Spying on the South: An Odyssey Across the American Divide

Penguin. May 2019. 496p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781101980286. $30; ebk. ISBN 9781101980293. HIST
In his new travelog through the American Southwest, Horwitz (Confederates in the Attic) follows in the footsteps of Frederick Law Olmsted, who reported on the South in the 1850s for New York newspapers. Here, Horwitz recounts many memorable people and experiences, including a ride on a slow-moving coal barge on the Ohio River, a weekend of mud racing in Louisiana, an ill-fated trip by mule across Texas, and a visit to adjoining border towns in Texas and Mexico. Similar to Olmsted, who was writing on the eve of the Civil War, many of Horwitz’s conversations turned to politics. The author traveled during the early stages of the 2016 presidential campaign and encountered many disaffected rural voters excited by the candidacy of Donald Trump. These impressions are exaggerated by the little attention Horwitz gives to urban areas and the relatively few number of accounts of African Americans. Horwitz is a skilled writer, and his vignettes are compelling to read. Yet, without a more consistent thread tying these observations together, the looming 2016 election becomes the most compelling theme.
VERDICT Recommended for readers interested in a selective but engaging glimpse into modern life in the rural South. [See Prepub Alert, 11/19/18.]

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