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Short-listed for the Phi Beta Kappa Ralph Waldo Emerson Book AwardIn 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.