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Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town Hardcover – June 9, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Using what he calls a "live-in reporting strategy," Reding's chronicle of a small-town crystal meth epidemic-about "the death of a way of life as much as... about the birth of a drug"-revolves around tiny Oelwein, Iowa, a 6,000-resident farming town nearly destroyed by the one-two punch of Big Agriculture modernization and skyrocketing meth production. Reding's wide cast of characters includes a family doctor, the man "in the best possible position from which to observe the meth phenomenon"; an addict who blew up his mother's house while cooking the stuff; and Lori Arnold (sister of actor Tom Arnold) who, as a teenager, built an extensive and wildly profitable crank empire in Ottumwa, Iowa (not once, but twice). Reding is at his best relating the bizarre, violent and disturbing stories from four years of research; heftier topics like big business and globalization, although fascinating, seem just out of Reding's weight class. A fascinating read for those with the stomach for it, Reding's unflinching look at a drug's rampage through the heartland stands out in an increasingly crowded field.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

For this powerful, terrifying look at the drug epidemic in America's heartland, Reding studied meth production and addiction in Oelwein over four years. The book's strength lies in its character studies and depictions of destroyed families -- many not for the squeamish -- as well as in its explanation of how meth producers integrate their operations to become major conglomerates. Despite the persuasive narrative, a few reviewers noted a weakness in Reding's attempt to link larger socioeconomic forces (such as the rise of agribusiness) to small towns' meth use and production. But the coupling of classic reporting and a compelling, timely story make Methland a book well worth reading.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; 1St Edition edition (June 9, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1596916508
  • ISBN-13: 978-1596916500
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (249 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #548,206 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Nick Reding is the author of The Last Cowboys at the End of the World, and his writing has appeared in Outside, Food and Wine, and Harper's. Born in St. Louis, he decided to move back to his hometown in the course of reporting this book.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

283 of 297 people found the following review helpful By Nathan Lein on June 30, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Yesterday I retraced the route I first drove with Nick that first day I met him in 2005. I drove by the houses I identified to him as places where methamphetamine had been cooked or distributed. One has been torn down, one still appears dilapidated or "burned out." The other one I barely recognized because it is in such good shape with obvious care and attention being lavished upon it.
Oelwein, like many other rural communities, has changed significantly since Nick started this book. Our transformation, thankfully has been extremely positive. We have a new library, a sewer treatment plant that is not violating Clean Water Act Regulations, an absolutely gorgeous downtown area, 400 new jobs in the last 18 months, a microbrewery with multistate distribution agreements, new shops and restuarants, and a new community college campus that allows high school kids to take the kinds of classes previously only available to prep school kids, or kids in major urban centers and allowing them to graduate with an A.A. degree the same day they get their high school diplomas.
My point is simply this: None of the above listed things were here that day Nick and I went to Leo's for lunch. The town was (and still is in some ways) suffering from all the forces described by Nick. There was a palatable sense of despair. The last two chapters describe the start of the transformation, but all books end, and Oelwein's story definitely has not.
The problem is insidious and scary. As of 6.15.2009 52% of my juvenile case load is still because of methamphetamine use/addiction. The police are still arresting dealers and finding purer and more addictive product from Mexico.
Nick's research methods looked pretty solid to me. The Fayette County Sheriff's Office did have input.
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72 of 84 people found the following review helpful By Avid Reader VINE VOICE on August 13, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is an important sociological overview of meth in a small town in America's heartland - its production, distribution, abuse, prosecution, "treatment" and the destruction it leaves in its wake (individual, familial and societal). If you are looking for loads of juicy stories about the human tragedy of meth use (as some reviewers here apparently were), this is not the focus of the book.

Oelwein could be Anysmalltown, USA, where the bulk of the employment opportunities have dried up or moved away (in the name of progress - giant agribusiness), and where the inhabitants are looking to escape their troubles and feel better and have the opportunity to make a few bucks to boot. One of the great revelations of the book is that meth was formerly widely used, and historically was associated with increased productivity and an increased sense of well-being (although its bad side-effects were well known).

Just how Oelwein morphed from a railroad roundhouse/agricultural community into a place where people ride their bikes in the open in order to cook meth is a story well-developed in the book, told from the perspective of the prosecutor, the hospital chief of staff and the mayor. Their views on how Oelwein might be brought right again, and their own personal struggles of being in Oelwein are valuable - the approaches they ultimately take might serve as a model for other communities in dire circumstances.
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40 of 51 people found the following review helpful By Charles T. Taylor on July 12, 2009
Format: Hardcover
When I first heard of "Methland" I was cynical and skeptical. I am a transplanted Chicagoan who has lived in Oelwein for 30 years. I have worked in community corrections in Oelwein and most of the counties in Northeast Iowa for almost 29 years. My bachelor's degree is in journalism so I have a true respect for skillful, accurate reporting and an understanding of the difference between fact and opinion. After reading the first salacious chapter online (I felt like a voyeur) I knew I had to buy the book in order to make an informed decision about it. I am glad I did.

Unless you have personal or professional experience with methamphetamine, the topic tends to make people queasy. And when you see the topic highlighted in YOUR town with observations about and quotes from people y ou KNOW, it is surreal and somewhat upsetting.

Methamphetamine production, sale and use have been overwhelmingly costly to Oelwein and rural America in general. But even at its worst, the town did not belong to the Roland Jarvis' of the world. And even the suggestion that it did, chafes.

In my opinion, this book is an essentially accurate representation of the dry rot that meth has inflicted on a wonderful town. It does not reflect 2009 Oelwein as THAT WOULD BE IMPOSSIBLE. But the subtitle of the book is the death and LIFE of an American small town and it does begin to chronicle the process of Oelwein rising again.

Would I have made some of the observations or emphasized some of the things that Nick Redding did?


But I did not write the book, he did. And that is his prerogative.

But, Mr. Redding, please get a better fact-checker. Methland contains some blue ribbon snafus.

- Pat Taylor
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