Ramp Hollow by Steven Stoll
The Ordeal of Appalachia

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Which is better, cornfields or clean coal? Stoll’s sharp book complicates our understanding of a much-misunderstood, much-maligned region that deserves better than it has received.
-Kirkus

Synopsis

How the United States underdeveloped Appalachia

In Ramp Hollow, Steven Stoll offers a fresh, provocative account of Appalachia, and why it matters. He begins with the earliest European settlers, whose desire for vast forests to hunt in was frustrated by absentee owners―including George Washington and other founders―who laid claim to the region. Even as Daniel Boone became famous as a backwoods hunter and guide, the economy he represented was already in peril. Within just a few decades, Appalachian hunters and farmers went from pioneers to pariahs, from heroes to hillbillies, in the national imagination, and the area was locked into an enduring association with poverty and backwardness. Stoll traces these developments with empathy and precision, examining crucial episodes such as the Whiskey Rebellion, the founding of West Virginia, and the arrival of timber and coal companies that set off a devastating “scramble for Appalachia.”

At the center of Ramp Hollow is Stoll’s sensitive portrayal of Appalachian homesteads. Perched upon ridges and tucked into hollows, they combined small-scale farming and gardening with expansive foraging and hunting, along with distilling and trading, to achieve self-sufficiency and resist the dependence on cash and credit arising elsewhere in the United States. But the industrialization of the mountains shattered the ecological balance that sustained the households. Ramp Hollow recasts the story of Appalachia as a complex struggle between mountaineers and profit-seeking forces from outside the region. Drawing powerful connections between Appalachia and other agrarian societies around the world, Stoll demonstrates the vitality of a peasant way of life that mixes farming with commerce but is not dominated by a market mind-set. His original investigation, ranging widely from history to literature, art, and economics, questions our assumptions about progress and development, and exposes the devastating legacy of dispossession and its repercussions today.

 

About Steven Stoll

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STEVEN STOLL is an associate professor of history at Fordham University and the author of Larding the Lean Earth: Soil and Society in Nineteenth-Century America (H&W, 2002). His writing has appeared in Harper's, Lapham's Quarterly, and The New Haven Review.
 
Published November 21, 2017 by Hill and Wang. 432 pages
Genres: Business & Economics, History, Political & Social Sciences. Non-fiction
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Critic reviews for Ramp Hollow
All: 4 | Positive: 4 | Negative: 0

Kirkus

Good
on Sep 04 2017

Which is better, cornfields or clean coal? Stoll’s sharp book complicates our understanding of a much-misunderstood, much-maligned region that deserves better than it has received.

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Star Tribune

Good
Reviewed by Peter Lewis on Dec 22 2017

The book is a masterpiece of panoramic history. It follows as the Black Plague, the Little Ice Age (which at 500-plus years must not have seemed so “little” to those in its midst), the acts of enclosure and the state taking ultimate ownership through eminent domain.

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NY Times

Good
Reviewed by J. D. Vance on Dec 06 2017

I disagreed with much of this challenging, interesting and engrossing book. But it made me think. And that, it seems to me, is the whole point.

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NY Times

Above average
Reviewed by Dwight Garner on Nov 20 2017

Stoll clings to a different vision of what the United States could be. His book becomes a withering indictment of rapacious capitalism. We behave as if capitalism itself were “nailed to the roof of heaven,” he writes, and few dare to question its assumptions.

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