Steven's Reviews > White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America

White Trash by Nancy Isenberg
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bookshelves: culture, history, social-sciences

Isenberg looks at the myths surrounding the concepts of race and class in America, and their relationship to ideas like pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps and the American dream. Her argument is that changing class is extremely difficult and that despite our lip-service to the idea anyone can succeed with hard work, our nation was never really set up to work that way.

At times her descriptions of poor people, from the swamp dwellers of colonial times to those termed "trash" today, are hard to read. They almost seem lurid, as if she's enjoying recounting anecdotes of encounters with extreme poverty. Which points out the satisfaction many get from knowing that there are others worse off they are. It got a little weird at times.

Much of her focus is on presidents who seemed to rise from the backwoods and impoverished backgrounds, and they different ways they dealt with their roots and those who opposed them, most notably Andrew Jackson, LBJ and Bill Clinton. But she also points out heroes among the founding fathers, like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, who, though remembered for their commitment to freedom and democracy, had fairly limited definitions of who these applied to.

I kind of lost track of whether Isenberg was in support of the chronically impoverished or merely wanted to point out their existence until the epilogue. My favorite quote from the book (which was published before the most recent presidential election, and was in reference to the one in 2008) : "When you turn an election into a three-ring circus, there's always a chance that the dancing bear will win."
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Reading Progress

September 23, 2016 – Shelved
September 23, 2016 – Shelved as: to-read
February 1, 2017 – Started Reading
February 2, 2017 – Shelved as: culture
February 2, 2017 – Shelved as: history
February 2, 2017 – Shelved as: social-sciences
February 18, 2017 –
60.0% ""When you turn an election into a three-ring circus, there's always a chance that the dancing bear will win.""
February 18, 2017 – Finished Reading

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