White Trash - Nancy Isenberg

White Trash

Author: Nancy Isenberg

  • Publication Date: 2016-06-21
  • Category: United States
3.5 Score: 3.5
(From 78 Ratings)


The New York Times bestseller
A New York Times Notable and Critics’ Top Book of 2016
Longlisted for the PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction
One of NPR's 10 Best Books Of 2016 Faced Tough Topics Head On
NPR's Book Concierge Guide To 2016’s Great Reads
San Francisco Chronicle's Best of 2016: 100 recommended books
A Washington Post Notable Nonfiction Book of 2016
Globe & Mail 100 Best of 2016

Formidable and truth-dealing . . . necessary. The New York Times

“This eye-opening investigation into our country’s entrenched social hierarchy is acutely relevant.” O Magazine

In her groundbreaking  bestselling history of the class system in America, Nancy Isenberg upends history as we know it by taking on our comforting myths about equality and uncovering the crucial legacy of the ever-present, always embarrassing—if occasionally entertaining—poor white trash.

“When you turn an election into a three-ring circus, there’s always a chance that the dancing bear will win,” says Isenberg of the political climate surrounding Sarah Palin. And we recognize how right she is today. Yet the voters who boosted Trump all the way to the White House have been a permanent part of our American fabric, argues Isenberg.

The wretched and landless poor have existed from the time of the earliest British colonial settlement to today's hillbillies. 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.


  • A Very Bad Book

    By TopSkier
    This is a really bad book. Halfway through, I'm not yet sure what it's about. It's definitely not about the untold history of class in America, as the title implies. The (only) thesis of the book seems to be that there has always been a white underclass in America. That's it. There's a chapter about the founding of the country, explaining that there was a large white underclass. There's a chapter about the Revolution, explaining that there was still a large white underclass. There's a chapter about Thomas Jefferson (sort of), explaining that during his times there was a large white underclass. And one about Andrew Jackson, explaining. . . .you guessed it. There was a large white underclass at the time of the Civil War. That's where I am now. The author doesn't tell us a whole lot about the white underclass, other than listing all the bad names people have used to describe it. There are no numbers, no sociological analysis. There is no description of any other class in America, either. The book is horribly written. Sentences don't make sense. Paragraphs don't make sense. Here's an example: "Alabama's Hundley was never as famous as the Connecticut-born Stowe, but he was not a typical southerner, either." What? Whether Hundley was famous has nothing to do with whether he was a "typical" southerner or any other kind of southerner. He could have been from Antarctica and been famous or not famous. The author goes off on tangent after tangent, displaying her knowledge of American history without tying any of it together. I can only guess the book is popular because of the election of Donald Trump, which makes people focus on rural white Americans. There might be a lot to say about the history of rural white America. For that matter there might be a lot to say about the history of class in America. But this book doesn't say any of it. I actually doubt that many readers have suffered through all the way to the end.
  • The undead white nationalists

    By Blue Copper
    Just to be upfront, I haven't read this book but I can already tell what it's about. I love how those who provide negative feedback about this publication are simply projecting their lifestyle like it's groundhogs day (ie...the Cooley's looking glass). I have watched a podcast on this publication and it did exemplify concern with plenty of comical excerpts but "Strangers in their Own Land" By Arlie Russell Hoschild is hands down the best book to read regarding this subject. I've noticed that a couple of publications such as this (hillbilly elegy) have been written shortly after with higher rep even though they aren't as informative. Also, the actual term by its origin actually means a mixture of more than one European nationality... I know that I come from 5 different nationalities and don't take offense to the term "White Trash" so I'd assume those who do are by modern society.
  • Great history

    By Food at
    Everything you wanted to know about poverty in America that they would not teach you in school. I feel that those who left negative reviews did read the book but we're in some way hurt or ashamed by it, which is ridiculous ...hey, wave your white trash flag high, the point of the book is that it's not your fault! The government put you where you are beginning in the British system that created their aristocracy. If you are good people, if you are not haters, then hold your head high, this book actually comes to your defense.
  • Missing The Point

    By Not Lookin' Back
    Several reviews here seem to be from people this book is written about...under-educated, frustrated/self-conscious white people. They refuse to see that the people they're voting for are passing laws detrimental to them or not funding their communities to ensure a solid education for their children. God & Guns are not going to help them and they're in an endless cycle of diminishing returns. So, they have nothing else to do but hate brown skinned people and have contempt for multi-cultural urbanites. Sad.
  • Curious

    By ChrisYesYesYes
    I'm just curious: seems that lots of people are leaving reviews, having never purchased (much less read) the book. I haven't either, so let's see if this shows up in the reviews!
  • WhiteTtrash

    By I see you Ms. liberal
    I'm sure this book will resonate with the rest of your sad liberal clan. This is an “exceptional” country, get over it. You and your kind are the White Trash, with your hatred of America. I will not waste my money or time on this book!
  • Well written

    By Buzy'sTiger
    The conversation this country needs to have won't happen until we know what is being heard. This book is a good start.

    By HarleyNiteRider
    This racist remark, "White Trash", and is an inappropriate book title, just like any other racist remark would be, is, in any modern, flourishing society. This book is an attention getting racist remark, literally from cover to cover, that has no business being in the world in the first place.
  • What a waste of time...

    By Agomez090585
    Don't bother reading this one sided TRASH! -8stars
  • Enjoying the message so far

    By Geoffjeezy
    Heard about the book on an npr interview and quickly wanted to support. I think whats important is that no one person owns the narrative ,and that there are multiple ways to view history in america. I think you share an interesting perspective.