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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars IT WILL RATTLE YOUR SOUL!
I first read this book while in College. I found it so interesting that I found myself re-reading it over and over. It it an extrodinary look at Southern Apalachia, the culture and lives of it's Mountain people. The prologue is as a fine peice of southern literature as I have ever had the priveledge to read. Portions of the book are chilling, even more so, when...
Published on 13 Jan 1999

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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining, but not worth purchasing.
Read for a college Theology class. It's entertaining, but didn't hold my interest for long. I recommend borrowing it from a library--it's not worth purchasing. The subject in general, did not interest me.
Published on 17 Jun 1999


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars IT WILL RATTLE YOUR SOUL!, 13 Jan 1999
By A Customer
I first read this book while in College. I found it so interesting that I found myself re-reading it over and over. It it an extrodinary look at Southern Apalachia, the culture and lives of it's Mountain people. The prologue is as a fine peice of southern literature as I have ever had the priveledge to read. Portions of the book are chilling, even more so, when you realize that it is all true. Little did I know that 2 years after first reading the book I would live directly in the middle of the area Covington wrote about. I have had the oportunity to meet and know some of the people he described. When my job forced my wife and I to move to Scottsboro, we used the book as a literal road map when we arrived. I have loaned it out several times. I would encourage anyone, in particular Southerners, to read this fascinating book. The recent and much publicised death of one of the book's characters (John Wayne "Punkin" Brown, who was bitten by a rattle snake and died at a recent church service) led me to re-read the it again. I still could not put it down. It is unlike anything I have ever read. When this book wraps itself around you and sinks in it's fangs, there is no letting go.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An open-minded look at the rural South, 4 Jan 1999
By A Customer
I am from rural Appalachia, a few miles from some of the sites in Covington's book. It's rare to see us "rednecks" and "hicks" presented with an open mind. Southern culture is quite complex--in equal parts chaotic, convoluted, and compelling. Covington captures that well. He also captures the curiously all-consuming intensity of an ecstatic religion--it never fails to bemuse me that some people won't tell you the time of day without a mention of Jesus. Snake handling is a fascinating subject, and Covington not only paints a vivid picture, he also elucidates the inchoate desire of all Southerners to recapture our past and at the same time move beyond it in the eyes of the nation. What he doesn't handle well is journalistic distance from the subject. When he gets deeply involved in the services, his analytical voice is abandoned in favor of simply recording events. I wish he had worked harder at maintaining his objectivity. But don't let that stop you from reading an intriguing book.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Snake Handling - Biblical Fundamentalism Gone Awry, 30 Oct 1998
By A Customer
Probably the biggest problem any reader of Dennis Covington's Salvation on Sand Mountain would encounter, is where to file the paperback when read - in the religion or herpetology (providing you have one) section of your home library. I had heard of snake handling serving as part of worship services before, but had no idea it is so prevalent a practice in the modern day South. Not a biblical literalist (e.g. I don't think Jonah spent time in the belly of a big fish), I find it facinating people risk their lives every Sunday because Mark 16:18 says "They shall take up serpents" Probably the most facinating part of this book is how the author actually became involved with snake handling, himself. He began his research for the book as an exercise in investigative journalism, but soon found himself becoming immersed and almost hypnotised by the snake handling cults. How he explained his growing affinity for salvation thru snake handling to his family is a classic. I suppose we all share a common fear, macabre interest, or outright revulsion of large poisonous snakes. Picking up two or three of them at one time with your bare hands, while in a state of ecstasy at a Sunday service, begs for an explanation. Deaths due to bites are not uncommon and medical help is shunned. Author Covington takes you on a journey into these believers' thinking and faith. Hold on for a wild ride !
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4.0 out of 5 stars Left out historical documentation of the movement., 17 Mar 1998
By A Customer
I am a cradle Pentecostal who has converted to the Catholic Church, and am from Appalachia. As a child, I remember a "Signs" church that was not too far from my hometown in West Virginia. This book could just as easily describe it. However, I think the book could have given some historical overview of how this movement got started, as an early outgrowth of the Pentecostal movement in Tennessee. A Church of God preacher named George Went Hensley began to promote this practice sometime around 1911, and although a great majority of the Church of God denomination did not accept the practices, a group came out of it that did that we now know of as the "signs" Pentecostal group, or as known by its official name, the CHURCH OF GOD WITH SIGNS FOLLOWING. However, this is a movement, and not a denomination in a former sense, as there are churches that practice these things with little contact among themselves. This historical note should give the reader a little more understanding of the book under discussion, which overall was really well-written.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Very alive, 22 Oct 1998
By A Customer
I found this book to be a powerful exploration of what is at once both a very simple and very complex faith. The trust that Covington describes is incomprehensible and wonderful; the absolute, unswerving faith in the midst of what is a very real, very evil world is amazing. Covington does an excellent job of presenting a portrait of something that has survived against the odds; what he describes is a world that some may have difficulty believing exists. The book is gripping and moving. It may be a challenge for a "modern" reader to fully understand this faith, but this novel is certainly an example of how anyone, even a seasoned reporter, can be moved by an old gas station, some rousing music, and a box of snakes.
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5.0 out of 5 stars This book is both fun and fascinating, 10 April 1997
By A Customer
I handle snakes and attend church but unlike the the people whoare the subject of this fascinating book I don't happen to do both at the same time.

Whether or not you share a fascination with snakes, spirituality, and southern culture (as I happen to) you will be immediately gripped by the human earthiness and blue collar mysticism described in this book. Nobody should miss out on this great book. I have seriously been tempted to buy a whole bunch of them and give them out to my friends.

