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Reviews of Wastelands by Corban Addison


The True Story of Farm Country on Trial

by Corban Addison

Wastelands by Corban Addison X
Wastelands by Corban Addison
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2022, 464 pages

    Sep 2023, 448 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Elisabeth Herschbach
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About this Book

Book Summary

As vivid and fast-paced as a thriller, Wastelands takes us into the heart of a legal battle over the future of America's farmland and into the lives of the people who found the courage to fight.

The once idyllic coastal plain of North Carolina is home to a close-knit, rural community that for more than a generation has battled the polluting practices of large-scale farming taking place in its own backyard. After years of frustration and futility, an impassioned cadre of local residents, led by a team of intrepid and dedicated lawyers, filed a lawsuit against one of the world's most powerful companies - and, miraculously, they won.

There is Elsie Herring, the most outspoken of the neighbors, who has endured racial slurs and the threat of a restraining order to tell the story of the waste raining down on her rooftop from the hog operation next door. There is Don Webb, a larger-than-life hog farmer turned grassroots crusader, and Rick Dove, a riverkeeper and erstwhile military judge who has pioneered the use of aerial photography to document the scale of the pollution. There is Woodell McGowan, a quiet man whose quest to redeem his family's ancestral land encourages him to become a better neighbor, and Dr. Steve Wing, a groundbreaking epidemiologist whose work on the health effects of hog waste exposure translates the neighbors' stories into the argot of science. And there is Tom Butler, an environmental savant and hog industry insider whose whistleblowing testimony electrifies the jury.

Fighting alongside them in the courtroom is Mona Lisa Wallace, who broke the gender barrier in her small southern town and built a storied legal career out of vanquishing corporate giants, and Mike Kaeske, whose trial skills are second to none.

With journalistic rigor and a novelist's instinct for story, Corban Addison's Wastelands captures the inspiring struggle to bring a modern-day monopoly to its knees, to force a once-invincible corporation to change, and to preserve the rights—and restore the heritage—of a long-suffering community.

Chapter 1


What is money when I have all the earth?

—George Washington Carver

River Road, Wallace, North Carolina
Summer 1958

On a five-acre plot of sandy loam soil at the hem of a stand of pines lies a house built by hand a few years after the armistice that ended the First World War. The house is painted white, like a bridal veil, though in time the lady of the house, Beulah Stallings Herring, will paint it green and then pink, unlike any in the vicinity—perhaps in all of Duplin County. Not the flamboyant pink of lipstick or roses, nor the translucent pink of skin, but the spring pink of a dogwood flower.

It is a modest dwelling, yet it was constructed to weather the years. Its siding is German Dutch and its bones are likely pine, though precise memory of the framing will soon perish with the builders. The focal point of the house is the porch. It encompasses the structure's entire front face, including the door. To the visitor it signals a welcome, an ...

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A former attorney with litigation experience, Addison deftly narrates dramatic courtroom showdowns, leading us through the ins and outs of the legal proceedings in five separate class action suits filed against the hog industry's biggest offender: Smithfield Foods, a 15-billion-dollar multinational corporation that controls more than a quarter of the United States market for pork. Drawing on hundreds of hours of interviews, months of on-the-ground research and meticulous documentation from court records, media reports and other written sources, Addison brings the trials to life in immersive detail, weaving the personal backstories of the plaintiffs, witnesses and lawyers into a sweeping account of North Carolina's hog industry and the repercussions of the Smithfield verdicts for Big Agriculture in general...continued

Full Review (819 words)

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(Reviewed by Elisabeth Herschbach).

Media Reviews

Minneapolis StarTribune
[Addison's] skills at storytelling are evident here ... His research is rigorous and he builds the story to a fascinating denouement worthy of a suspense novel – a good suspense novel.

The Los Angeles Times
[F]illed with charismatic, colorful characters … lovingly and sincerely wrought … [T]he satisfaction of a book like Wastelands lies in a truly rare kind of redemption. Goliath is slain. The good guys win. And Addison has the pleasure of being the verdict's messenger.

The New York Times Book Review
[A] legal thriller, full of energy and compassion … [and] a damning portrait of how we feed ourselves …

Kirkus Reviews (starred review) this page-turning exposé of corporate malfeasance...[Addison] strikingly underscores why American courts are so often a last resort for those wronged by structural economic injustice.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
In this exceptional account, Addison reveals how a cadre of dedicated lawyers and long-suffering North Carolina families fought, and won, against Big Pork...As John Grisham notes in his foreword, this David versus Goliath story has a happy ending. This high-stakes legal saga is a must-read.

Library Journal
Injecting a human touch into what could be a dry subject, [Addison] weaves together the personal and political for an exploration of the human impact of corporate greed. A highly readable tale of underdogs who took on a mega-corporation and won.

Author Blurb John Grisham
Beautifully written, impeccably researched, and told with the air of suspense that few writers can handle, Wastelands is a story I wish I had written.

Author Blurb Jonathon Harr, author of the #1 national bestseller A Civil Action
In this book, Addison turns a novelist's eye to the thorny complexities of a real legal case. The prose is lyrical, the cast of characters jump to life on the page, and the result is a captivating account of how a small group of citizens bring a huge corporation to justice.

Reader Reviews

Tom Butler

A true story, a sad story, a happy story, a story that did not have to happen, but due to corporate greed, it did. A courageous law firm and a small group off rural NC citizens, with limited resources, did prevail even though all the odds were ...   Read More
Tom Butler

I am a NC contract hog farmer. This is a true documentary and an excellent read for all meat consumers and people involved in animal agriculture. Wastelands is a page turner.

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Beyond the Book

The Harms of Industrial Hog Farming in North Carolina

A row of industrial buildings and surrounding grassy land on a CAFO (factory farm) owned by Smithfield Foods In Wastelands, Corban Addison recounts the true story of a group of North Carolina residents fighting for justice after suffering through years of pollution and nuisance from neighboring industrial hog farms. It's an uphill battle against a powerful multinational corporation, a broken regulatory system and a political establishment determined to shield the state's billion-dollar hog farming industry from accountability.

North Carolina's pork lobby was not always so powerful, and pig farms were not always so polluting. Traditionally, hog farming was a small-scale affair, with a large number of independent family farmers raising a small number of pigs alongside other animals and crops.

But while in 1965 North Carolina had an ...

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Read-Alikes Full readalike results are for members only

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