An Oprah.com “Must-Read Book”
Award-winning journalist Jeanne Marie Laskas reveals “enlightening, entertaining, and often poignant”* profiles of America's working class—the forgotten men and women who make our country run.
Take the men of Hopedale Mining company in Cadiz, Ohio. Laskas spent several weeks with them, both below and above ground, and by the end, you will know not only about their work, but about Pap and his dying mom, Smitty and the mail-order bride who stood him up at the airport, and Scotty and his thwarted dreams of becoming a boxing champion.
That is only one hidden world. Others that she explores: an Alaskan oil rig, a migrant labor camp in Maine, the air traffic control center at LaGuardia Airport in New York, a beef ranch in Texas, a landfill in California, a long-haul trucker in Iowa, a gun shop in Arizona, and the Cincinnati Ben-Gals cheerleaders, mere footnotes in the moneymaking spectacle that is professional football.
“Jeanne Marie Laskas is a reporting and writing powerhouse. She doesn’t just interview the people who dig our coal and extract our oil, she goes deep into the mines and tundra with them. With beauty, wit, curiosity, and grace, she finds the hidden soul of America. Hidden America is essential reading.”—Rebecca Skloot, author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
In this thoroughly entertaining study of what some people do that other people would never do, journalist Laskas (The Balloon Lady and Other People I Knew) makes her subjects sing. She homes in on jobs that the rest of us take for granted or deny exist interviewing the people who perform and even like onerous tasks: coal miners, Latino migrant laborers, La Guardia air traffic controllers, Arizona gun dealers, Texas ranchers, Alaska oil-rig roughnecks, a rare female long-hauling trucker, and California landfill workers. Refreshingly, Laskas eschews sentimentality but imbues her portraits with humanity and authenticity: guided by veteran landfill workers, for example, she confronts a mountain of rubbish and learns all about the wonders of alternative electricity and recycling. Waddling through Hopedale Mining Company's Cadiz, Ohio coal tunnels, she gets lessons on pride in accomplishment from such workers as Pap, Ragu, and Foot. The Ben-Gal cheerleaders are shown to be disciplined professional women who, in their other lives, attend school and toil as single moms. Laskas's depictions are sharply delineated, fully fleshed, and enormously affecting.
What I thought would be an enlightened write up on "hidden" careers and work in America turn out to be little more than a rambling diary of the authors interview of individuals. Few interesting details or fact that are already well known. Very disappointed.