I want to start by saying The Most They Ever Had by Rick Bragg is what Hillbilly Elegy should have been. While Elegy was an exploitative look at a group of people JD Vance felt had a tough go of things, Rick Bragg tells the tale of the real core of the American working class poor.

While it tells of an era of hard work in dangerous cotton mills, scraping together pennies to afford food, and owing more to the company store than you earned during the week, it also is a reminder of the imbalance of power in our white-collar mills.

These are real stories of the salt-of-the-earth folks who believed in an honest day’s work, doing things for yourself, and in not complaining when things weren’t going your way. The didn’t dare to imagine a better way. They knew the risks of the brown lung, lost digits and limbs. They did it because their family depended on them.

It is easy these days to scoff at them and write them off as ignorant yokels, but their work ethic built this country and took them to their graves with honor. There are some definite lessons in their tragic tale.

Rick Bragg is an absolute master of telling a story. I highly recommend the audio version as Bragg himself tells the story in his rich southern accent. Good stuff.

by Chris Doelle

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