Posted in Book Reviews

Book Review: TVA and the Dispossessed

Celebrating your 40th birthday during a global pandimic is not the ideal situation. To make up for it, my family decided to get everyone involved in the celebration by buying me a book for my birthday. The goal was for me to receive 40 books on my 40th birthday. I have never felt so much love in my life!

You’re probably wondering what that has to do with this book and my book review. In that collection of 40 books was a book by the name of “TVA and the Dispossessed” by Michael J. McDonald and John Muldowny. I’ve made no secret of my slight obsession with the Tennessee Valley Authority and their construction of Norris Dam. I had no idea that this book existed, but my mom found a random bookstore in England (of all places!) that had a copy and she was determined to get it for me for my birthday. I devoured this book in no time.

The Book

TVA and the Dispossessed starts at the very beginning of the Norris Dam project. The book does a good job at explaining why the Tennessee Valley Authority even took on this project. It introduces all of the players and the roll(s) they played in the process. The book explains how the TVA looked at the Norris Basin as not just a way to bring jobs and electricity to the area, but also as a social experiment. They looked at those who lived in the Norris Basin area as people from a different era.

This books does take a deep dive into the data collected by the Tennessee Valley Authority. While some charts seem to get repetitive, they do a good job of really showing important information.

The Surprises

This book includes interviews from those who lived in the area at the time of the TVA request for relocation. The words they share paint a clear picture of what life was like. It also clearly shows just what was at risk for families being forced to relocate. For example, the chart below shows the living conditions/personal possessions of those who were being relocated. It clearly shows what the families were at risk of losing. While some may not believe they were losing much, this chart shows how they were accustomed to living.

Chart explaining the living conditions of those being removed for the Norris Basin

The authors of this book also took the time to interview some of the residents who were living in the Norris Basin at the time. These were families who were being forced to relocate. By reading their words, it really gives you a sense of what life was like for them. It also gives you a better understanding of what their feelings were about the TVA.

But…most people…didn’t want to leave, and they thought they should have been…given something for having to move or being driven out of their homes where they’d lived for generations, their forefathers lived there before them, and I think they should have been allowed some consideration for that.

Hubert Stooksbury “TVA and the Dispossessed”

The Verdict

This books ended up being eye-opening for me. While I thought I knew a bit about the TVA and the Norris Basin project, I had never looked at it from the other side. I will admit, it did not change how I feel about the situation, but I did come out of it with a better understanding. The book was fairly easy to read only because I had a vast interest in the subject. It does go into the data of the project quite a bit and I did get a little confused with all the names.

If you had ancestors in this area in the 1930s, I highly recommend reading this book. It will allow you to walk in their shoes and experience the uncertainty of relocating and losing the community you had known. Researching documents will only get you so far. This book does an excellent job at filling in the blanks and giving the complete story.

With that said, I would give it an 8 out of 10. The technicalities of dam building and relocating got a little old, but I understand why it was included. Read this book for the words of those who were there. Read this book to feel more connected to your ancestors.

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