After 30 years spent scratching together a middle-class life out of a “dirt poor” childhood, Joe Bageant moved back to his hometown of Winchester, Virginia, where he realized that his family and neighbors were the very people who carried George W. Bush to victory. That was ironic, because Winchester, like countless American small towns, is fast becoming the bedrock of a permanent underclass. Two in five of the people in his old neighborhood do not have high-school diplomas. Nearly everyone over 50 has serious health problems, and many have no health care. Credit ratings are low or nonexistent, and alcohol, overeating, and Jesus are the preferred avenues of escape.
A raucous mix of storytelling and political commentary, Deer Hunting with Jesus is Bageant's report on what he learned by coming home. He writes of his childhood friends who work at factory jobs that are constantly on the verge of being outsourced; the mortgage and credit-card rackets that saddle the working poor with debt, i.e., “white trashonomics”; the ubiquitous gun culture - and why the left doesn't get it; Scots Irish culture and how it played out in the young life of Lynddie England; and the blinkered “magical thinking” of the Christian right. (Bageant's brother is a Baptist pastor who casts out demons.)
What it all adds up to, he asserts, is an unacknowledged class war. By turns brutal, tender, incendiary, and seriously funny, this book is a call to arms for fellow progressives with little real understanding of "the great beery, NASCAR-loving, church-going, gun-owning America that has never set foot in a Starbucks".
Deer Hunting with Jesus is a potent antidote to what Bageant dubs "the American hologram" - the televised, corporatized virtual reality that distracts us from the insidious realities of American life.
"Bageant mixes a reporter's keen analysis, a storyteller's color, and a native son's love of his roots in this absorbing dissection of America's working poor.... Through the lives of his friends and family, Bageant explores the importance of hunting, religion, and redneck pride in what he describes as the 'American hologram.' A wise, tender, and acerbic look at life among America's working poor." (
"Joe Bageant is a brilliant writer. He evokes working class America like no one else. The account of his revisit to his Virginia roots is sobering, poignant, and instructive." (Howard Zinn, author of A People's History of the United States)
We've sent an email with your order details. Order ID #:
To access this title, visit your library in the app or on the desktop website.
A Deeper Understanding of America
As a Virginian who was born and raised in the rural southern part of the state, I need to understand more clearly why it's so difficult to reach rural conservative voters. I've lived in the more densely populated area of Northern Virginia for over 30 years and I'm a political activist who cannot figure out how to reach the people I grew up with. Joe Bageant's story is my story too.
It's a bit like "Detroit: An American Autopsy." It's new journalism at its best. Both of these writers go back to the hometowns of their youth, after many years away, to try and sort out the people who shaped who they are - their family and childhood friends. Journalists are perhaps some of the best people to tackle such a complex examination of culture and make it readable, interesting and engaging for the rest of us.
His conversations with locals ring true. It's a lens through which to view the world as they see it. Poverty is a lot of work. Only people who have been poor understand that. I understand that.
There were a number of "aha" moments in this book. Often a writer's greatest gift is to clearly articulate a concept we know is true but we didn't have a way to talk about. We need a better way to talk about issues like poverty, guns and religious fundamentalism.
This book is extremely helpful in clarifying why our fellow Americans view the world as they do. I didn't agree with all of Joe's conclusions, but the insight and reporting he brings to these subjects is invaluable. Most of us don't step out of our comfort zone to be with other people in a place where we are the odd man out - even in our own country. Understanding and empathy is the key to finding common ground.
- Catherine S. Read