Read What Caused the Civil War?: Reflections on the South and Southern History by Edward L. Ayers Online


The past of the American South, with its peculiarities of tragic proportions-a system of slavery flourishing in a land of freedom, secession and Civil War tearing at the Union, poverty persisting in a nation of fast-paced development-is fertile ground for great works of history. Here in wide-ranging essays, today's foremost Southern historian turns over the rich soil of liThe past of the American South, with its peculiarities of tragic proportions-a system of slavery flourishing in a land of freedom, secession and Civil War tearing at the Union, poverty persisting in a nation of fast-paced development-is fertile ground for great works of history. Here in wide-ranging essays, today's foremost Southern historian turns over the rich soil of life in the South....

Title : What Caused the Civil War?: Reflections on the South and Southern History
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780393059472
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 222 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

What Caused the Civil War?: Reflections on the South and Southern History Reviews

  • Dale
    2019-06-02 19:30

    This wonderful set of nine essays is just about as complete of a discussion of the South, the Civil War, Reconstruction, family, home, historical research and some practical applications of the lessons of the Civil War for us today as I have read.It seems to me that most of these essays have been published somewhere else first. That being said, Ayers has arranged them in a rough chronological order based not on the historical topic of the essay but on Ayers's own life. He starts with his own childhood in Eastern Tennessee and Western North Carolina and his own growing understand of what it means to be a Southerner. As the essays go along, Ayers goes to college, travels the world a bit and eventually returns to the South to do research and eventually teach at the University of Virginia. As Ayers moves through his education and his career he develops a perspective on the Civil War and that perspective changes as he grows in his research.The best essay was the title essay. Ayers has a surprisingly...Read more at: all of my Civil War-related reviews at:

  • Josh Liller
    2019-05-25 22:32

    Coincidently, this is the second consecutive book I have read where the subtitle is more accurate about the book's contents than the title. Despite the Confederate soldier on the cover, this book actually has very little to do with the Civil War itself. The essays are the author's thoughts and experiences with Southern history. It argues the South is much more complex than widely believed and typically portrayed, and the Civil War's causes are likewise complicated. But the book is too light to feel like it gets anywhere or strongly argues it's point. That's a problem I've noticed with short books (about 200 pages or less) - they simply aren't long enough to go into any real depth.

  • Holly
    2019-05-19 17:26

    I got this book at Gettysburg...i dont even think i spelled it rit...oh learn alot in this book. I bet some of my friends dont even belive i am reading this...i bet they think i dont even listen in Class..

  • Isidore
    2019-05-26 20:11

    Ayers is one of the most fair-minded modern historians specializing in the South. This slender collection contains several mediocre essays, a couple of trivial ones, and two that should be mandatory reading for everybody coming in contact with this period of history.The essential articles are "Worrying About the Civil War" and the title piece. Ayers divides historians in this field into two basic camps: the "fundamentalists", who argue for an inevitable conflict resulting from the irreconcilability of slavery and freedom, and the "revisionists", who see the war as contingent upon a myriad of political, ideological, and economic factors, and finally set in motion by personalities and events. Both schools are right, and wrong. He sums it up this way:"The war came through misunderstanding, confusion, miscalculation. Both sides underestimated the location of fundamental loyalty in the other. Both received incorrect images of the other in the partisan press. Political belief distorted each side's view of the other's economy and class relations. Both sides believed the other was bluffing. . . By the time people made up their minds to fight, slavery itself had become obscured. Southern white men did not fight for slavery; they fought for a new nation based on slavery. White northerners did not fight to end slavery; they fought to defend the integrity of their nation. Yet slavery, as Abraham Lincoln later put it, 'somehow' drove everything."This is essentially the same position staked out years ago by David Potter, and one would think such a nuanced, readily-supported argument would end discussion. But, as Ayers demonstrates, American historiography is often not about what actually happened in the past, but about how we want to manipulate the present.Ayers unpacks the mind-set of the dominant school of today's Civil War historians, which dissidents have dubbed the "neo-Radical" or "neo-abolitionist" school. Preeminent in this school is James McPherson, whose perspective reached a mass audience through Ken Burns's TV series. McPherson is up front about regarding the Civil War as an exemplary tale: "Lincoln led the country through the worst of times to a triumph that left America stronger, more free, and more democratic. And that offers a lesson not only for Americans but also for the whole family of man." Historians who argue that the South might have fought for something other than slavery, or that the North fought out of self-interest, have to be beaten off as threats to this beautiful, inspiring vision of the past, and the preceding century of historiography, which insisted on exploring complexities rather than championing the Fight for Freedom, has to be derided and expunged.Why does any of this really matter? Because, as Ayers suggests, the function of the neo-abolitionist story is to serve present needs. It feeds the need of Americans and their rulers to avoid self-criticism:"The current interpretation reassures Americans by reconciling the great anomaly of slavery with an overarching story of a people devoted to liberty. These stories reassure Americans by reconciling the horrors of fratricidal war with a vision of a peace-loving republic devoted to democracy and prosperity. They tell the story of a devastating war so that it seems not merely unavoidable but transformative and ultimately healing. . . . Such faith in the transformative effects of warfare can make it easier for Americans to find other wars natural and inevitable."In other words, an interpretation of the Civil War in which 'the real America whips the bad guys and creates freedom' is very obviously useful for export.These two essays hit the ball out of the park. Others are merely worthwhile: "What We Talk About When We Talk About the South" is an interesting look at the South's image, how it defines itself, and how it is defined by others, but is too casual and brief to do justice to its subject; "Telling the Story of the New South" is a critical look at W.J. Cash and C. Vann Woodward, and a suitable introduction to Ayers's The Promise of the New South; "Exporting Reconstruction" doesn't live up to the promise of its title, although it has good moments. There is also a fairly interesting autobiographical piece explaining the circuitous route by which Ayers came to be a Southern historian. The only skippable article is a truly dull item on Ayers's struggle to use early computer technology as a research tool.Just this past week I read that Ayers has been chosen to be part of the team which is to recommend how Richmond, Virginia should provide corrective "context" to its array of Confederate monuments. If anyone can do the job without swapping old propaganda for new, he's the man.

