Sunday, February 17, 2013

Hidden America by Jeanne Marie Laskas

It's so easy to flip on a light, never thinking about the coal needed for electricity. Most of us don't think about the people who pick the fruit and vegetables we pick up in the grocery store. And, we get on planes every day without worrying about the people in the control towers guiding the planes. Jeanne Marie Laskas was curious about the people behind our lives. Hidden America: From Coal Miners to Cowboys, an Extraordinary Exploration of the Unseen People Who Make the County Work is the fascinating book that is the result of her curiosity.

Laskas went coast to coast to spend time with, and sometimes work side by side with, the people who work behind the scenes to provide us with our lifestyles. She takes us into a coal mine in Cadiz, Ohio. We meet the women paid only $75 a week to be Ben-Gals, the cheerleaders for the Cincinnati Bengals. Laskas can't understand the gun culture in Arizona, the salespeople and customers at Sprague's Sports in Yuma. However, she takes us inside the store, and introduces readers to nine different industries that affect our daily lives.

If this book was just about those businesses, it would be a dull treatise. But, Laskas tells these stories by introducing us to the people and bringing them to life. Some of those cheerleaders who spend hours rehearsing and prepping to be gorgeous have master's degrees or jobs in cancer research. She puts faces to the migrant workers picking blueberries in Maine, introducing us to Urbano, a loving father working to save a house he could lose because he returned to Mexico for his own father's funeral. And, if anything in the book will scare someone who flies frequently, read the chapter about air traffic controllers at LaGuardia. There are people working in landfills, driving trucks, and raising and herding cattle, people we never think about.

Jeanne Marie Laskas asks us to look at these people. "Who are the people who pick our vegetables, grow our beef, haul our stuff to the marketplace, make our trash disappear?" Laskas' Hidden America is a worthy successor to books such as Studs Terkel's remarkable Working. She truly brings the people behind these jobs to life. I wanted to know what happened to Urbano, the migrant worker and caring father. I wanted to follow up on others in the book. What happened to them? This excellent behind-the-scenes book accomplishes Laskas' goal if it makes the reader think about the people in Hidden America. "These are the people who keep America alive and ticking. The people who, were they to walk off the job tomorrow, would bring life as we know it to a halt."

Laskas' website is

Hidden America: From Coal Miners to Cowboys, an Extraordinary Exploration of the Unseen People Who Make This Country Work by Jeanne Marie Laskas. G.P. Putnam's Sons. 2012. ISBN 9780399139008 (hardcover), 318p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library Book


SandyG265 said...

Sounds interesting. That's one of the reasons I enjoy reading your blog. You feature books I'd never hear about otherwise.

bermudaonion said...

This sounds like the kind of book I love. I drive everyone crazy talking about them when I read them, though.

Lesa said...

Thank you, Sandy! That's just what a librarian wants to hear, that you discover new books you wouldn't have known about. What a nice comment to start my day!

Lesa said...

Oh, me too, Kathy. That's why I like my blog. I at least get to talk about the books here.

Jane R said...

The hidden faces of America. My husband often mentions that we all owe so much to people who do these 'forgotten' jobs. I'm glad someone has written about this segment of society. It sounds fascinating. Thanks for the heads up!

Beth Hoffman said...

You've totally hooked me, Lesa. Excellent review. I'm always fascinated by the people who keep this great country working and make our lives better. I simply must read this book!

Lesa said...

I think it's a must read for most of us. We really forget about the people who keep us going.