Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Reading and a Book Review: Hidden America

I don't often do book reviews. I have started receiving ARC's (Advance Readers Copies) in greater volume lately, and I don't know why. Because of what else is going on in my life, my reading time has been reduced. I have also been shifting between my e-reader and print.

However, I recently finished Hidden America: From Coal Miners to Cowboys... by Jeanne Marie Laskas. One of the blurbs on the back compares Ms. Laskas to Studs Terkel, in a positive way. That is high praise, indeed.

It is a well written book and each chapter tells a discrete story. The first chapter, on coal miners, appeared as a separate article, and the others are similarly able to stand independently. Each are the personal story of Ms. Laskas as she explores some of the jobs or people who are critical to the running of the country on a day to day basis. By exploring the personal stories, we get a glimpse behind the scenes. They are fascinating glimpses which put a personal face on what happens to make our lives so comfortable.

The first chapter explores coal mining in Ohio. (Yes, there are underground coal mines under parts of Ohio.) The subsequent chapters cover migrant workers (mostly in Maine for the blueberry harvest), the cheerleaders for the Cleveland Browns, air traffic controllers at LaGuardia, a gun store in Yuma (Arizona), a cattle ranch in Texas, an oil rig in the Arctic, a truck driver (from Ohio to Iowa and back), and the "sanitary landfill" outside Los Angeles.

It is an amazing journey to follow, and I even learned a little about the author along the way. For those who can extrapolate from the personal stories to the general, this can be a very instructive book. I actually read the chapter on the air traffic controllers while on a trip. There are some scary things going on behind the scenes. I read the story on the gun store after the incident in Newtown which added a poignancy to some of what was expressed in that story.

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