Jim Ray's Reviews > Ramp Hollow: The Ordeal of Appalachia

Ramp Hollow by Steven Stoll
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's review

really liked it

Given the title, I was expecting a book about Appalachia through the lens of a small community and how that community changed over time. I was cautiously optimistic.

Instead, what Stoll has done is write the inverse of that: a historical rendering of a place and the people who have variously called it home, in the context of global history, through revolutions, the rise of globalism, the reaches of capitalism, and the narrative of displacement. Stoll tells a very local story but places it in a discourse that ranges from 16th century English peasants to 19th century West Virginians to 21st century Malians.

He's also written as much a critique of capitalism, and its destructive tools like enclosure, environmental deprivation, and political capture. It's hard to come away from Stoll's book without understanding how destructive capital was on the people of Appalachia, and without being dismayed that the region's politics continue to be aligned with those very forces.

Towards the end, Stoll does something interesting: he pulls together his history and actually offers a set of policy proposals. They're likely the kinds of things you were thinking as you read the book, neatly wrapped together as a package. I found them pretty compelling, particularly as a form of democratic socialism to appeal to rural people, beyond snarky tweets with red roses.

Stoll's proposed agrarian lifestyle feels decidedly out of place in 21st Century America, yet it holds an appeal, particularly as a form of resilience in increasingly brittle times.

It's impossible not to find this book compelling, enraging, and to be set on a journey of further exploration. Stoll has done us all a great favor with this history of a region that has captivated America for as long as its existed.

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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
August 13, 2019 – Shelved

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