Get it!

Don't miss out!
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful and meaningful story, 12 July 1999
By A Customer
What makes this book so interesting to me is the way that it not only chronicles the actions of the snake handlers, but the affect the situation has on the author, as well. I always appreciate books about religious subjects by authors who are not skeptical or hostile to religious matters. Covington's experiences on a spiritual level are just as compelling as his experiences with the members of the church. This is a very good book, one worth reading.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, Scary and Sad, 3 Aug 2012
By 
Leven1 (West Lothian) - See all my reviews
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This documentary novel tells how after covering the trial for attempted murder of a snake handling preacher in Alabama in 1991 the author was invited to a snake handling church. This book details his experiences, the people he met and the places he visited. The author describes mostly with fondness the people he met and experiences he had. His writing gets more intense as he gets caught up in the atmosphere of the services until he eventually handles a snake.

Although very much a book about religion you do not need to be religious to enjoy it. The author is very open about his Christianity and beliefs but also that he does not initially understand why the snake handlers do it. However, as the author, who admits to an attraction to danger becomes caught up in the fervour of the services and the snake handling he becomes less objective. He even admits that during this period he actually considered fully joining and becoming a snake handler.

Eventually this obsession wears off when the many different stories of surviving snake bites and losing loved ones to snake bites tarnishes the attraction. I found the ending rather strange and was not sure why what happened happened but the author seemed to sense that the end had been coming before this incident.

The writing manages to describe the fervour that the services stir up but also towards the end the claustrophobia of being part of so small a group. This is particulary apparent if you google snake handling. Most of the articles that appear concern the same people (many of them appearing in this book). The tragedy of so many needless deaths was also made very clear to me when I noted that one of people in this book Punkin Brown (described as the "legendary Punkin Brown") died in 1998 from a snake bite. If the descriptions in the book are anything to go by then Punkin Brown was not altogether likeable but what makes this senseless loss even worse is that Punkin's wife was killed by a snake bite 2 years prior to Punkin's death. With Punkin's death 5 children were left without any of their parents.

If you found the book interesting as a companion piece you can watch a 45 minute documentary called In Jesus Name on You Tube. The film shows interviews with snake handlers (again many of whom feature in this book) and footage of the exciting religious services they hold.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Moving account of a culture and a spiritual quest, 21 July 2007
By 
Pieter Uys "Toypom" (Johannesburg) - See all my reviews
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This remarkable book tells of the author's interest in the serpent-handling Holiness believers of the south, his own spiritual journey and a search for his roots. Covington attended his first snake handling service in 1992 at the Church of Jesus With Signs Following in Scottsboro, Alabama. His interest ultimately led him to churches in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia.

The engaging text includes descriptions of the people, their faith, church services and sermons as well as ruminations on the south and in particular the culture of Appalachia. The author's personal quest for faith and belonging is the glue that holds the narrative together and make it so special.

Along the way Covington attends Brush Arbor services, delves into the history of the Holiness movement and discovers that Methodism gave rise to Pentecostalism which in turn gave birth to Holiness. He also discovers that his great great grandfather was an itinerant preacher in Northeast Alabama, an area where snake handling would start a generation after his death.

His engagingly descriptive prose includes the observation that the music "was like a cross between Salvation Army and acid rock." Describing a service in Jolo, he remarks that the organ playing of Lydia Elkins Hollins was like "cloth ripping" and that her voice was as raw and tortured as Janis Joplin's.

Finally, Covington handled snakes himself on Sand Mountain at the Old Rock House Holiness Church near the tiny hamlet of Macedonia south of Section, Alabama. His appraisal of the numinous experience of serpent-handling is riveting and lucid and includes observations of a change in consciousess and how the handler finds victory in the loss of self.

His involvement with the movement ended in December 1993 at a wedding at a church in Georgia. He preached about the role of women in the church and this did not go down well with the local preacher. Covington remarks that the real root of the problem was a dispute about the nature of God.

The narrative encompasses recollections of his childhood in East Lake, Birmingham, discussions of the various species of poisonous snakes, the lore of the snake-handlers, observations on the Appalachian landscape and speculations on the ecstatic religious experience.

Other interestings books on the Signs Following phenomenon include Serpent-Handling Believers by Thomas Burton, an in-depth study of handlers and their religious culture, and The Serpent Handlers: Three Families and Their Faith by Fred Brown and Jeanne McDonald, where the Signs Followers are allowed to speak for themselves.

Salvation On Sand Mountain contains black & white photographs of prominent preachers and church families, sermons, healings and handling. It is a most moving book in a style that grips the reader from the absorbing preface to the end. I highly recommend this book to all who are interested in the American South and in religious phenomena in general.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A compelling look at today's South, 11 April 1999
By A Customer
As a native Southerner and a life long resident of one of the most colorful areas of our country, I was most impressed with the loving care Mr. Covington treated our culture. The South has always had it's own culture and until recently many of us felt that it was never treated with the same amount of respect and diginity given to those from other parts of the United States. Snake handling is by all means a small part of our culture but an important part none the less. Mr. Covington offers some compelling insight into why it may have come about and why it still remains. The vast majority of Southerners feel has the rest of Americans do towards this group of people. That they are misguided in their faith and perhaps a little lost in the word of God. But Mr. Covington treats them as they deserve to be treated. As you would treat anyone who stands by their beliefs in the face of ridicule. With dignity and respect. He offers us an insight into his own personal past and history which he carefully weaves into the history of the area. He has proved once again that only a Southern writer can address and begin explain the mystery of the culture of the South.
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Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia
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