Hidden America: From Coal Miners to Cowboys, an Extraordinary Exploration of the Unseen People Who Make This Country Work

( 2 )


Five hundred feet underground, Jeanne Marie Laskas asked a coal miner named Smitty, ?Do you think it?s weird that people know so little about you?? He replied, ?I don?t think people know too much about the way the whole damn country works.?

Hidden America intends to fix that. Like John McPhee and Susan Orlean, Laskas dives deep into her subjects and emerges with character-driven narratives that are gripping, funny, and revelatory. In Hidden America, the stories are about the ...

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Hidden America: From Coal Miners to Cowboys, an Extraordinary Exploration of the Unseen People Who Make This Country Work

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Five hundred feet underground, Jeanne Marie Laskas asked a coal miner named Smitty, “Do you think it’s weird that people know so little about you?” He replied, “I don’t think people know too much about the way the whole damn country works.”

Hidden America intends to fix that. Like John McPhee and Susan Orlean, Laskas dives deep into her subjects and emerges with character-driven narratives that are gripping, funny, and revelatory. In Hidden America, the stories are about the people who make our lives run every day—and yet we barely think of them.

Laskas spent weeks in an Ohio coal mine and on an Alaskan oil rig; in a Maine migrant labor camp, a Texas beef ranch, the air traffic control tower at New York’s LaGuardia Airport, a California landfill, an Arizona gun shop, the cab of a long-haul truck in Iowa, and the stadium of the Cincinnati Ben-Gals cheerleaders. Cheerleaders? Yes. They, too, are hidden America, and you will be amazed by what Laskas tells you about them: hidden no longer.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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. (Oct.)
Library Journal
Like Studs Terkel before her, Laskas humanizes the mundane by putting a name and face on all the nameless, faceless people that keep the American machine running. Each of the nine profiles act as a human interest piece and primer on the industry at hand. So, in meeting TooDogs, an inscrutable dude who built and runs an Alaskan oil rig, we learn about roughnecking. Ditto Charlotte and Shannon, cheerleaders for the Cincinnati Bengals who have, hands down, the most unglamorous jobs. When Laskas interviews Joe Haworth, a chatty environmental engineer, we not only meet his wife, we learn that the Puente Hills landfill east of L.A. receives 13200 tons of waste a day—enough to cover a football field two stories high. While Haworth recognizes that society “…doesn’t necessarily want to know where its waste goes,” Laskas illuminates the bigger picture, showing readers that landfill workers, gun shop clerks, and blueberry pickers are hidden because their jobs aren’t too fun. Though hidden (even dehumanized, to an extent), each is hardworking and diligent, and Laskas does an admirable job of maintaining a heartfelt, cheery tone in each profile.

(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Library Journal
Director of the writing program at the University of Pittsburgh, National Magazine Award finalist for a GQ piece on coal miners, and author of long-running Washington Post Magazine column "Significant Others," Laskas here profiles everyday folks who make life in America work. Good thought in these divided times.
Kirkus Reviews
A glimpse inside the lives of the unsung people who do the work that keeps America ticking. Laskas, an intrepid reporter and great storyteller, spent weeks underground in a coal mine and lived with blueberry pickers in a migrant-worker camp in Maine and with roughnecks on a drilling rig off Alaska's North Slope. Her accounts of these and other ventures, most of which first appeared in GQ, introduce people doing jobs that most Americans never think about. She learned about what really goes on at a cattle ranch in Texas and at a huge landfill in California, and she shared a ride with a female long-haul trucker and exposed the strains of air traffic controllers at La Guardia Airport. Although these pieces are character-driven, Laskas has done her research, and she inserts some provocative facts and figures. In Washington County, Maine, which has the state's highest unemployment rate, and where a good blueberry raker can earn $1,350 a week, there are no white applicants for the job; in Puente Hills, Calif., methane from the trash dump produces enough electricity to power about 70,000 homes. Two pieces that do not quite fit into the theme of revealing a hidden but necessary world are the one on the cheerleaders for the Cincinnati Bengals—visible on TV and hardly essential—and the one on buying guns at a sporting goods store in Yuma, Ariz. Both of these pieces are enjoyable, however, and the author succeeds in capturing the attitudes, concerns, experiences and sometimes the private lives of workers that most readers are unlikely to come into contact with. Highly informative and thoroughly entertaining.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780425267271
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 9/3/2013
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 148,809
  • Product dimensions: 8.80 (w) x 5.90 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Jeanne Marie Laskas is the director of the writing program at the University of Pittsburgh. Her work has appeared in many publications, including GQ, where her exploration of coal miners was a finalist for the National Magazine Awards, and The Washington Post Magazine, where her long-running weekly column, “Significant Others,” was the basis for a trilogy of memoirs. She lives in Scenery Hill, Pennsylvania.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Underworld: Hopedale Mining, Cadiz, Ohio 11

Hecho En América: Migrant Labor Camp, Cherryfield, Maine 47

G-L-O-R-Y: Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati, Ohio 79

Traffic: Air Traffic Control Tower, LaGuardia Airport, New York, New York 107

Guns 'R'US: Sprague's Sports, Yuma, Arizona 141

Beef: R.A. Brown Ranch, Throckmorton, Texas 173

The Rig: Pioneer Natural Resources Oil Rig, Oooguruk Island, off the Shores of Alaska's North Slope 201

Sputter: 1-80, Exit 284, Walcott, Iowa 245

This is Paradise: Puente Hills Landfill, City of Industry, California 277

Acknowledgments 317

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 28, 2012

    I recommend this book as interesting reading.

    This book is very interesting and packed with activities. It does take us into the "hidden America". I suspected blueberry pickers didn't have a good life and this book validated my suspicions. I knew very little about coal mines. The chapter named "The Rig" has put some suspicion in my mind though about the amount of hyperbole contained in this book, especially in this chapter. I don't believe anyone like TooDogs could ever hold a job anywhere. And it constains a technical error. She said that there are 56 days of the year without sunshine. That would be 28 days on each side of the winter solstice: From Thanksgiving to Jan. 18. She calls these 56 days "the dead of winter", and mid February "mid-death"! By mid February the sun has been back for several hours a day. So skip that chapter if you don't want to read erroneous information, but read the rest of the book! It's very informative and entertaining.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 20, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

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