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

W. W. Norton & Company
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“An extremely good writer, [Ayers] is well worth reading . . . on the South and Southern history.”—Stephen Sears, Boston Globe The Southern past has proven to be fertile ground for great works of history. Peculiarities of tragic proportions—a system of slavery flourishing in a land of freedom, secession and Civil War tearing at a federal Union, deep poverty persisting in a nation of fast-paced development—have fed the imaginations of some of our most accomplished historians.

Foremost in their ranks today is Edward L. Ayers, author of the award-winning and ongoing study of the Civil War in the heart of America, the Valley of the Shadow Project. In wide-ranging essays on the Civil War, the New South, and the twentieth-century South, Ayers turns over the rich soil of Southern life to explore the sources of the nation's and his own history. The title essay, original here, distills his vast research and offers a fresh perspective on the nation's central historical event.
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About the author

Edward L. Ayers is the author of the Bancroft Prize–winning In the Presence of Mine Enemies and other works of history honored as finalists for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. A recipient of the National Humanities Medal from President Obama, Ayers is Tucker-Boatwright Professor of the Humanities and president emeritus at the University of Richmond.

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W. W. Norton & Company
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Published on
Aug 17, 2006
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History / United States / Civil War Period (1850-1877)
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At a public picnic in the South in the 1890s, a young man paid five cents for his first chance to hear the revolutionary Edison talking machine. He eagerly listened as the soundman placed the needle down, only to find that through the tubes he held to his ears came the chilling sounds of a lynching. In this story, with its blend of new technology and old hatreds, genteel picnics and mob violence, Edward Ayers captures the history of the South in the years between Reconstruction and the turn of the century. Ranging from the Georgia coast to the Tennessee mountains, from the power brokers to tenant farmers, Ayers depicts a land of startling contrasts. Ayers takes us from remote Southern towns, revolutionized by the spread of the railroads, to the statehouses where Democratic Redeemers swept away the legacy of Reconstruction; from the small farmers, trapped into growing nothing but cotton, to the new industries of Birmingham; from abuse and intimacy in the family to tumultuous public meetings of the prohibitionists. He explores every aspect of society, politics, and the economy, detailing the importance of each in the emerging New South. Central to the entire story is the role of race relations, from alliances and friendships between blacks and whites to the spread of Jim Crows laws and disfranchisement. The teeming nineteenth-century South comes to life in these pages. When this book first appeared in 1992, it won a broad array of prizes and was a finalist for both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. The citation for the National Book Award declared Promise of the New South a vivid and masterfully detailed picture of the evolution of a new society. The Atlantic called it "one of the broadest and most original interpretations of southern history of the past twenty years.
A riveting historical narrative of the heart-stopping events surrounding the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, and the first work of history from mega-bestselling author Bill O'Reilly

The iconic anchor of The O'Reilly Factor recounts one of the most dramatic stories in American history—how one gunshot changed the country forever. In the spring of 1865, the bloody saga of America's Civil War finally comes to an end after a series of increasingly harrowing battles. President Abraham Lincoln's generous terms for Robert E. Lee's surrender are devised to fulfill Lincoln's dream of healing a divided nation, with the former Confederates allowed to reintegrate into American society. But one man and his band of murderous accomplices, perhaps reaching into the highest ranks of the U.S. government, are not appeased.

In the midst of the patriotic celebrations in Washington D.C., John Wilkes Booth—charismatic ladies' man and impenitent racist—murders Abraham Lincoln at Ford's Theatre. A furious manhunt ensues and Booth immediately becomes the country's most wanted fugitive. Lafayette C. Baker, a smart but shifty New York detective and former Union spy, unravels the string of clues leading to Booth, while federal forces track his accomplices. The thrilling chase ends in a fiery shootout and a series of court-ordered executions—including that of the first woman ever executed by the U.S. government, Mary Surratt. Featuring some of history's most remarkable figures, vivid detail, and page-turning action, Killing Lincoln is history that reads like a thriller.

