Monday, February 06, 2006

The United States of Appalachia

Last week I finished a pretty good book The United States of Appalachia. It was really interesting and informative. The author, Jeff Biggers, does an excellent job breaking down stereotypes that Appalachian people are all feuding, banjo-playing, cousin-marrying, Anglo-Saxon hillbillies.

I was not totally convinced by his entire premise though. Biggers' subtitle is "How Southern Mountaineers brought independence, culture, and enlightenment to America." While he builds a strong and readable case for some huge influencers being from this part of America, I think it would be better stated that "Southern Mountaineers helped bring..."

His case to me is not as strong as for instance Arthur Hermen's How the Scots Invented the Modern World: The True Story of How Western Europe's Poorest Nation Created Our World & Everything in It. While the later presents a presents a compelling argument that the prime players in Western Civilization were Scots, Biggers presents more of a case that some strong players in American culture that you might not have been aware of or even thought of were Appalachians. The author also uses examples beyond 'Southerners' and even 'Mountaineers' like when he describes cotton mill strikes in Gastonia, NC. But I would say Gastonia is not in Appalachia but in the Piedmont. My nitpicking keeps me from giving this book 5 stars but I would give it 4 1/2. It is a very enjoyable read that gets stronger as you go. This is a really good first book for Jeff Biggers.

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