Brown University

White Trash. The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America

by Nancy Isenberg
Penguin, April 2017   ISBN: 978-014312967-7
Price: $17.00

The groundbreaking and bestselling history of the class system that upended our comforting myths about America as the land of equal opportunity and social mobility, with a new preface covering the events of 2016.

Surveying political rhetoric and policy, popular literature and scientific theories over four hundred years, Isenberg destroys assumptions about America’s supposedly class-free society—where liberty and hard work were meant to ensure real social mobility.  Poor whites were central to the rise of the Republican Party in the early nineteenth century, and the Civil War itself was fought over class issues nearly as much as it was fought over slavery.  Reconstruction pitted poor white trash against newly freed slaves, which factored in the rise of eugenics—a widely popular movement embraced by Theodore Roosevelt that targeted poor whites for sterilization.  These poor were at the heart of New Deal reforms and LBJ’s Great Society; they haunt us in reality TV shows like "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" and "Duck Dynasty."  We acknowledge racial injustice as an ugly stain on our nation’s history.  With Isenberg’s landmark book, we will have to face the truth about the enduring, malevolent nature of class as well.

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