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Superior, Nebraska: The Common Sense Values of America's Heartland ebook

by Denis Boyles

Since the days of “Bleeding Kansas,” people from someplace else have been telling midwesterners how to live, how to vote, and what to believe. In Superior Nebraska, Denis Boyles explodes the myth that hapless Midwesterners have been duped into voting against their own economic interests in order to support right-wing crusades mounted by wily conservatives. Every election cycle, the angry people who live on America’ s blue coasts smugly ridicule those who live in the mystifying heartland of their own country, an exotic, faraway place many of them have seen only from the window of an aircraft. From up there, those who live in so-called red states appear to be prisoners of desolation and failure, with their twisters and blizzards, their vanishing small towns, and their odd obsession with social values. Easterners look down upon “Jesusland” and pronounce it not only empty but ignorant. In this leisurely exploration of civic life along the meandering course of the Republican River, Boyles argues that, in fact, the people living in those big, blue cities have a lot to learn from the Midwest's core values of industriousness, vigor, neighborliness, optimism, moderation, and, above all, self-reliance. Those strengths, Boyles points out, are what made it possible to settle the Great Plains in the first place and have sustained life there since. Deftly demolishing the elitist portrait of rural Republican voters as religious zealots and misguided simpletons, Boyles shows how the interests of red and blue staters actually coincide. Like their coastal, mostly Democratic, cousins, they too want better schools, less intrusive bureaucracies, lower taxes, some moral common sense, a little respect for tradition and faith, some civility in public debate, and support for their belief that personal responsibility always trumps government programs. For more than a century, writers and critics have been asking, “What’ s the matter with Kansas?” In this affecting love letter to Kansas, Nebraska, and the entire American Midwest, Denis Boyles responds by holding up the common-sense values of America’s heartland as a model for us all.
Many voters in the urban mega-centers of the U.S. tend to question the intelligence of voters in the Heartland. Denis Boyles artfully explains why voters in the Heartland tend to be independent in their thinking and actions. This includes their view that people should not reply on big government, but should work out their own problems when possible. Boyles cites many examples that take place daily in small towns in Nebraska and Kansas. A must read for those who live in Red States and those in the Blue States who would like to understand the politics of Red State voters.
Denis Boyles' affectionate portrayal of life in the heartland is not merely an exercise in sentiment (Boyles spent his boyhood summers in and around Superior, Nebraska (as did I)--hence, the title of the book.) Though the author is brimming with fond memories of his youth, he weaves his lively recollections together with current research into the thoughts, wit, and wisdom of the people who animate the small towns along the Kansas/Nebraska border.

The result is an entertaining and insightful look at distinctly Midwestern values like faith, family, civility, and community. Boyles' shortand for this collection of attributes is "common sense." He says that it is the region's most abundant commodity and, "Too bad it doesn't come in barrels, because there's a huge reservoir of the stuff out there . . . ."

The author uses numerous interviews to help us get to know the people who shape the culture of this often overlooked (and expansive) part of America. He also does top-notch reporting on a number of contemporary debates that raged recently in Kansas--from court intrusion into public education funding to the state school board's row over "science" standards. (How dare those "conservatives" point out that Darwin's theory is a . . . theory?)

The book makes you want to visit places like Concordia, Lindsborg, McCook and Superior and meet their salt of the earth, three-dimensional inhabitants. Not a bad idea. By doing so, maybe a little of their common sense values would rub off on the rest of us.

Overall, a superior read.
This book really should have called "Concordia or Bellville Kansas". The author really spends little time talking about Superior, and most of his time talking about towns in Northern Kansas (with a few side trips to rail against an abortion clinic in Wichita.) After describing what's happening in Kansas the author will often add something in the nature of "and Nebraska has this problem too." I saw little of the "Common Sense Values" referred to in the subtitle. So Superior has a "Town Man" that can do most of the maintenance work in town. The author seems to imply that larger cities should be run the same way, but doesn't explain how. Let's face it, simple solutions work in small towns because the problems are usually less complicated.

Of course, it also seems to be a problem that many of Kanasas' Republican politicians are too liberal. The author makes a point in the first few chapters that getting things done doesn't have to be a Blue or Red state issue, its just something that needs to get done. Then spends the rest of the book showing how Republicans in Kansas who are getting things done are not true Conservatives.

Having grown up in Nebraska, I wish he would change the title...the two states are not the same.
I've been a fan and a friend of Denis Boyles for many years, but even if he was a random stranger I would have enjoyed his thoughtful examination of a place that many Americans only see from the windows of pressurized cabins. There is a lot of life and complexity on the Great Plains. Boyles has written this fascinating country a witty love letter that is part memoir, part reportage and all heart. Read this book.
Throw her heart
I read this book by Denis Boyles with interest as I grew up on the West Coast and now live here in the heartland. The city I grew up in was Oakland California - the town my family and I moved to, of all places, was Superior Nebraska. So I'd like to think I know a thing or two about the mentality of those on the coasts and those in the heartland.

Too often this book goes too far to the extreme in the reverse direction - making those on the coasts out to be elitist snobs who rely on big government and lack the "common sense" and morality held by those in the heartland. What Boyles' book really boils down to is a comparison of small town vs. big city. In fact the people he describes as those living on the coast also fits the description of urban people living in a heartland city (such as St. Louis for example). "Heartland" doesn't automatically equate with "small town" just like "coast" isn't always synonymous with "big city". This truism is overlooked in order for Boyles to disassociate the negative aspects of urban living from that of small-town heartland living. These are examples of how Boyles over-stereotypes in reverse.

While I think this book is fairly well written, and I do like the chapter on education, it is clearly meant to preach to the choir. Small town conservative/Republican types (who perhaps have never gone to the coasts) will like this read because it will stroke their ego to have someone speak their mind and write things they'd like to be true. I, on the other hand, could do without Boyles' turnabout insults. After reading this pontificating self-righteous book, I'm still left to ask the question "What's the matter with Kansas?"
It is an excellent book, well-researched, insightful, beautifully written. Denis Boyles is eloquent. The intelligence of this book lies in the topics that Boyles selected... things we face and want to understand better -- politics, intelligent design, evolution, school funding, rural life, helpfulness and good government.
An interesting perspective and worth reading. Not an "antidote" to "What's the Matter with Kansas" but certainly a more knowledgeable approach because he talked to many, many people rather than sitting in an armchair (the way Frank Rich did) and "analyzing" the "conservatives" without actually talking to any. Well written.
Superior, Nebraska: The Common Sense Values of America's Heartland ebook
Denis Boyles
Social Sciences
EPUB size:
1754 kb
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1540 kb
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1700 kb
Doubleday; 1 edition (February 12, 2008)
288 pages
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