A bold refusal to submit to stereotype.

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WHAT YOU ARE GETTING WRONG ABOUT APPALACHIA

A terse rebuttal to the vision of Appalachia popularized by J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy (2016).

As a historian from East Tennessee whose politics are to the left of Vance’s, Catte skewers his “asinine beliefs and associations,” which she connects with white-supremacist eugenics and insists do not reflect the rich diversity and often radical activism that she sees in her native region. Vance, she writes, somehow “transforms Elegy from a memoir of a person to the memoir of a culture,” a culture that is monolithically white and Scots-Irish, conservative, and culturally backward. In Catte’s analysis, much of the growth in the region has come from younger minorities, and most of the problems endemic to it have come from outside corporations that have exploited both its natural resources and its workforce. Furthermore, that power structure has wielded considerable political influence, just as money does elsewhere. Though she finds the term problematic, she says that the model of “internal colony” better explains the region’s dynamics, as powerful outside forces control the region’s resources and shape its destiny, with the residents becoming mere pawns in their game. In the 2016 presidential election, white voters in the region supported Donald Trump, as conservative white voters did elsewhere, but there was also considerable support for the brand of populism espoused by Bernie Sanders. As for Hillary Clinton’s ill-considered comment about how “we’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business,” Catte writes, “it’s not possible for anyone with more than passing knowledge of Appalachia and the coal industry to listen to those comments without cringing, regardless of one’s political affiliation.” Though Catte’s writing is not as colorful as Vance’s, her book refuses to allow his version of Appalachia to stand unchallenged.

A bold refusal to submit to stereotype.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-9989041-4-6

Page Count: 150

Publisher: Belt Publishing

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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