September 2012

America’s red, white and blue collar

By Jeanne Marie Laskas
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In the introduction to Hidden America, Jeanne Marie Laskas observes that “we become so familiar with the narrative [of celebrity culture] we forget that there are any others happening at all.” That’s how Kim Kardashian gets branded a success while the truck driver who brings valuable parts to factories is viewed as unimportant.

A veteran journalist, Laskas gets her hands dirty in this collection of profiles, many of which are based on her work for GQ. Among her stops: an Alaskan oil rig, a gun shop in Arizona and an NFL stadium.

Great stories define these occupations. A trip to a California landfill leads to an engineer-turned-PR guy who sees trash as an opportunity to improve the world, by using landfill gas to produce electricity. Working on a cattle ranch is a rustic throwback complete with cowboys, but its existence hinges on technology. For immigrant farmers, many of whom are in the United States illegally, the promise of a good paycheck comes with the daunting prospect of not being able to trust anyone.

No job is examined the same way, a tribute to Laskas’ talents as a writer. Her attention to detail is vivid: One man is “packed solid as a ham”; the Cincinnati Bengals’ cheerleaders are “glimmery and shimmery kitty-cat babes.” She is also adept at giving explanatory passages a conversational feel, essential in a book introducing readers to jobs and mindsets.

Laskas’ enviable stylistic flow hides her most useful tool: restraint. The chapters in Hidden America aren’t star-spangled odes to American pluck or pleas for working-class understanding. Laskas simply gives voice—as well as dignity and poetry—to America’s blue-collar ranks.

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Hidden America

Hidden America

By Jeanne Marie Laskas
ISBN 9780399159008

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