Saturday, December 07, 2013

Laskas' Hidden America

I read Jeanne Marie Laskas' Hidden America, which is a series of vignettes about people who make our lives go but are "hidden." A general theme is how much pride they take in their work, even though they recognize they're hidden. It's an interesting book--very quick read--but a mixed bag.

Coal miners: from this chapter you would think they are all relatively wealthy and happy. She mentions that coal is central to electricity but does not explain the process or how the workers view themselves in that process.

Undocumented blueberry pickers: good chapter but these days they are much less "hidden" than they used to be.

Cheerleaders: weird chapter. She veers between admiring and making fun of them, and could there be any profession less "hidden"?

Air traffic controllers: interesting chapter that basically becomes a critique of unions. I kept thinking of Pushing Tin.

Gun dealer: this is just about the opposite of "hidden." As with cheerleaders, she seems to alternate between mocking gun culture and enjoying it.

Beef ranchers: definitely more hidden, but a superficial chapter where you learn little, though I must admit I didn't know anything about bull semen.

Arctic oil rig: this was a great chapter--how we get oil for virtually everything we use from a desolate place and who the people are working there was fascinating.

Trucker driver: very sad chapter, in large part because it comes back to the death of the author's elderly parents. The "hidden" America of truck drivers gets a bit obscured.

Landfill: fascinating chapter. Where our trash goes and who deals with it is definitely hidden.

If you like books in this genre, I would suggest Gabriel Thompson's Working in the Shadows, which is much more nuanced and he actually does the work to better understand it.


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