Winner of the Lincoln Prize

Acclaimed historian Doris Kearns Goodwin illuminates Abraham Lincoln's political genius in this highly original work, as the one-term congressman and prairie lawyer rises from obscurity to prevail over three gifted rivals of national reputation to become president.

On May 18, 1860, William H. Seward, Salmon P. Chase, Edward Bates, and Abraham Lincoln waited in their hometowns for the results from the Republican National Convention in Chicago. When Lincoln emerged as the victor, his rivals were dismayed and angry.

Throughout the turbulent 1850s, each had energetically sought the presidency as the conflict over slavery was leading inexorably to secession and civil war. That Lincoln succeeded, Goodwin demonstrates, was the result of a character that had been forged by experiences that raised him above his more privileged and accomplished rivals. He won because he possessed an extraordinary ability to put himself in the place of other men, to experience what they were feeling, to understand their motives and desires.

It was this capacity that enabled Lincoln as president to bring his disgruntled opponents together, create the most unusual cabinet in history, and marshal their talents to the task of preserving the Union and winning the war.

We view the long, horrifying struggle from the vantage of the White House as Lincoln copes with incompetent generals, hostile congressmen, and his raucous cabinet. He overcomes these obstacles by winning the respect of his former competitors, and in the case of Seward, finds a loyal and crucial friend to see him through.

This brilliant multiple biography is centered on Lincoln's mastery of men and how it shaped the most significant presidency in the nation's history.
Winner of the Lincoln Prize

A landmark Civil War history told from a fresh, deeply researched ground-level perspective.

At the crux of America’s history stand two astounding events: the immediate and complete destruction of the most powerful system of slavery in the modern world, followed by a political reconstruction in which new constitutions established the fundamental rights of citizens for formerly enslaved people. Few people living in 1860 would have dared imagine either event, and yet, in retrospect, both seem to have been inevitable.

In a beautifully crafted narrative, Edward L. Ayers restores the drama of the unexpected to the history of the Civil War. He does this by setting up at ground level in the Great Valley counties of Augusta, Virginia, and Franklin, Pennsylvania, communities that shared a prosperous landscape but were divided by the Mason-Dixon Line. From the same vantage point occupied by his unforgettable characters, Ayers captures the strategic savvy of Lee and his local lieutenants, and the clear vision of equal rights animating black troops from Pennsylvania. We see the war itself become a scourge to the Valley, its pitched battles punctuating a cycle of vicious attack and reprisal in which armies burned whole towns for retribution. In the weeks and months after emancipation, from the streets of Staunton, Virginia, we see black and white residents testing the limits of freedom as political leaders negotiate the terms of readmission to the Union.

Ayers deftly shows throughout how the dynamics of political opposition drove these momentous events, transforming once unimaginable outcomes into fact. With analysis as powerful as its narrative, here is a landmark history of the Civil War.

With a unique attention to time as the defining nature of history, CENGAGE ADVANTAGE BOOKS: AMERICAN PASSAGES: A HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES, 4e, offers students a view of American history as a complete, compelling narrative. AMERICAN PASSAGES emphasizes the intertwined nature of three key characteristics of time--sequence, simultaneity, and contingency. With clarity and purpose, the authors convey how events grow from other events, people's actions, and broad structural changes (sequence), how apparently disconnected events occurred in close chronological proximity to one another and were situated in larger, shared contexts (simultaneity), and how history suddenly pivoted because of events, personalities, and unexpected outcomes (contingency). To meet the demand for a low-cost, high-quality survey text, CENGAGE ADVANTAGE BOOKS: AMERICAN PASSAGES: A HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES, 4e, offers readers the complete text in an economically priced format. All volumes feature a paperbound, two-color format that appeals to those seeking a comprehensive, trade-sized history text. Available in the following split options: CENGAGE ADVANTAGE BOOKS: AMERICAN PASSAGES: A HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES, Fourth Edition (Chapters 1-32), ISBN: 978-0-547-16646-9; Volume I: To 1877, (Chapters 1-16), ISBN: 978-0-547-16630-8; Volume II: Since 1865, (Chapters 16-32), ISBN: 978-0-547-16628-5.
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