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Ramp Hollow: The Ordeal of Appalachia

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  533 ratings  ·  105 reviews
How the United States underdeveloped Appalachia

Appalachia--among the most storied and yet least understood regions in America--has long been associated with poverty and backwardness. But how did this image arise and what exactly does it mean? In Ramp Hollow, Steven Stoll launches an original investigation into the history of Appalachia and its place in U.S. history, with a
Hardcover, 432 pages
Published November 21st 2017 by Hill & Wang
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Linnea Hartsuyker
Jan 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Ramp Hollow is unlike any history book I’ve ever read before. It tells the story of Appalachia, as a region that was populated by Native Americans, then white “mountaineers” who lived as subsistence farmer-hunter-gatherers. It tells how foreign land-owners, and the concept of “enclosure”, which turns common land, like grazing forest, into private property, killed the ability of Appalachian residents to continue to live as they had before. It makes the strong argument, by comparing the land takeo ...more
Doug Gordon
Nov 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017
The first couple of chapters presented a lot of historical background information and were pretty slow to get through to the point where I considered giving up on the book. But then it really picked up and turned into quite a fascinating story. It is really about much more than just Appalachia, as it describes a process that has been going on for the last couple of centuries and continues right down to today in some of the poorer area around the world. It certainly gave me new insight and sympat ...more
Dec 23, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction
almost a DNF - very disappointed.

most of this book was a history of capitalism, poverty in other countries, "consider Haiti" (why?), and miscellaneous digressions (like Haiti) meant to support/explain what the focus of the book purports to be. I understand that the author may expect his readers to have zero background in this area, but I am pretty sure it is an inaccurate assumption. I was alternately insulted and annoyed by this material (yes, I know about the Black Death, but am not intereste
Nov 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
I found Professor Stoll's treatment of the factors which produced modern Appalachia compelling reading for those of curious as to how we got to where we are. He does give us a solution which while interesting, belies the complexity of what he has just explained. I'm thinking there are simpler more practical solution or steps would be more helpful. Appalachia wasn't built in a day. Also, it's Monongalia County. The river is the Monongahela. I would recommend the book. ...more
Mar 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book is the latest in a series of works that gained in potential readership after the 2016 US general elections. The focus is on the history of economic and political suffering of the Appalachian region. The author is an historian and the book reads like a history, although it has a more distinct point of view (some might say axe to grind) than a typical academic history. The comparison volumes that come readily to mind are Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy” and Isenberg’s “White Trash”.

The punchlin
Jan 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
“I am interested in how people get kicked off land and why we don’t talk about them,” Steven Stoll writes in introducing his majestic history of greater West Virginia, Ramp Hollow. I’m a proud native West Virginian, and I’ve spent countless hours discussing the problems of the state, but Stoll is right, almost none of those hours were spent asking “How did all these mountain people end up so much poorer than their neighbors in Ohio or Virginia?”

In Stoll’s telling, the history of European settle
Nov 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Wowza! This was quite a treatise! I was not expecting such all-encompassing coverage of Appalachian history; it’s own trail of tears. Some reviewers mention of Native American displacement but that was not the scope of the book and I couldn’t imagine having to read more cultural travesty than the book served up. No stone left unturned, I found it a fascinating and interesting plotting of the factors that fueled the steady dismantling of the culture by corporations.

Now at the end of my reading ye
Pam Cipkowski
Jan 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
In a way, this is the antidote to Hillbilly Elegy and its claims of the need to lift yourself out of poverty. But be prepared for a long background history and lesson on capitalism, land tenure, and economics, as Stoll prefaces his look at Appalachia by examining the internal logic of makeshift economies. This is a moderately heavy academic read, so be prepared for an examination of English land history, as well as a diatribe on Hamiltonian politics and federalism coupled with capitalism, and ho ...more
Mar 07, 2018 rated it liked it
Ok, let's start off by saying: I don't want to drink a beer with Steven Stoll. Not for political reasons, I think our politics are probably pretty closely aligned. And not because he doesn't seem like a smart guy, he clearly is. I just don't LIKE him. I would have a beer with Robert Caro every night for the rest of my life, and I would be SO ENTERTAINED. And he would tell me magical stories about figures in American history both towering and insignificant, and I would be enraptured. Steven Stoll ...more
May 08, 2018 rated it liked it
I thought this book was going to be about Appalachia, but most of it is about how peasants/farmers/agrarians have been screwed by capitalism. Stoll often seems like a hippie, favoring a romanticized "back to the land" movement. However, at the end of the book, he writes, "I favor democratic socialism and a reinvention of the nation-state as a conduit for meeting human needs rather than for accumulating capital." Here, here! But is this what the residents of Appalachia want? Did they approve of O ...more
Lynn Joshua
Mar 14, 2018 rated it did not like it
Dry, preachy (or maybe "teachy") and slightly patronizing. Yes, Appalachia and its problems must be considered in a wide historical context, but this was so wide and so full of rabbit trails that it was hard to make the connections he tried to make. His anti-capitalism message was clear, but not compelling. ...more
Feb 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
Stoll writes a winding narrative history of the land, policy, and people of the US highlands. It could certainly use some tightening; the book mirrors the land in the way it runs in confusing circles. That being said, it is worth reading. Below are some of the notes I had reading through the book (it's frustrating that goodreads does not support bullet point lists):

