History books are always going to find a way to my reading stand. One of the reasons is that I had one of the country’s greatest historians as a professor back in the day. Ed Ayers told the story of the United States, particularly of the American South, with an eye for conflicts, resilience, and human progress through resistance.
Fortunately for all of us, he still does and his latest history, The Thin Light of Freedom: The Civil War and Emancipation in the Heart of America, is another master work. Starting in the middle of the war and moving through Reconstruction, Ayers uses two communities — Augusta County, Virginia and Franklin County, Pennsylvania — to show how the conflict that was exploding on the battlefields of Gettysburg and Petersburg didn’t end with Appomattox in 1865, but only transformed into a new type of conflict, one that bears uncomfortable resemblances to our current Great Divide.
The Thin Light of Freedom makes it in at #8 on the Heartlands list this year, and not just because Ayers is my old advisor and one of my favorite people to talk to. This is great history everybody ought to read.