Tony Horwitz’s Greatest Book, Confederates in the Attic, Seems Even More Crucial TodayRoundup
tags: Tony Horwitz, Confederates in the Attic
Rebecca Onion is a Slate staff writer and the author of Innocent Experiments.
Author Tony Horwitz died on Monday, at age 60. Horwitz won the Pulitzer Prize in 1995 for his writing on working conditions in low-wage jobs; he was the author of many books, including a new one—Spying on the South: An Odyssey Across the American Divide—that just came out this month. But it’s Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished American Civil War, which Horwitz published in 1998, that’s beloved by historians, educators, and, as far as I can tell, everyone else. Confederates remains, 21 years later, smart, humane, and addictively snappy and stylish. It’s also an artifact of a much more optimistic time, when the partisan divide in this country could still furnish material for an entertaining, thought-provoking travelogue. Given Horwitz’s empathy for both the defenders of Confederate “heritage” and the black citizens of the South who live alongside those defenders, some passages of the book read now like a document from the distant past.
Confederates in the Attic, which I first encountered in an American studies undergraduate classroom a few years after it came out, is a gift to teachers of American history. It’s wryly funny but sneakily profound: Horwitz packs the book with the goofy practices of die-hard historical reenactors (“You don’t talk about Monday Night football,” one reenactor told Horwitz; “you curse Abe Lincoln or say things like, ‘I wonder how Becky’s getting on back at the farm’”), but Confederates is essentially a book-length argument for the continuing importance of history in everyday life.
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