White Trash: Book summary and reviews of White Trash by Nancy Isenberg

White Trash

The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America

by Nancy Isenberg

White Trash by Nancy Isenberg X
White Trash by Nancy Isenberg

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Book Summary

In her groundbreaking history of the class system in America, extending from colonial times to the present, Nancy Isenberg takes on our comforting myths about equality, uncovering the crucial legacy of the ever-present, always embarrassing – if occasionally entertaining – poor white trash.

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.

Surveying political rhetoric and policy, popular literature and scientific theories over four hundred years, Isenberg upends assumptions about America's supposedly class-free society – where liberty and hard work were meant to ensure real social mobility. Poor whites were central to the rise of the Republican Party in the early nineteenth 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 - a widely popular movement embraced by Theodore Roosevelt that targeted poor whites for sterilization. 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. Marginalized as a class, white trash have always been at or near the center of major political debates over the character of the American identity.

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.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. A Marxist analysis of the lumpenproletariat this is not, but Isenberg's expertise particularly shines in the examinations of early America, and every chapter is riveting." - Publishers Weekly

"Starred Review. From the eugenics movement to the rise of the proud redneck, Isenberg portrays a very real and significant history of class privilege in the United States. A riveting thesis supported by staggering research." - Kirkus

"A magisterial study of the unjustly neglected poor whites who have helped to compose the American identity in crucial fashion ... This is breathtaking social history and dazzling cultural analysis at its best." - Michael Eric Dyson, author of Holler if You Hear Me and The Black Presidency

"With characteristically deep research and provocative insights, Nancy Isenberg reveals the pivotal role of the white poor in American history. From John Locke's plans for the colonies to twentieth century eugenics, from the rise of Andrew Jackson to the modern Republican party, White Trash will change the way we think about our past and present." - T.J. Stiles, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Custer's Trials

"To any and all who want to understand, and understand deeply, our present age of brutal inequality, here is a timely and essential book." - Marcus Rediker, author of The Slave Ship: A Human History

"Nancy Isenberg is a dazzling analyst of American politics and culture and our most relentless foe of cant. Here she makes sense of our entire history, warts imagined and real. This is not just another book about whiteness: it explodes the genre by going back to the beginning and forward to our time." - David Waldstreicher, author of Slavery's Constitution

"A bold, colorful, and necessary book about one of the oldest - and most disturbing - themes in American history." - Edward L. Ayers, author of The Promise of the New South

"This sweeping and erudite assault on the myth of a classless America illuminates the persistence of 'waste' people in American political ideology and popular culture." - Amy Greenberg, author of A Wicked War

"For all too many in 'this great nation,' the American Dream is an American Myth, because this is a country where class has mattered more than equality, more than opportunity, and certainly more than YOU think. Find out just how much class matters from Nancy Isenberg. She tells it like it is – and always was." - Christopher Tomlins, author of Freedom Bound

"[Isenberg] deftly explores the interplay of mockery and denial in treatments, historical and fictional, of hardships and limits in a supposed land of equal and abundant opportunity. Drawing upon popular media as well as historical sources, from past and present, she exposes harsh realities long kept hidden in plain sight." - Alan Taylor, Pulitzer-Prize winning author of American Colonies and The Internal Enemy

The information about White Trash shown above was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's online-magazine that keeps our members abreast of notable and high-profile books publishing in the coming weeks. In most cases, the reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author of this book and feel that the reviews shown do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, please send us a message with the mainstream media reviews that you would like to see added.

Reader Reviews

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Jan B.

Exciting Read
I'm jumping up and down, so excited to read a book that is factual as well as a very good read! This book clearly made me see the truth behind the history of our country and what we are taught in our history classes in grades 1-12 as such a fairy tale. (You must attend college to get the real story) I will keep this book on my library shelf to refer back to when needed. This was my introduction to Nancy Isenberg and I will be seeking out other books written by her. I would love to audit her American History class at LSU! It is such a joy when you run across a book that has so much factual detail included and it shows just how well White Trash has been researched. I can't say enough good things about this book and I'm telling all my friends.

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More Information

More Information

Nancy Isenberg is the author of Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr, which was a finalist for the LA Times Book Prize in Biography and won the Oklahoma Book Award for best book in Nonfiction. She is the coauthor, with Andrew Burstein, of Madison and Jefferson. She is the T. Harry Williams Professor of American History at LSU, and writes regularly for Salon.com. She lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Charlottesville, Virginia.

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