The Age of Astonishment: John Morris in the Extraordinary Century—from the Civil War to the Cold War

Bill Morris. Pegasus, $27.95 (384p) ISBN 978-1-64313-704-9

Novelist Morris (Motor City), a staff writer at The Millions, delivers a poignant biography of his grandfather, John Morris, a University of Georgia philologist. Though Morris touches on the technological and political upheavals of his grandfather’s lifetime, he pays the greatest attention to racial issues, noting that John was born on a Virginia plantation in 1863 and died in 1955, the same year Emmett Till was murdered. While some of his peers in Virginia and Georgia dove into Lost Cause fanaticism, John saw slavery as evil and once drove his daughter to a farmhouse where a Black man had been lynched because “he wanted her to know about [it] and think about [it] and never forget.” Elsewhere, Morris discusses John’s support for women’s suffrage and surmises that he sympathized with striking laborers. Though Morris does an admirable job contextualizing his grandfather’s life, he often veers into speculation, as when he imagines that John would have seen nationwide racial violence during the Red Summer of 1919 as “a perverse vindication of his decision to remain in the South.” Still, this is an immersive and moving portrait of a quietly decent man and his monumental era. (Apr.)
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