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Publisher's Summary

The wretched and landless poor have existed from the time of the earliest British colonial settlement. They were alternately known as "waste people", "offals", "rubbish", "lazy lubbers", and "crackers". By the 1850s the downtrodden included so-called "clay eaters" and "sandhillers", known for prematurely aged children distinguished by their yellowish skin, ragged clothing, and listless minds.

In White Trash, Nancy Isenberg upends assumptions about America's supposedly class-free society. Poor whites were central to the rise of the Republican Party in the early 19th century, and the Civil War itself was fought over class issues nearly as much as it was fought over slavery. Reconstruction pitted poor white trash against newly freed slaves, which factored in the rise of eugenics. These poor were at the heart of New Deal reforms and LBJ's Great Society; they haunt us in reality TV shows like Here Comes Honey Boo Boo and Duck Dynasty.

We acknowledge racial injustice as an ugly stain on our nation's history. With Isenberg's landmark book, we will have to face the truth about the enduring, malevolent nature of class as well.

©2016 Nancy Isenberg (P)2016 Tantor

Critic Reviews

"This is breathtaking social history and dazzling cultural analysis at its best." (Michael Eric Dyson, author of Holler If You Hear Me)

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400 Year Head Start Squandered

As a person of color and first generation college during the age of affirmative action debates, I am shocked to silence. During these debates I often wondered out loud how my white peers could be first generation college. My grandparents were brutally opressed and enslaved for 400 years, what did their grandparents do with a 400 year head start, that was my question to my peers. In truth I never received an adequate answer. Thanks to White Trash I am in a better position to understand their struggles to rise in the face of class warfare. Now I understand the visceral response to Clinton and Sarah Palin. Now i understand why so many whites hate affirmative action, becuase it tries to remedy the effects of slavery and oppression for ex-slaves while confining the mobility of poor whites, or so it would appear.

This is a must read book for all humanity, especially for those who are the offspring of former slaves. Having an understanding of class in America will help you understand that we have more in common with our poor white brothers than we would like to admit, mainly the reality that we have all been mislead.

278 of 301 people found this review helpful

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Eye-opening

Exploring the history of America's White underclass is helpful in understanding the political climate we find ourselves in today. As the attention of progressive politicians turn understandably to issues of racial justice, it's become easier to see why the members of America's disaffected White working-class, who feel increasingly forgotten, are willing to turn to demagogues who promise a return to an American middle-class Utopia that for the most part never really existed.

The author painstakingly chronicles the trials and tribulations of, and attitudes towards America's White underclass; from our colonial beginnings, through to present-day. It is an eye-opening read, that helped me understand both my own family history and the attitudes of those I disagree with politically.

58 of 71 people found this review helpful

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Wowed by Truth

From the African American perspective, I was drawn to this book by it's mere title. By the end of the first chapter I found myself engrossed in the historical foundation of America's diabolical institutions of race and class.

Quite astoundingly, I was amazed to discover that social Darwinism has not only been relegated to race although it has been known to me and my fellow humans of the Black race, that all are guilty of holding onto family and regional pride.

What does seem to be inevitable in these days of "occupiers" and "All Lives Matter", Equality here and there is...nothing will change. What has been confirmed for me is that human nature is so deeply ingrained that what seems to be rigged, is rigged indeed.

58 of 77 people found this review helpful

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Excellent history

Overall an excellent history, well researched and informative. Some bias becomes more evident from the Nixon administration forward, and the final chapters feel rushed. The conclusion of historical trends is well supported, but the assertion that a consciousness of "breeding" is still prevalent today is mostly supported by extrapolation rather than a thorough assessment of the modern status. Much recent research has examined the role of family and cultural lessons (as distinct from status) on economic outcomes of children. This is largely overlooked and as a result some potential remedies, such as teaching economic literacy and office soft skills in schools are left out, which weakens the final chapter of an otherwise excellent book.

22 of 29 people found this review helpful

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Challenge's the notion "American Exceptionalism"

What did you love best about White Trash?

The author's account of Classes in America is done in a chronological manner from Jamestown and early New England settlements up through early independence, the civil war, turn of the 20th century, WW1, WW2, LBJ, and today. The book was based on the writings of influential writers, forefathers, politicians, Hollywood and Presidents of the times. The topic challenged the very notion of American exceptionalism.

