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

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

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by Jeanne Marie Laskas
     
 

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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

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Overview

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.)
From the Publisher
"Jeanne Marie Laskas is a reporting and writing powerhouse. With beauty, wit, curiosity, and grace, 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. She goes nationwide to find the hidden soul of America, the people we depend on most but know the least. She tells the story of the United States from deep inside the machinery that makes it work. 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 makes her subjects sing. Some 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 . . . Refreshingly, Laskas eschews sentimentality but imbues her portraits with humanity and authenticity . . . Laskas's depications are sharply delineated, fully fleshed, and enormously affecting."-Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Jeanne Marie Laskas has spent years finding and listening to the people we can't do without, but sometimes forget are there. What they told her is at once heart-warming, funny, sad, ironic, and, most of all, insightful. She is a wonderful listener who gives us new and better perspective on what keeps America working. A fine piece of reporting and writing – a ride well worth taking."-Bob Schieffer

"It's not a stretch to use the name Studs Terkel in the same sentence with the name Jean Marie Laskas. She's one hell of a journalist, a world-class storyteller who takes us where we may not want to go, then makes us grateful we took the trip. Hidden America is not just a good read, it's an important one."-Linda Ellerbee

"Hidden America is a literary miracle. In effortlessly lucid prose, Jeanne Marie Laskas tells stories that spellbind precisely because they remind us of the center that quietly holds America together. You will fall in love with, want to have a beer with, and maybe shed a tear for, her entire cast of obscure heroes."-Robert Draper, author of Do Not Ask What Good We Do and Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush

"Jeanne Marie Laskas has for years taken her readers inside the lives of ordinary people with her intimate, insightful journalism. Hidden America is a finely crafted look behind the curtains of everyday life – think Dirty Jobs for the literate set."-Mike Sager, author of Wounded Warriors

Praise for Jeanne Marie Laskas

"A wonderful writer, smart as they come, and a real joy to read."-Annie Dillard

"Laskas is the thinking woman's Erma Bombeck [with] a talent for finding wisdom in everyday life."-Andrea Sachs, Time.com

"Fresh, funny and perceptive, salted with that fine edge of irony and self-deprecation that makes you laugh at her and yourself, and just the basic craziness of her life. She can move you to tears, or make you blow tea out your nose with unexpected laughter."-Tom Schroder, Washington Post

"A formidable reporter and one damn fine writer."-Esquire

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.

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:
9780399159008
Publisher:
Penguin Group (USA)
Publication date:
09/13/2012
Pages:
336
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.30(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

Bob Schieffer
Jeanne Marie Laskas has spent years finding and listening to the people we can't do without, but sometimes forget are there. She went into the mines with miners, rode the range with the cowboys, talked with air traffic controllers, and went on the road with truckers. What they told her is at once heart-warming, funny, sad, ironic, and, most of all, insightful. She is a wonderful listener who gives us new and better perspective on what keeps America working. A fine piece of reporting and writing - a ride well worth taking.
Robert Draper
Hidden America is a literary miracle. In effortlessly lucid prose, Jeanne Marie Laskas tells stories that spellbind precisely because they remind us of the center that quietly holds America together. You will fall in love with, want to have a beer with, and maybe shed a tear for, her entire cast of obscure heroes. (Robert Draper, Author of Do Not Ask What Good We Do and Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush)
From the Publisher
“Jeanne Marie Laskas is a reporting and writing powerhouse. With beauty, wit, curiosity, and grace, 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. She goes nationwide to find the hidden soul of America, the people we depend on most but know the least. She tells the story of the United States from deep inside the machinery that makes it work. 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 makes her subjects sing. Some 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 . . . Refreshingly, Laskas eschews sentimentality but imbues her portraits with humanity and authenticity . . . Laskas’s depications are sharply delineated, fully fleshed, and enormously affecting.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Jeanne Marie Laskas has spent years finding and listening to the people we can’t do without, but sometimes forget are there. What they told her is at once heart-warming, funny, sad, ironic, and, most of all, insightful. She is a wonderful listener who gives us new and better perspective on what keeps America working. A fine piece of reporting and writing – a ride well worth taking.”—Bob Schieffer

“It’s not a stretch to use the name Studs Terkel in the same sentence with the name Jean Marie Laskas. She’s one hell of a journalist, a world-class storyteller who takes us where we may not want to go, then makes us grateful we took the trip. Hidden America is not just a good read, it’s an important one.”—Linda Ellerbee

Hidden America is a literary miracle. In effortlessly lucid prose, Jeanne Marie Laskas tells stories that spellbind precisely because they remind us of the center that quietly holds America together. You will fall in love with, want to have a beer with, and maybe shed a tear for, her entire cast of obscure heroes.”—Robert Draper, author of Do Not Ask What Good We Do and Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush

“Jeanne Marie Laskas has for years taken her readers inside the lives of ordinary people with her intimate, insightful journalism. Hidden America is a finely crafted look behind the curtains of everyday life – think Dirty Jobs for the literate set.”—Mike Sager, author of Wounded Warriors

Praise for Jeanne Marie Laskas

"A wonderful writer, smart as they come, and a real joy to read."—Annie Dillard

"Laskas is the thinking woman's Erma Bombeck [with] a talent for finding wisdom in everyday life."—Andrea Sachs, Time.com

"Fresh, funny and perceptive, salted with that fine edge of irony and self-deprecation that makes you laugh at her and yourself, and just the basic craziness of her life. She can move you to tears, or make you blow tea out your nose with unexpected laughter."—Tom Schroder, Washington Post

"A formidable reporter and one damn fine writer."—Esquire

Linda Ellerbee
It's not a stretch to use the name Studs Terkel in the same sentence with the name Jean Marie Laskas. She's one hell of a journalist, a world-class storyteller who takes us where we may not want to go, then makes us grateful we took the trip. She gives voice to the voiceless and names to the nameless, and it still comes out reading like a novel. Hidden America is not just a good read, it's an important one.
Rebecca Skloot
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. She goes to work nationwide to find the hidden soul of America, the people we depend on most but know the least. Along the way, she reminds us that it's not what makes our lives function smoothly, but who, how, and at what cost. With beauty, wit, curiosity, and grace, Laskas tells the story of the United States from deep inside the machinery that makes it work. Hidden America is essential reading for anyone who's ever turned on a light, started a car, thrown away trash, flown on a plane, or eaten a vegetable. (Rebecca Skloot, Author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks)
Mike Sager
Jeanne Marie Laskas has for years taken her readers inside the lives of ordinary people with her intimate, insightful journalism. Hidden America is a finely crafted look behind the curtains of everyday life - think Dirty Jobs for the literate set. (Mike Sager, Author of Wounded Warriors)

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