  • Ben Yaxley
    2019-06-01 16:11

    Informative, interesting and really easy to read- maybe too easy to read. I feel like a lot of the information flew right by me, however, I did read most of it while sleep deprived on a plane. The best thing about it is the broad scope: a great entry point to the topic which discusses and triangulates much of the influential texts already written on the New South and Civil War. It contextualises a lot of what the world understands of "the South" in popular culture and literature- helpful if you want to know where Faulkners characters are coming from. More or less a light and engaging introduction to the subject that knowingly helps us skim the surface of a deep, diverse pond.

  • Jerel Wilmore
    2019-05-21 20:26

    A collection of essays reflecting on themes related to the American Civil War and Southern History. Overall, a good read, but important to understand going in that it is a collection of essays, not a single unified historical treatment of the causes of the American Civil War.

  • Ben Chin
    2019-05-17 19:30

    What Caused the Civil War? by Edward L Ayers is about his personal experiences of growing up in the American South and being influenced by its culture, traditions, and values. It also has much to do with the history of the south and events that would be causes of the Civil war. The book, however, does not specifically address the question, "What caused the Civil war?", directly. The introduction of the book is mainly about his accounts of growing up in the south and the latter portion is more historical and fact based. He does say that some of the most critical causes of the Civil war were slavery, economics, and the rights of states. I thought that this book was alright, but I did not expect it to be so much about his personal accounts of growing up in the South. I thought that it would have more direct answers to the main question, as well as some (answers) that I did not already basically know. I probably wouldn't recommend this book to anyone, unless they were looking for a sub-par American history novel. Even though some of the facts and reading about his own experiences growing up in the South were interesting, the book as a whole was pretty boring. Three things that I learned from this book are that the American South is a whole different atmosphere than anywhere else in America, their traditions and values are not as stereotypical as media portrays them, and they are much more complex than we think (there is more to them than just country music and rednecks).

  • Derek Postlewaite
    2019-05-24 20:10

    While there were certainly good essays/chapters in this book, there were at least two that failed to both capture my attention and answer the question, "What caused the Civil War?" One high note included the mention of counterfactual history questions, e.g. "What would the U.S. look like if the North had overwhelmed the South in 1862?" The point being: the North was not yet fighting to end slavery, and was merely attempting to preserve the Union. Overall, I found the book to be too thin on deep analysis of the topic question, and too heavy handed on conclusive generalizations (which rarely speak to me) and extraneous discussion of the author's work and past projects.

  • Anne
    2019-06-06 17:23

    After dropping off the kid at college and listening to the university President, the author, speak, I was inspired to read one of his books. After perusing this one in the University of Richmond campus bookstore, I was immediately hooked. I wondered how my history teachers managed to make the Civil War so boring! This book flows and reads easily, and I was equally engrossed in Ayer's personal story and journey as well as his modern and historical perspectives. He presents great insight on the great divide between the North and South, now and then, that cause so much bled shed. I read some History, and I liked it!

  • Deedee
    2019-05-27 20:22

    First three lines:"It took me a while to figure out that I was a Southerner. Other identities, not a few of them mistaken, dawned on me first. I had to see the South at a distance before I could see its shape and understand its power."OK. This is not how a history book begins. This is how a personal memoir begins. I had checked this book out of the library to read about the causes of the Civil War. I'm returning the book next week.

  • Alix Hope
    2019-05-19 23:34

    Overall, very interesting! Not quite what I was looking for (I'm looking for books on the Reconstruction itself more than anything) but each essay was fascinating, and incredibly helpful in settling the South and the study of its history in the modern context.

  • Kristin
    2019-05-25 20:05

    Good book that has points that make you consider your own knowledge of the Civil War. If you're looking for an answer to the title question, you may or may not find it.

  • Stephanie
    2019-05-25 18:06

    Essays on various topics from a Southern Historian. It was more about the field of Southern history than the historical events themselves.

  • Damien
    2019-06-14 19:29

    I didn't really enjoy the author's writing style. He has a very condescending tone throughout the book and is very dismissive of other author's arguments. It takes him 133 pages for his thesis to make an appearance and it isn't convincing. I read this for a Civil War class and gathered very little from it.