This informative tome retells American history, showing how paradoxical attitudes towards the white underclass have held firm over nearly 400 years. On the one hand, poor whites have long been seen as an undesirable group condemned by heredity to feeblemindedness, sloth, and animalistic behavior. From the colonial period through the early 20th century elites used language borrowed from animal husbandry to describe poor whites as an inferior breed. This abhorrent classist bias culminated the emerging “science” of eugenics and the Supreme Court infamously sanctioning forcible sterilization in Buck vs. Bell (1927), a case that was brought by a poor white maid who resisted the State of Virginia’s efforts to sterilize her. However in contradiction with the denigration and dehumanization of poor whites, they also have long been idealized, from Jefferson’s belief in the innate nobility of America’s yeoman farmers through the examples of Presidents like Jackson, Lincoln, and most recently Bill Clinton, who rose from humble origins in rural backwaters. Isenberg also examines changing depictions of poor whites in the popular culture and media over the years, and when eventually Sarah Palin and Honey Boo Boo find their way into this fascinating book, you won’t be surprised, given the historical continuities Isenberg so compellingly describes.
This is the history of one of the most remarkable prisoner uprisings in our country’s history. On September 9, 1971, nearly 1,300 inmates took over their facility in demand of their most basic human rights. Through dedication and a little luck, Heather Ann Thompson’s book draws on records that had been intentionally obscured from the public. She reveals new information about an old struggle that’s particularly useful, as the issue of our prison system and prisoner abuses is still alive: this fall, prisoners around the country held the largest strike in our history, with many of the same demands that prisoners in Attica made 45 years ago. The book recounts details that challenge popular beliefs about the people we lock behind bars, and the government we might expect to uphold basic human rights. Ann Thompson compellingly recounts the first definitive history of this event, interspersed with stories from the people involved. An excellent gift for someone engaged in the human rights struggles of our time, this book highlights many lessons we would benefit to take to heart.
Paris has long held a special place in the imagination as a city of beauty and glamour. There is a tendency in literature, film, and art to give the city a romantic aura. But behind that surface another Paris has long existed, a gritty place with its hidden corners that lie a world apart from the dream city of tourists’ imagination. Focusing on the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries, The Other Paris documents that world—a world of crime, drugs, drinking and violence; of poverty, labor revolt, anarchism and socialism; and of cabaret, popular entertainment, sex, and prostitution. Using literary works, memoirs, newspaper accounts, and contemporary photos and illustrations, Sante brings to life a way of life that was ever near the lives of wealth and style shared by the elite, even if kept apart from them. Sante never patronize those whom he discusses, and he does not romanticize the harshness of the life gone by. But his work is a reminder that in past times, the poor at least had claim to the streets they inhabited. Today, poverty and wealth again sit side by side, but in Paris as elsewhere, those without are pushed away, undermining even “high” culture. Sante has produced a book documenting that loss, alongside documenting resilience.