Strangers in Their Own Land by Arlie Russell Hochschild

strangers

Reviewed by Katy Zignego (Library Staff)

During this past election season, I heard a recommendation for two books: Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Strangers In Their Own Land. The recommender suggested that anyone who generally aligns on the right side of the political spectrum should read Coates’s book, and anyone who generally leans left should read Hochschild’s. The idea was for people to get a better understanding of what motivates the folks on the other side. I’m admittedly a bit of a political junkie, but even more interested in what makes people tick. So I read both of them.

I reviewed Between the World and Me for this blog a few months ago. Now it’s time for Strangers In Their Own Land. Author Hochschild is a sociologist who usually focuses on family economics, and I have enjoyed her thorough, reasoned work in the past. For this book, she spent five years talking with self-identified Tea Party supporters living in small-town Louisiana. Her main question was this: Why do these folks support the Republican Party, specifically far-right candidates, often in spite of their own economic self-interest?

She came to some very eye-opening (for me) conclusions. There was no single reason these people came to the Tea Party, instead there was usually a combination of factors. They feel betrayed by the federal government, left behind by the global economy, and sidelined by the mainstream culture, and the Tea Party seems like a safe place where they are actually heard and respected. Hochschild (and therefore the reader) was able to put herself in these people’s shoes, and the world she saw through their eyes is pretty bleak.

The best part of the book was a small chapter, nestled in the center of the book, in which the author tells what she calls “the deep story” of the average Tea Partier. She describes a long queue, in which all Americans are waiting to reach the front of the line: the American Dream of financial security and personal happiness. What happens in this imagined queue tells the whole story. If you don’t have time to read the whole book, just read the parable of the queue.

Available through the BRIDGES Library System

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