The truth is, I should have read these books before the election. But, I found myself (like many I know) feeling that I had plenty of time to educate myself about some of the unexpected (to me) forces influencing this election. The election would finish with my desired result and then I would sit down in my comfy yellow armchair and try to figure out why my candidate had almost lost. This was naive of me. In the spirit of trying to disperse some of my naïveté, here are some of the books I have been reading.
Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right- Arlie Russell HochschildA sociologist goes down to Louisiana and, over the course of six years, interviews members of the Tea Party, future Trump voters, and victims of gross environmental pollution. Hochschild uses environmental devastation and pollution as the lens through which she examines this subset of the American right as it stands today. This book was my starting point because I was looking for a sort of outside, even clinical perspective. I didn’t want opinion, or to be reading into an echo chamber. I don’t know if I exactly achieved that goal, but I did find much in this book to stir thought and open up my understanding of how much I did not know. Although the author’s opinions are not exactly hidden in this book, she and her subjects find a way to communicate and empathize with each other, which is indeed a start.
This book mostly consists of a historical analysis of the last 400 years in America. Although that seems a rather daunting project, if you are looking for a concise primer tracing the history of class in America, this is exactly what you need. Isenberg pulls out the most relevant epochs in our history and explains how there have always been a white class of people in this country who have been overlooked, forgotten, downtrodden, and considered “trash.” She examines where this originated and asserts strongly that it has never gone away. In fact, it has likely gotten worse over the centuries. She wants to blow apart the notions that this is a country where anyone can achieve the American Dream if they work hard enough, or that we have somehow transcended class and created the first true meritocracy in the world. This book functions as a bracing reality check, and a needed one.
Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis- J.D. Vance
I listened to the author read this on Audible, which I think is a good choice for a book such as this one. What I like about this memoir is that is took me away from just reading about the class divide in America and instead gave me the chance to listen to someone actually tell me their story about it. J.D. Vance has a unique personal story to tell in this book about his family, his upbringing, and the world he witnessed. The use of memoir instead of another sociological study (as useful and well done as those can be) gives this book a special poignancy and immediacy.
I’m continuing my quest to read as much as I can about some of the issues highlighted by this election. If anyone has suggestions, please send them my way.