White Trash : The 400-year Untold History of Class in America

Author(s): Nancy Isenberg

Society & Culture

In this landmark book, Nancy Isenberg argues that the voters who boosted Trump all the way to the White House have been a permanent part of the American fabric, and reveals how the wretched and landless poor have existed from the time of the earliest British colonial settlements to today's hillbillies. 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 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 Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society; they are now offered up as entertainment in reality TV shows, and the label is applied to celebrities ranging from Dolly Parton to Bill Clinton. Marginalized as a class, white trash have always been at or near the centre of major political debates over the character of the American identity.
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 - and forces a nation to face the truth about the enduring, malevolent nature of class.


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A masterly and ambitious cultural history of changing concepts of class and inferiority. New York Times (Notable Book of the Year) A gritty and sprawling assault on... American mythmaking Washington Post A bracing reminder of the persistent contempt for the white underclass. The Atlantic This eye-opening investigation into our country's entrenched social hierarchy is acutely relevant. O Magazine An eloquent synthesis of the country's history of class stratification. Boston Globe [White Trash] sheds bright light on a long history of demagogic national politicking, beginning with Jackson. It makes Donald Trump seem far less unprecedented than today's pundits proclaim. Slate

Nancy Isenberg is the author of Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr, which was a finalist for the LA Times Book Prize in Biography and won the Oklahoma Book Award for best book in non-fiction. She is the co-author, with Andrew Burstein, of Madison and Jefferson. She is the T. Harry Williams Professor of American History at LSU and writes regularly for Salon.com.

General Fields

  • : 9781786492982
  • : Atlantic Books
  • : Atlantic Books
  • : May 2017
  • : United Kingdom
  • : March 2017
  • : books

Special Fields

  • : Nancy Isenberg
  • : Hardcover
  • : Main
  • : English
  • : 970
  • : 496