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

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  3,282 ratings  ·  410 reviews
A haunting exploration of faith, from a preacher convicted of attempted murder to a first-hand account of holiness serpent handling--"One of the best books on American religion from the last 25 years" (Chicago Tribune)

For New York Times reporter Dennis Covington, what began as a journalistic assignment-covering the trial of an Alabama pastor convicted of attempting to mur
...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published August 11th 2009 by Da Capo Press (first published 1995)
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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
Lawyer
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 t
...more
Brian
Jan 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  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
...more
Darwin8u
Aug 13, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Matt Glaviano
Jan 31, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  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
...more
Eric_W
Jan 28, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Josh
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
Tom
Oct 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: journalism, faith-lit
"My uncle's death confirmed a suspicion of mine that madness and religion were a hair's breadth away. My belief about the nature of God and man have changed over the hears, but that one never has. And Christianity without passion, danger, and mystery may not really be Christianity at all." (177)

“Mystery, I’d read somewhere, is not the absence of meaning, but the presence of more meaning than we can comprehend.”

Throughout this account of snake-handlers, Covington, who doesn't just observe but end
...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.
Tony
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
Kaye
Aug 26, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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.
Aj Sterkel
Nov 14, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Likes: I don't know much about Christianity, but I think if God wanted us to touch rattlesnakes, he wouldn’t have put rattles on them. That sound means not to touch them.

Anyway, the author is a journalist who spent two years as a member of a snake-handling church in southern Appalachia. His interest in snake handling starts with a work assignment and curiosity about his family heritage. It quickly develops into an obsession that kind of freaks him out. He isn’t afraid to examine his own life. Ho
...more
Elisabeth
Nov 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia, Dennis Covington takes a firsthand look at the mysterious and mystical practice of handling poisonous snakes in religious worship.

In American literature - and perhaps beyond - there is no more common caricature than the religious zealot. And among these, the Southern snake-handler reigns supreme. For those not from the South, the idea of snake handling falls into one of two extremes. As a folktale, something aki
...more
Katy
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.
...more
Mike
Aug 19, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: essays
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.
Holly
Jun 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Sarah
Sep 04, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Ken Saunders
Apr 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Literally hysterical and powerfully beautiful, it's the rare book that exceeds all the praise and leaves you wanting to write the author a personal thank you note. This book shouldn't work - it's too funny to be so respectful, too absurd to be so intimate, and too confident to be so profound. Maybe it only works because the contradictions it embodies capture the living South so vividly. I loved every amazing page.
Cooper Cooper
Aug 08, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Kevin
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
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
...more
Peggy
Sep 18, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Julie
Feb 21, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 Elizeabeth
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
...more
Dennis
Oct 27, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Riley
Feb 05, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The novelty of this book carries it a long way. Snake-handling preachers, reflections on the old South, murders and marriage are definitely intriguing and amazing. Ultimately, though, I feel like there are two "best versions" of this book, and this isn't it.

My gripe, mainly, is with the author—not as a person, but as a writer. There's no firm thesis for this book. It's kind of about snake handling churches, it's kind of about his brush with God, it's kind of about his discovery of his family hi
...more
Cheri
Feb 17, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This absorbing book is partly journalism and partly personal journey. The author is open about blurring this line, and his observer/participant status made it easier for me to use his experience to understand something that I was inclined to dismiss as simply crazy. I was not prepared for the last chapter, however, and it ended a little abruptly (no spoilers, but definitely worth reading to the end). I found the Afterword to the 25th anniversary edition to be helpful, too.
Marcie Beasley
Jun 13, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating and beautifully written account of snake handling churches in Southern Appalachia! I was particularly drawn to it because the places that he discusses are not far from where I live. Many are condescending about this culture, discounting this group of Christian churches as crazy, but Covington does such a wonderful job of explaining their faith and even becoming one of them for a period of time... a great read!
Wren
Jun 28, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love reading about what makes us Southerners such unique and interesting people. And this book offers some wonderful stories to file away inside my head and my heart.
Eliscia
Not crazy enough.
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Hume-Fogg Readers: Salvation on sand mountain 1 1 May 18, 2018 10:04AM  

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