The Left Behind

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 09 Feb 2018

Member Reviews

Good book and a tribute to those that will not give up. I would like to see a follow up or part 2 of this book. Thanks to NetGalley, the author and the publisher for the ARC of this book in return for my honest review.
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Unfortunately, I am not able to give an accurate review of THE LEFT BEHIND by Robert Wuthow because the digital preview copy is no longer available.  If you are fortunate in being granted preview access to titles from Princeton University Press, I would strongly suggest downloading the titles immediately.  This is at least the second time when a promised title has been pulled prior to the planned archive date. Since I have not seen THE LEFT BEHIND, I am giving it a neutral score of 3 stars, although it sounds like it has the potential to be a fascinating commentary on the culture of rural communities in the United States. Kirkus gave it a starred review, but the Goodreads average rating is only 3.67.
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Interesting premise, but the book fell a bit flat for me. I was expecting more detail and nuance, not the sweeping generalizations that encompass much of the book. I also wish the author had used the real names of locations, rather than pseudonyms - I think this would have made it easier to contextualize.
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A nice overview of Rural America that shook the mainstream politics of the US in 2016 elections. Wuthnow argues that residents of the small-town America see themselves as members of a "moral community". His effort in not being judgmental against his interviewees while tackling issues such as homophobia or abortion is what makes this book a good read. One lacking component in the book is the reason why these small town people perceive themselves and their communities in these ways. I would love to read a more analytic work by the author on rural America, although just maybe this is what he is trying to avoid: passing judgments on these people as an outsider, a member of the liberal elite.
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Princeton sociologist Robert Wuthnow is an expert on the sociology of religion, the study of communities, and rural sociology. In "The Left Behind", he is trying to find the sources that prompt the anger that is brewing in rural America, and why rural communities have overwhelmingly voted for Trump. What makes his approach so appealing is that Wuthnow, who was himself born in a small community, is always empathic, but never apologetic. His research defies the stereotypical notion that small-town people are simpletons, but he is also very critical of the strategies rural communities are currently employing to protect their lifestyle.

Wuthnow and his research team conducted over a thousand in-depth qualitative interviews in rural areas. One of their main findings was that rural people are particularly community-oriented, and that they are trying to preserve their communities that have come under pressure due to factors like job loss, a shrinking population and the brain drain. It is highly interesting to learn what these rural communities attribute their decline to, what conclusions people are drawing and how they ultimately rationalise voting against their own interest. 

Wuthnow tackles reactionary tendencies regarding topics like race and homosexuality, he talks about factors like religion, anti-government impulses, the highly valued "common sense", independence and abortion. While he clearly did not conduct his research so serve some ultimate purpose, it appears that this book could be a tool for people who are not familiar with rural America to better understand the concerns of rural communities, and for rural Americans themselves to critically reflect whether their current strategies to fight the rural decline are really effective - because in the end, the vitality of rural communities lies in the interest of every American, no matter where they live.

An excellent book, highly recommended.
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