What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia

What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia

Book - 2018
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An insider's perspective on Appalachia, and a frank, ferocious assessment of America's recent fascination with the people and the problems of the region.
Publisher: Cleveland, Ohio : Belt Publishing, 2018
Edition: First edition
ISBN: 9780998904146
Branch Call Number: 975.044 C295W 2018
Characteristics: 146 pages ; 18 cm


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Mar 14, 2018

This book is a polemic inspired by the author's vehement disagreement with and evident personal dislike of "Hillbilly Elegy" author J. D. Vance. Although Vance is the main whipping boy plenty of others, including the NRA and Charles Murray, are targeted by Catte.

There is a place for a good old-fashioned polemic but Catte's is not well-reasoned and veers strongly toward the ad hominem. Although Catte has a doctorate in history she doesn't cite any of her sources in the book--so, yes, it's a polemic and not a careful, scholarly one at that.

I would recommend "Rednecks, Queers, and Country Music" by Nadine Hubbs as a much more informative, thoughtful, and well-sourced alternative. Hubbs' book isn't about Appalachia but there's a enough subject matter overlap to, all thing considered, make it a better choice, IMO.

As with Catte, some of my ancestors are from Appalachia so I feel I have some skin in this game. I read Vance's book as a memoir and didn't see it as the sweeping indictment of Appalachian folks that Catte sees. Admittedly, my only exposure to his ideas is via "Hillbilly Elegy".

So, I'm not saying Catte is entirely wrong about Vance (and I agree with her assertion that Appalachian people are often unfairly maligned and misrepresented in mainstream thought and discourse). Thus, I can see her point and in normal circumstances I might be tempted to reread Vance in light of Catte but given her tone and casual regard for truth and accuracy I am less inclined to do so than I might otherwise be.

If you're interested in Appalachia's place in contemporary politics and culture then, by all means, read Catte's book. Be forewarned though this is an interesting but tendentious book that expends little or no effort attempt to thoughtfully and fairly engage the ideas of those whom she targets.

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