The Thin Light of Freedom: Civil War and Emancipation in the Heart of America

Edward L. Ayers. Norton, $35 (640p) ISBN 978-0-393-29263-3
Ayers, president emeritus of the University of Richmond, follows his 2004 Bancroft Prize winner, In the Presence of Mine Enemies, by telling the story of the final years of the Civil War in the Great Valley between the Blue Ridge and Appalachian mountains. Both north and south of the Mason-Dixon Line, the valley was the scene of brutal fighting. Like its predecessor, this book is grounded in the experiences of combatants and civilians alike, enslaved and free, harrowed by bitter war and at the mercy of uncontrollable forces. Rather than centering the story on leading figures, politics, and military strategy, Ayers shares riveting details about average, resilient people trying to survive the devastation around them. He describes, for instance, the deadly violence perpetrated by marauding cavalry forces in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, and the total destruction of the northern town of Chambersburg, Pa., by fire. Readers looking for a conventional history of the Civil War or a fresh interpretation of it will find neither here. They’ll instead discover on-the-ground, local history of ravaged communities and besieged Americans struggling through a terrible war and the vexations of Reconstruction. Ayers focuses on the thoughts, fears, and hopes of normal people struggling to stay alive and make sense of the murderous events taking place around them. The result is a superb, readable work of history. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 07/31/2017
Release date: 10/24/2017
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 640 pages - 978-0-393-29264-0
MP3 CD - 978-1-5436-9112-2
Paperback - 640 pages - 978-0-393-35643-4
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