Spying on the South

Spying on the South

An Odyssey Across the American Divide

Book - 2019
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The New York Times -bestselling final book by the beloved, Pulitzer-Prize winning historian Tony Horwitz.

With Spying on the South , the best-selling author of Confederates in the Attic returns to the South and the Civil War era for an epic adventure on the trail of America's greatest landscape architect. In the 1850s, the young Frederick Law Olmsted was adrift, a restless farmer and dreamer in search of a mission. He found it during an extraordinary journey, as an undercover correspondent in the South for the up-and-coming New York Times.

For the Connecticut Yankee, pen name "Yeoman," the South was alien, often hostile territory. Yet Olmsted traveled for 14 months, by horseback, steamboat, and stagecoach, seeking dialogue and common ground. His vivid dispatches about the lives and beliefs of Southerners were revelatory for readers of his day, and Yeoman's remarkable trek also reshaped the American landscape, as Olmsted sought to reform his own society by creating democratic spaces for the uplift of all. The result: Central Park and Olmsted's career as America's first and foremost landscape architect.

Tony Horwitz rediscovers Yeoman Olmsted amidst the discord and polarization of our own time. Is America still one country? In search of answers, and his own adventures, Horwitz follows Olmsted's tracks and often his mode of transport (including muleback): through Appalachia, down the Mississippi River, into bayou Louisiana, and across Texas to the contested Mexican borderland. Venturing far off beaten paths, Horwitz uncovers bracing vestiges and strange new mutations of the Cotton Kingdom. Horwitz's intrepid and often hilarious journey through an outsized American landscape is a masterpiece in the tradition of Great Plains , Bad Land , and the author's own classic, Confederates in the Attic.
Publisher: New York : Penguin Press, 2019.
ISBN: 9781101980286
Branch Call Number: 917.504 HORWITZ
Characteristics: 476 pages : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm


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Mar 06, 2020

I've always enjoyed Horwitz's books but this one just lost relevance for me. Great idea following in Olmsted's footsteps but unfortunately after some increasing interest in the first half I quit around 60%. Much of present day was depressing as it seems our country would have been more advanced by now and trip also became repetitive. History associated w/ Olmsted's Civil War era trip was insightful.

Jan 29, 2020

Tedious. I gave up on it.

PimaLib_NormS Jan 24, 2020

The last book written by the late Tony Horwitz is “Spying on the South: An Odyssey Across the American Divide”. Horwitz was fascinated by the writings and travels of Frederick Law Olmsted, who was a correspondent for the fledgling New York Times in the 1850s, and later became one of the world’s foremost landscape architects. Olmsted is most famous for his work designing New York’s Central Park. But, as a young man finding his way in life, he was assigned to travel throughout the Southern states to get a sense of what the people were like, and why slavery was so deeply ingrained in Southern culture. This was during the run up to the Civil War and American society was starting to fray over the issue of slavery. One hundred sixty some odd years later, during another turbulent time in America, Tony Horwitz ambitiously set out to follow Olmsted’s route, as best he could, to learn about life in the South today. A summary on the book jacket asks the question, “Is America still one country?” It is a difficult question, and the fact that the question can even be asked is troubling enough. “Spying on the South” does not alleviate the fear of a divided America, however, Tony Horwitz leavens the story of his grand adventure with bits of humor and a few tales of kindness and friendship towards a curious Yankee immersed in what sometimes seems like foreign territory.

Nov 18, 2019

This should be on every student booklist. So much hidden information. Wonderfully well researched, inserts of humor that had me giggling, details of tragedies that make you want to weep. Highly recommended.

Nov 07, 2019

I really wanted to like this book, but found is difficult to stay engaged and didn’t finish it.

Aug 21, 2019

The premise is great and the book starts off really good. Then it tanks into the typical limousine liberal criticizing the south and trying to explain why Trump won in 2016.

Aug 19, 2019

The last book from a brilliant, thoughtful, inquisitive, creative and original observer of people and the way they get through the day. It’s sad that he left before he could see the positive swing, if there is one, through the country since this is a book documenting how the country has suffered since Olmsted’s time, and more sadly, since mid-twentieth century. If you want to read about a lot of working too hard in awful conditions while being angry and blaming the wrong people, while not getting head and almost smelling the sweat right off the page, this is the book for you.

Unfortunately, I have family like this and it was hard, almost impossible to continue reading sometimes. The Olmsted sections were lovely, like reading history. Unfortunately, the juxtaposition of descriptions of life in simpler but harsher times compared to now in our complicated, rush-rush, side-hustle, working several jobs to just get by, angry at the “other” people who are getting more or cutting ahead in line, does not put one’s mind at ease. In fact, it makes one consider what the idea of progress is, and what we’ve gained for all our civilization and technology.

That’s why we read, right?

Jul 20, 2019

Hard to believe we won't be able to enjoy the wit and wisdom of Tony Horwitz following his unexpected death on May 27, 2019. His last book traces Frederick Olmsted's journeys through the deep South and Texas from 1852 to 1857. Along the way we're given a history lesson on segregation and its deep roots in American culture and policy, then and now. A must read.

Jun 12, 2019

This was not my favorite Tony Horwitz (RIP) book. I always like his style, but I found it difficult to follow the sometimes nebulous link between Frederick Law Olmsted's travel & experiences and Mr. Horwitz's travels. That being said, I always enjoy his books and it was really interesting learning about FLO.


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