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Burkhard Bilger's beautifully written, wonderfully funny and movingly stalgic book explores the surviving (and often dying) folk traditions of the American South, from the eating of squirrel brains in Kentucky, cock-fighting in Oklahoma, frog-ranching in Georgia and coon-hunting all over, to the odling for flatheads (fishing for catfish, using your fingers as bait and your arm as a hook) of the title. Caught between the possibility of survival through commercialisation or gradual decline (or in the case of squirrel-brain-eating, threatened by fears of Mad Squirrel Disease), many of these activities will be lucky to survive far into the new century. Burkhard Bilger's book is a wonderful elegy, hilarious, fascinating and touching, to a threatened tradition of American eccentricity and independence, but it is also a celebration of the survival of local folk culture in the era of the global triumph of Nike, Barbie and Coca-Cola, a survival that persists in America's own back yard. Narrative n-fiction at its best.
Burkhard Bilger is a features editor at Discover and an adjunct professor of science writing at New York University.