About Me

Currently a graduate student at the University of South Carolina, I study urban sociology and inequality. Originally from Western Pennsylvania, I am particularly interested in how changes in regional economic structures effect stratification and mobility opportunities, particularly for the working class. I also participate in the scholarship of teaching and learning.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Paris of Appalachia - Book Reviews in 10 sentences or less, #1

This post will be the first in a series of 10-sentence-or-less book reviews on this blog.

The Paris of Appalachia: Pittsburgh in the Twenty-first Century by Brian O'Neill.

Raised in the suburbs of New York City the author, Brian O'Neill, has been a news reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for several years.  In this book he describes the culture and politics of Pittsburgh as an honest observer and participant and like any good Pittsburgher he is quick with both praise and critiques.  This book is surprisingly broad in scope, discussing everything from O'Neill's habit of visiting random bars and barber shops to get to know the locals, to the politics of township or city-county mergers, to the sports culture of the City of Champions, to old ladies making pierogies in church basements.  Defending his decision to live in a older downtown neighborhood, he shrugs off a mugging he experienced, suggesting it was only as serious as a fender bender he could have experienced in suburbia if he lived there instead, and then he describes the virtues of accidentally locking yourself out of your house as an excuse to spend an evening visiting with neighbors.  He discusses the Pittsburgh diaspora and then relates specific stories of individuals moving back to a region that has seen so much population loss, concluding that "Life is too short to spend it someplace you no longer want to be" (108).  Moving from vivid ethnography in the first half of the book, to an on-the-ground analysis of the the political and economic difficulties the city continues to struggle with, O'Neill maintains an engaging tone, filled with substantial detail and a realistic assessment of the challenges the city faces.  The chapter on Pittsburgh sports culture is a appropriately rowdy, and the chapters on Pittsburgh's density and the landslide in Kilbuck are engaging for anyone interested in regional development, planning, or politics.  This is the most entertaining and interesting book I have read yet on the city of Pittsburgh.

Here is an interview with the author.  Here is the website for the book.