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What You Are Getting Wrong about Appalachia by Elizabeth Catte

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Like Elizabeth Catte, many of us have wanted to write a book that would dispel the terrible impressions that mainstream America has been getting from reading articles that view poor Appalachians - rather than rich people seeking tax-breaks - as to blame for President Trump. And we have wanted to counteract J.D. Vance’s claim in his best-selling book, Hillbilly Elegy, that he is the only one who escaped an Appalachian culture of poverty to lead a successful life, not just that he sometimes feels that way. Now Elizabeth Catte has written a book titled, What You are Getting Wrong About Appalachia, and we can’t wait to see if she, too, is getting it wrong.  Most importantly, she emphasizes that Appalachia is not an “it,” but a multi-cultural, multi-racial, multi-class, heterogeneous amorphous region. Her book is divided into three crucial parts. The first part refutes the claims that Appalachia is “Trump Country.” The second part refutes J. D.  Vance’s claim that Appalachia’s “culture of poverty,” is more to blame for the region’s problems than economic exploitation. The third part refutes the notion that our people are quiescent. Bravo! Another strength of the book is Catte’s attention to photographs and moving pictures. This is a distinguishing characteristic of What You are Getting Wrong About Appalachia. It is not just commendable, but stimulating to the reader for a historian to write a book that incorporates art into the narrative in such a unique way. Towards the end of her section on Vance, Catt states, “The best we can do, as community columnist Jillean McCommons suggests in the Lexington Herald Leader, is ‘turn that anger [about Hillbilly Elegy] into your next writing project. Write about your people. Tell your story. Answer with pen and pad.’” Catte ends her book on the same note. “I hope that people in the region who keep fighting will . . . capture their own images.” Elizabeth Catte did her undergraduate work at the University of Tennessee, and received both her masters and doctorate in history from Middle Tennessee State University. She currently resides in Staunton, Virginia, and has her own historical consulting firm.

Cleveland, Ohio: Belt Publishing, 2018. 146 pages. Trade paperback.