Like many interesting ideas, this one is obvious once it is pointed out: a transition into capitalism occurs when people pursue mone
Jan 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Essential reading for understanding the disastrous effects manifest destiny, modernization, and capitalism can have on communities attempting to exist outside--or better said in a different way--than the capitalist hegemony. Capitalism has winners and losers. We meet many of the losers in the hills of West Virginia. In addition to the destruction wrought through dispossession and the effort to make a quick buck, this book makes me think about how pessimistic the capitalist/modernist outlook on l ...more
Fate's Lady
Dec 09, 2017 rated it did not like it
Other than a fairly brief mention, not much is made of the fact that these ignorant but capable residents who flouted capitalism and land ownership laws were also murderous settlers who themselves displaced Native Americans and contributed to an overall policy of theft, abuse, and genocide. Yep, they had it tough. They also, in many ways, brought it in themselves by first driving out the people who belonged to that land, them choosing to squat on it despite ownership claims from other settlers. ...more
Peter Lotto
Mar 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Unlike J.D. Vance's Hillbilly Elegy, a book that I found self serving and superficial, Ramp Hollow gives us an objective, scholarly history of the Appalachian Region and an honest assessment of how we got where we are. He also offers a solution, the book concludes with a multi-part manifesto of recommendations for government intervention and personal action. I'm not sure that give the current political climate and the deep tribalism of the region that any of Stoll's ideas will take root, but I g ...more
John Ball
Dec 26, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Don't Waste Your Time

Delusional, anti-capitalist tirade by a man who would like to see the world go back to subsistence farming. The author views the primitive, agrarian as an Eden and modern society as a debauchery. While many of the crimes he describes against the people of Appalachia are real, he views them all as inherent in capitalism, and the author says as much over and over and over.
Jun 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A fascinating way to place Appalachia in the world system and US history. Stoll does a great job demonstrating how Appalachia is in some ways unique but is in other ways a familiar periphery. The book can be technical at times, but it is very carefully written to place this region and its people into a context instead of in a bell jar.
Jun 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I wish you would read this amazing book. It will challenge everything you thought you knew about history and open your eyes to how the dispossession of subsistence households that make a living off the "commons" has caused poverty to increase throughout the world. The book even offers ideas about solutions.

Although engagingly written, it took me a long time to finish because I had to stop and think about what I was learning and somehow incorporate it into my worldview. In addition, it was painfu
May 28, 2021 rated it really liked it
I picked up this book, which had been sitting on my shelf for a few years waiting for me, because I had booked a cabin adjacent to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with my family for this summer. The trip will be a first for the whole family, but a return for me. Likewise, this book marked a return to the subject-matter I had explored for my honors thesis back at Oberlin— who decides what land should be used for, and who it belongs to, and how it belongs to them? Although his focus is on ...more
Arinn Dembo
Feb 28, 2021 rated it really liked it
A historical review of Appalachian history with a focus on political economy. Really interesting chapters on several topics, including the Rye Rebellion and other aspects of agrarian autonomy in the Appalachian mountains.

I appreciated the fact that the final chapter broadened the perspective and discussed how the economic and social woes of Appalachia are completely consistent with similar patterns of capitalist appropriation, exploitation, and abandonment of regions around the world. His argum
Robert Wechsler
Mar 31, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
An unusual book in that it goes off on tangents that are related to its essential story but, for the most, unnecessary. Most of them are both interesting and enlightening; some of them less so. But they do seem to keep Stoll from focusing on both the context of Appalachia and the central fact of importance to him: the loss of the forest commons that allowed for a decent life of subsistence farming, hunting, and foraging.

The history is fascinating, but when the coal/logging companies move in, hi
Apr 25, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: couldn-t-finish
I didn't finish this one. Partly it's because I have another interlibrary loan book that I have to finish (even more scholarly than this one) and partly because it just wasn't what I was looking for; I had hoped for something a bit more grounded in the specific human experience, rather than in grand forces of capitalism and labour. No criticism of the writer himself; it just wasn't what I could manage at the moment. ...more
Tamela Rich
The most important book I've read in a decade. A scholarly masterpiece about the economic and cultural history of Appalachia to the present day. Don't let the word "scholarly" put you off. The writing is gorgeous and accessible.

I started reading Ramp Hollow for background on the Appalachian fiction I'm writing, never expecting that what I learned will help me understand news all around the world.

Jan 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
A better book about how Appalachian mountain people became poor, moving from subsistence to dispossession.
Xavier Bonilla
Sep 05, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2021
The best book I have ever read on Appalachia. Brilliant work!
Aug 18, 2022 rated it it was amazing
Interesting companion read with Isenberg's White Trash. ...more
Edward Sullivan
A wide-ranging, often provocative work of economic, political, and social history, though Stoll frequently digresses to subjects other than Appalachia.
George E
Aug 02, 2018 rated it liked it
Not a whole lot to do with Appalachia, but a lot ot do with a history of capitalism and how it undermined, and is undermining subsistence living as a way of life in the world.
Feb 25, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: audible
I finished this a while ago but it did take me a long time to read. It was very dry. It felt like I was listening to someone’s dissertation. Parts of it were interesting but overall it was tough going.
Sean Foley
Jan 30, 2022 rated it really liked it
I learned a lot from this book about the agrarian mode of production and the history of Appalachia.
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