offers a fascinating, detailed examination of class system in America, and how class issues involving poor people have played a part in shaping America and historical events for the past four hundred years, from the earliest British colonial settlement to Here Comes Honey Bo ...more
This book could have been so much better. The book tells the history of class descriptions, particularly descriptions of poor whites by better off whites. Clearly, a great deal of research was involved and historical documents and quotes are presented. But the book somehow lacked heart. There were no personal stories, no voice given to the poor themselves, and very little analysis of what this all means today.

Also, while the title promises an "untold history," the information in this book didn't
Jim Donahue
Apr 03, 2016 rated it liked it
Interesting, if overlong and repetitious, look at class in American society. A stronger editing hand would have strengthened this. (If I could give half stars, I probably would have rated this 3.5.)
Vannessa Anderson
Because White Trash read like a textbook it was a laborious read and I found it a challenge to stay focus on the story. My take-away was how horrible white people with money and power can be to people who are not white and to women and children. I learned how horrible white people with money and power can be to white people without money and whom they consider beneath them. Then you have whites without money and power who cause harm to non-whites, women and children to feel they are above the gr ...more
Jun 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
WHITE TRASH VS. THE AMERICAN DREAM, Read the Book Club Babble Interview

A couple weeks ago, I bounced downstairs sporting my new Ralph Lauren t-shirt, emblazoned with the motto “Land of the Free” in red, white, and blue letters, of course! Three hours later, my review copy of Nancy Isenberg’s White Trash. The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America arrived and I began studying it right away. After reading a few chapters, the truth of Dr. Isenberg’s premise–that class structure is embedded in
Oct 16, 2016 rated it really liked it
This book does what the best historical research can do -- shift our lens just enough to recognize the fallacies that have propped up what we take for granted as what it means to be American. Coupled with my recent reading of Between the World and Me, I can see that the American Dream has probably caused more damage to the majority of Americans than it has served. It is a thinly veneered myth that protects our belief in exceptionalism while maintaining social control over all groups that struggl ...more
Sep 28, 2016 rated it liked it
Definitely worth reading. Glad I stayed on that two month library waitlist!
C. Quabela
Jul 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I’m giving this book a full rating for three reasons: 1) I haven’t read a history book in at least over a decade and so I am naïve concerning the conventions that may or may not have been well executed; 2) The book is very well written, researched/documented, and accessible to a person not familiar with the genre and/or topic; and 3) Yes, this book IS biased. It has an agenda. But from my background there is no such thing as objective reporting. Be it history, journalism, literature, what have y ...more
Biblio Files (takingadayoff)
May 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
Massive social history of class in America, starting with the European settlers up to the present day. Despite the provocative title, it's not just about white people -- after all, the fact that there's a phrase that specifies color means the default must be not white, rather a disturbing thought. And it isn't so much about what life was like for poor people, it's about attitudes of the middle class and upper class toward working class and poor people. Again, the title says a lot about that.

My i
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Nancy Isenberg is the author of New York Times bestseller White Trash, and Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr, which was a finalist for the LA Times Book Prize in Biography and won the Oklahoma Book Award for best book in Nonfiction. She is the coauthor, with Andrew Burstein, of Madison and Jefferson. She is the T. Harry Williams Professor of American History at LSU, and writes regularly for S ...more

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