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Monday, September 17, 2012

Review: Hidden America by Jeanne Marie Laskas

Title: Hidden America
Author: Jeanne Marie Laskas
Format: ARC
Publisher: Putnam
Publish Date: September 13, 2012
Source: I received a copy from the publisher; however, this did not affect my review.

Why You're Reading This Book:

  • You're a non-fiction fan.
  • You love learning about different people.
What's the Story?:

From "Five hundred feet underground, Jeanne Marie Laskas asked a coal miner named Smitty, “Do you think it’s weird that people know so little about you?” He replied, “I don’t think people know too much about the way the whole damn country works.”

Hidden America intends to fix that. Like John McPhee and Susan Orlean, Laskas dives deep into her subjects and emerges with character-driven narratives that are gripping, funny, and revelatory. In Hidden America, the stories are about the people who make our lives run every day—and yet we barely think of them.

Laskas spent weeks in an Ohio coal mine and on an Alaskan oil rig; in a Maine migrant labor camp, a Texas beef ranch, the air traffic control tower at New York’s LaGuardia Airport, a California landfill, an Arizona gun shop, the cab of a long-haul truck in Iowa, and the stadium of the Cincinnati Ben-Gals cheerleaders. Cheerleaders? Yes. They, too, are hidden America, and you will be amazed by what Laskas tells you about them: hidden no longer.

My Two Cents: 

There are a lot of unsung heroes in this country. These are the people that if they stopped doing their job, we would notice and quickly! These people don't get a lot of the glory. They're not people whose names we all know. Yet they are a integral part of our society.

Laskas states in the beginning of the book that this book is not meant to be political but it veers in that direction a little bit, depending on the topic and person being discussed. This book is at its best when the people who do all of these different jobs (coal miner, truck driver, fruit picker, etc.) and its at its worse when it veers into the political zone or the fluffy zone.

There is a chapter that is basically a diatribe on gun ownership under the guise of talking about those that work in sports shops selling guns. While this book is not always neutral, it is still a good picture of some of the jobs that have to get done in this country. What I do know is that you could not pay me to be a coal miner. This girl would faint if I had to go in those teeny, tiny passageways (oh claustrophobia, you slay me!).

There is another chapter that deals with a woman who is a construction worker but also a Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader. The chapter focuses way more on the cheerleading aspect and some of the other cheerleading stories. This chapter was very fluffy and almost a little condescending. On the other hand, I found myself wondering why this chapter was even in the book as it seemed to deal with a job that isn't really useful.

There are also really good stories in here. The coal miners really stand out to me. Here are some people who really risk their life (even the flash from a camera down in the mines could set off a massive explosion) but who go and do their job everyday. Then there are the fruit pickers. Fruit picking is a job that not a lot of Americans will do. It's hard and tedious work. There are whole groups of people that follow different fruit harvests throughout the country in order to have a job. It's really amazing.

Laskas goes in search of these people to learn about their lives and why they do what they do everyday. The majority of the stories (the gun sellers and cheerleaders just didn't do it for me) that make up this book are all interesting. These people don't get a lot of glory but they really keep this country moving. It was nice to get a little more insight into their lives!

Bottom line: a great non-fiction read!



  1. This sounds like a good one Meg; thanks for blogging about it.

  2. I don't read a lot of non-fiction but this one sounds interesting.

  3. It sounds like it would be a good book for lots of interesting discussions. I am sure it brings out lots of opinions on the topics the author writes about.

  4. This sounds really interesting, I like stories about ordinary people. Awesome review

  5. I love stories of unsung heroes -- definitely adds perspective to our own lives, and reminds us that we have much to be thankful for in America. Sounds like an interesting read -- great review!

  6. Cheerleaders make the world go round!

    Sarcasm aside, this sounds like a good book. I like reading about the people that make the world work, but that we only really notice, or pay attention to, when something goes wrong.

    I also love watching Dirty Jobs on the Discovery Channel - which is kind of related...


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