This is a very interesting read. I have read many Thomas Frank books (What's the Matter with Kansas?
etc.) and I've enjoyed them; they've helped me understand some of the ideological and intellectual underpinnings of the American right.
Similarly, I have read and enjoyed Selling Your Father's Bones: The Epic Fate of the American West
which gives an insight into the history of the development of the American West and the 'red necks' who pushed out the indigenous inhabitants.
Couple these with God's Own Country
by Stephen Bates (religious correspondent of the Guardian) and I thought maybe I knew something about what was going on in the Red States. But this book makes it real.
Bageant mixes anecdote and statistic to give a real feel for what it means to be poor and to vote Republican, to explain why guns are such an emotive issue (and why Bowling For Columbine
gets nowhere close), why outsourcing is feared but unions rejected, and why religion is so central.
Bageant manages to get Pat Robertson and Ian Paisley into the same sentence, linking present day religious fundamentalism to the original Scots Irish settlers, suggesting direct links between the respective ideologies. And he tells the tale of Lynddie England, the woman who posed for photos standing on the bodies of tortured Iraqis.
Bageant was born and raised in Virginia. He only gained a different perspective because the Vietnam war gave him an opportunity to get out and he took it. A friend of his offered a similar 'escape' became a heroin addict before being 'born again' and returning to Virginia.
In a readable, intelligent and well-informed style, Bageant portrays a side of America that you very, very rarely see. The only time I can think of anything that came close was The Deer Hunter
. But that did not have Bageant's humour and humanity.
If you're interested in the issues raised by writers such as Thomas Frank and Kevin Phillips (see American Theocracy
), then this is definitely worth a read.