Strangers in Their Own Land:
Anger and Mourning on the American Right

by Arlie Russell Hochschild

StrangersThis book was recommended to me by a friend who was struggling to understand how Donald Trump could become President of the United States. Given that I too am astonished with the new political reality, I thought this book might be useful.

The author is a well-known sociologist who has written nine books, three of which have been named notable books of the year. Hochschild lives in liberal Berkeley, California and through a connection from a former graduate student, she makes ten expeditions to conservative Lake Charles, Louisiana between 2011 and 2016 to understand the Tea Party and the political divide in the United States.

This book includes her interviews, reflections, and heartfelt attempts to really hear and understand people who hold very diverse views from her own. What impresses me the most about the author is her effort to deeply listen and grasp her generous hosts’ perspectives. Never judgmental and always curious, Hochschild crosses the “empathy divide” as she calls it and really gets inside their shoes. I came to empathize with the group of mostly white men and women interviewed, who had worked hard and felt pushed back further and further in line, beginning in the 1960s when blacks, women, and other minorities seemed to get ahead of them.

I felt like I came to really know the people, such as Mike, who worked hard for the chemical industry his whole life and then lost his home to a sinkhole caused by lack of regulation, then becomes an environmental activist; and Janice, an accountant who has used her hard-earned nest egg to build a retirement house on a large piece of land that might be destroyed due to new businesses moving into the area. This mostly white, high school educated, religious group feels that it is people like them who made this country, yet now they are viewed as unsympathetic or not compassionate because the government seems to be helping everyone but them.

Hochschild ends by sharing how several of the people she interviewed are finding win-wins with more liberal minded people such as wanting to help save the planet. Her book left me with hope for our country. If you struggle to understand what is causing the political divide in the United States, this book is for you!


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