Author Jeanne Marie Laskas takes us behind the scenes, profiling various “hidden” jobs that make our lives easier, safer, and tastier. The best part of the book is the connections Laskas makes with the people who work these jobs, transforming an invisible occupation into one that breathes, lives, and has a family. It’s an inside-out look at America.
Nine “hidden worlds” are profiled, including these seven: • Go deep underground in the Hopedale coal mine in Cadiz, Ohio where you’ll find out what it’s really like to mine coal that will be used for electricity. Oh, and be prepared to laugh. These coalminers have a fabulous sense of humor.
• Join migrants—some with documentation, some without—who harvest wild blueberries in August in Maine. Find out what their lives are like, why they don’t trust anyone, and where they will go next. If it weren’t for these hard workers, we wouldn’t have apples, oranges, peaches, or blueberries because they would just fall off the trees and bushes and rot.
• NFL players may make a bajillion dollars a year, but the cheerleaders barely make gas money and gameday expenses. Spend some time with several Ben-Gals, cheerleaders for the Cincinnati Bengals, to find out why they are so passionate about cheering.
• Take a visit to the air traffic control tower, arguably the heart of LaGuardia Airport in New York. Find out what it’s like to manage a screenful of planes and keep your cool. Bonus: Meet the man who was on duty the day Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger ditched his U.S. Airways Airbus in the Hudson River with no loss of life.
• Bundle up and travel to “The Slope,” a manmade island on the shores of Alaska’s North Slope where the Trans-Alaska Pipeline begins. The men who work here (and they are all men) are drilling for oil while living far from civilization with temperatures well below zero in near total darkness in winter. Find out why they love it so much.
• Hop in the cab of a long-distance trucker and go for a ride on I-80 from Cleveland, Ohio to Walcott, Iowa. This trucker doesn’t fit the stereotype. She is a 35-year-old black woman who once kept herself awake at 3 a.m. by driving topless up I-71. Bonus: She kept the other (male) truckers awake, too! Oh, the stories she has to tell.
• Ever wonder what happens to all those paper plates, plastic bags, egg cartons, half-eaten hamburgers, and last week’s leftovers? Take a visit to Puente Hills Landfill near Los Angeles. You won’t believe what happens to your trash!
Best of all, the writing is superb. Laskas has a knack for asking the right questions and giving us the answers in language that is so readable and interesting, you’ll forget this is nonfiction. Even though the book was published in 2012, it is still relevant and remarkable today and, most of all, spellbinding. I highly recommend it.