Spying on the South: Book summary and reviews of Spying on the South by Tony Horwitz

Spying on the South

An Odyssey Across the American Divide

by Tony Horwitz

Spying on the South by Tony Horwitz X
Spying on the South by Tony Horwitz
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Book Summary

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.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"A huge canvas of intricate details, this thoughtful and observant work delicately navigates the long shadow of America's history." - Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"A tour is only as good as its guide, and Horwitz is a seasoned one—inquisitive, open-minded, and opting for observation over judgment." - Booklist

"Not as sprightly as some of the author's past reports from the fringes but provocative and well worth reading." - Kirkus Reviews

"Tony Horwitz's reporting is fearless and persistent and inspired—and it produces views of America like no one else's. Spying on the South kept me turning the pages to see what frightening and funny revelation was coming next. An important book for our almost unprecedented moment in history." - Ian Frazier, author of Great Plains

"Tony Horwitz retraces the steps of America's greatest landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted, whose encounters with slavery forced him to rethink the role of civic spaces in the American experiment. Horwitz brings home a magnificent account of who we have been and what we might still become." - Henry Louis Gates, Jr., author of Stony the Road

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Author Information

Tony Horwitz Author Biography

© Gerrit Fokkema

Tony Horwitz is a native of Washington, D.C., and a graduate of Brown University and Columbia Universitys Graduate School of Journalism. He worked for many years as a reporter, first in Indiana and then during a decade overseas in Australia, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, mostly covering wars and conflicts as a foreign correspondent for The Wall Street Journal. After returning to the U.S., he won the Pulitzer Prize for national reporting and worked as a staff writer for The New Yorker before becoming a full-time author.

Four of his books have been national and New York Times bestsellers: A Voyage Long and Strange, Blue Latitudes, Confederates in the Attic, and Baghdad Without A Map. His other work includes Mississippi Wood, a documentary on PBS about Southern loggers; The Devil May...

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