27 of 36 people found this review helpful

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  • Cynthia
  • Monrovia, California, United States
  • 02-26-17

Yankees Were a Degenerate Race

Esquire published a piece called, "20 Essential Books to Prepare You for What's Next" Emma Dibdin, February 3, 2017. Nancy Isenberg's "White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America" (2016) is on that list, along with other notable works like George Orwell's "Nineteen Eighty-Four" (1949), Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale" (1985), and Suzanne Collins' "Hunger Games" Trilogy (2008-2010). The latter three are haunting dystopian fictions, a future or a past imagined, but not lived. "White Trash" is all too wretchedly true.

Isenberg's book and an opinion piece she wrote for The Washington Post "Five myths about class in America" (July 1, 2016) presaged the rise and election of Donald J. Trump, stating bluntly, "The 2016 election is about class." It was. Isenberg's scholarly work posits that class has always been present, from the colonies' inception and its use as a dumping ground for a landless, uneducated and starving populace by England's aristocracy. She describes Appalachian born Andrew Jackson "Old Hickory" as the first populist president, a common man who was elected by a constituency of miners and hillbillies. He wasn't the last, of course. "White Trash" doesn't address Donald J. Trump's presidency - he was elected at the end of 2016 - but his base of power is the white, America First voters she described.

"White Trash" is thought provoking and seriously depressing, especially when the mythical dividing line has always been, by popular acclaim, monetary only. There are the 'have-too-much', 'have some' and the dirt poor. It's more than just that. It's grandparents and great-grandparents that were uneducated and malnourished. There's the low Ewells in Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird" (1960), literally living in a dump and the downtrodden and peripatetic Joads In "The Grapes of Wrath," John Steinbeck (1939). They are the real life Mama June from "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" (2012-2014), undone by her unwillingness or inability to protect her children from a registered sex offender.

As important as Isenberg's topic is, the book simply is not well written. It overreaches to make arguments about perceptions of class, particularly from centuries ago. It ignores the very real divide of wealth, and perhaps even more key since the end of World War II, education, and the rolls both play in class mobility. It also misses the correlation between religion and stagnation of social position - although that would have made the book much longer. It meanders and repeats, but that may be because each chapter is meant to stand alone as an academic piece. Finally, it's simply as depressing as a seabird living in Prince William Sound in 1989, watching the Exxon Valdez hearing towards a reef.

Kirsten Potter was fine as a narrator.

The title of this review is a quote of Confederate States President Jefferson Davis used in the book.

[If this review helped, please press YES. Thanks!]

48 of 65 people found this review helpful

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Illuminating

I was drawn to this book because I wanted to know why this group keep voting against their own interest. The author took me on this journey. Though I don't get the phenomenon, I understand it better .

47 of 64 people found this review helpful

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Waste people are a tradition

Why should people relegated to the outside care about the opinions and class structures maintained by those on the inside? White Trash is a survey of history's outcasts in England and the USA. It is not a deep exploration of how these outcasts came to be nor does it offer remedies for their inclusion. You must accept that the indentured servants of Colonial America ended up in the South with slave labor prior to the American Civil War. Little attention is given to waste people anywhere else including the more modern US Rust Belt. White Trash is a worthwhile read if only as a reminder that we live in an unfair world and that Fairytales are rampant in USA history.

23 of 33 people found this review helpful

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On and on

Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

Not really, it's not enjoyable to listen to. It has very little in the way of overview or insight. It seems to contain all the bad things people have called the poor and a review of predudices.

Would you ever listen to anything by Nancy Isenberg again?

I wouldn't buy a book by her.

What three words best describe Kirsten Potter’s voice?

Shrill

Did White Trash inspire you to do anything?

Stop listening

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Don't Buy Audible Version

I was really compelled by the description and some of the reviews for this book, but I made the mistake of ordering the Audible version. The narrator's superior tonality sounds so blue blood it destroys the credibility of the text she's reading. Tried a couple times to get through chapter one, but once that impression is made it's dang hard for a poor ole white trash boy like me to shake. Buy a print copy.

7 of 10 people found this review helpful