Review: ‘White Trash’ Ruminates on an American Underclass

Crackers and squatters, rednecks and hillbillies, sandhillers and mudsills, clay eaters and hoe wielders: America has developed a rich vocabulary to describe one part of its permanent underclass. The epithet that subsumes them all, to borrow the title of Nancy Isenberg’s formidable and truth-dealing new book, is white trash.

Ms. Isenberg’s project in “White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America” is to retell United States history in a manner that not only includes the weak, the powerless and the stigmatized, but also places them front and center.

As such, she has written an eloquent volume that is more discomforting and more necessary than a semitrailer filled with new biographies of the founding fathers and the most beloved presidents. (Look, here are six more in my mailbox.) Viewed from below, a good angle for no one, America’s history is usefully disorienting and nearly always appalling. “White Trash” will have you squirming in your chair.

– The New York Times

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