Hidden America: From Coal Miners to Cowboys, an Extraordinary Exploration of the Unseen People Who Make This Country Work by Jeanne Marie Laskas
First, I just gotta thank Citizen Reader for including this book on a list of great investigative narratives written by women.
Citizen and I share a fondness for the workplace narrative, and here, she guided me to an amazing example of the stuff.
The first thing to know about this book is that the writing is darn lively. Laskas is a professor of journalism, and she writes in a terrifically engaging journalistic style.
And I kept thinking of how this book would appeal to readers of Mary Roach. The writing style and the in-depth nature of the reporting felt similar to me. While this book doesn’t have the laugh-out-loud thing going on (the way Roach’s books often do), there’s still humor here –– it’s just more muted and contextual.
Laskas hangs out with people who do jobs we often overlook — coal miners, cowboys, oil rig workers, air traffic controllers, landfill workers, truck drivers — and gives a really in-depth look at their work and their personalities.
She starts off with the coal miners, and I just keep thinking about that chapter. It’s pretty stunning writing, about staggeringly difficult work done by tough, stoic guys. It got me.
The whole book is this way — a remarkably deep dive into a whole bunch of work lives that I confess I otherwise wouldn’t really think about (except for the landfill workers, cuz I know some of those guys from my growing-up years, cuz I’m lucky like that).
And as each chapter ended, I was sad to let it go. But then there was another narrative beginning, and it was only a matter of moments before I wondered where this one was gonna go.
When I saw the subtitle of the book, I was worried that it was going to be over-earnest in tone, but Laskas keeps it real and she doesn’t sentimentalize things and she doesn’t make points. She just tells the people’s stories, and that’s just right.
A book that lets you meet people who do all kinds of tough and interesting work, because Laskas asked the good questions and made the insightful observations and let the people be who they are.
Dang. Wonderful book.
Here’s what Citizen had to say about it. (She really captured it.)