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5.0 out of 5 starsFascinating look at people in our country who are, primarily, doing hard physical work in a faltering middle class
Reviewed in the United States on August 17, 2017
Ridiculously fascinating book. She spends a great deal of time with one group of America's workers after the other ... coal miners, blueberry pickers, truck drivers, gun retailers, oil rig workers, landfill workers. No overt politics here. No finger pointing. But, oh my, how interesting it is to spend quality time with Americans who have chosen to-- primarily -- do work with a significant physical component. Loved meeting them. Wished many times to have been her and had her experiences. Read her book on Concussions before this and recognized there that she was a fine reporter. This is an earlier book well worth the read as we navigate our current dangerous political waters.
5.0 out of 5 starsI will be forever grateful and will not miss a day of saying a Prayer of Thanks to those wonderful people! Thank you
Reviewed in the United States on August 22, 2015
This book enlightens us as to who REALLY should have the kudos of this world! The "Hidden People" who bring our food and stuff to our lives - and with such sacrifice of their own lives. I will be forever grateful and will not miss a day of saying a Prayer of Thanks to those wonderful people! Thank you, Jeanne Laskas!! Wonderful, enlightening book! Out of the dark, into the light - just like the Coal Miners.
I found the book very interesting and educational. I will never understand why any author has to use the "f" word so very much. The book would have been just as readable, educational, and enjoyable, if not more so, without that word on almost every page. I taught history for years. This would be a good addition to high school curriculum, but I cannot recommend it because f the profanity in it.
One can't help but think that Jeanne Marie Laskas was influenced by Studs Terkel's "man on the street", working class interviews . Laskas certainly merits a comparison.
The idea for HIDDEN AMERICA came from an article Laskas wrote for GQ about coal miners, and she includes them in her investigation. She also interviews migrant workers, NFL cheerleaders, air traffic controllers, gun dealers, red angus ranchers, Alaskan oil rig workers, a female truck driver, and land fill workers.
Considering the constant danger, the coal miners were very funny. One of them wore size thirteen shoes; so his nickname became "Foot". They all had nicknames. It was also surprising how much money they made; they could earn up to $90,000 a year in a non-union mine. One of them was a college graduate who swore he'd never work in the mines, but the money was too good to pass up. Also, despite what the politicians say, coal is doing better than they ever have before, at least when Laskas wrote the book it was. For instance, 70% of China's factories draw their power from coal.
The Cincinnati Ben-Gal cheerleaders were also surprising. Their numbers are drawn from some unique sources. One was a scientist; another was a construction worker. When asked why she tried out, the scientist said, "Who wouldn't want to be a Ben-Gal?" The construction worker was chosen cheerleader of the week and got her picture and bio put up on the scoreboard. She got so excited she overslept for the game and was replaced, but the director gave her another chance. So then, the motivation seems to be similar with all the girls. They're not there to trap a man; players aren't allowed near the girls; they just want to be somebody, if only for a little while.
Perhaps the most charismatic character in the book was the female truck driver, nicknamed "Sputter." We're introduced to her as she's driving down the road trying to stay awake. Her solution is to go braless and to turn on the lights in the cab to show the other truckers.
The landfill workers weren't what you'd expect either, nor was the landfill itself. Puente Hills Landfill, just outside Los Angeles pipes the methane out of the landfill to a generator that provides power for a middle-sized city. You'd also never know the place was a landfill if you didn't know it was there. The engineers built a verge with trees and flowers on the boundary to hide its existence. Civil engineer Joe Haworth has been around the landfill since its inception. He was one of those who came up with the idea to use the methane as a power source. He sees the landfill as a life lesson. Nature teaches us that everything is recycled. He doesn't really believe in God, but nature seems to imply that when we die, it's not the end. We are such things as stars are made of. In 2013, Puente Hills will close and Los Angeles' garbage will be hauled by rail into the desert; this will be more expensive, but even more of the garbage will be recycled.
I guess what I learned from the book is that people tend to elevate their jobs. The migrant workers, for instance, wound up in Maine, raking blueberries. These are natural blueberries. The best. People from all over Maine used to help pick the berries when they were in season. They still hold Blueberry festivals, but, according to the migrant workers, most Americans are too lazy to pick them. They're missing out on something that would have connected them to their ancestors as well as other people of every stripe.
Laskas will also throw in the occasional factoid. Despite what politicians and TV journalists say, the number of illegals entering the country is down. It's getting too hard for the migrant workers, over half of whom are illegal, to get back into the country, so they stay. Some haven't been home for years. And American growers wouldn't be able to harvest their crops without them.
4.0 out of 5 starsThat Jeanne Marie Laskas had a vision of writing about ...
Reviewed in the United States on May 31, 2016
That Jeanne Marie Laskas had a vision of writing about the subject of unusual and unusual vocations impressed me in the first place. Then to appreciate the research and time invested to follow these professions impressed me more. Ms. Laskas writing style is so enjoyable in this book that I was drawn into every chapter. The book made me remember to appreciate all of our special vocational talents.
Reviewed in the United States on December 21, 2012
I read this book in two days. It kept my interest at an all time high so I just kept on reading it until I reached the end, and then felt sorry there wasn't more to read. It's the story of the common people who make America run, rather than being a story about celebrities. It's also a very easy and interesting book to read. I thoroughly enjoyed it.