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American Oracle: The Civil War in the Civil Rights Era Hardcover – October 26, 2011

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 328 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press; First Edition edition (October 26, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674048555
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674048553
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.9 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #800,477 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


The ghosts of the Civil War never leave us, as David Blight knows perhaps better than anyone, and in this superb book he masterfully unites two distant but inextricably bound events with insightful dissection of the works of four of our best writers, writers obsessed with coming to terms with our original sin. (Ken Burns)

Truly a tour de force… intellectual history and criticism at the highest level, told with passion and artistry. (Fitzhugh Brundage, author of The Southern Past)

Perceptive, eloquent, and timely, Blight's book should find a wide and appreciative audience. (Gary Gallagher, author of The Union War)

Blight's elegant narrative enables us to see the full, enduring, significance of the Civil War in the consciousness of four major writers. An outstanding achievement. (Caryl Phillips, author of Dancing in the Dark)

The Civil War has given us not only great history, literature, and art, but also great works of thought. David Blight enriches this canon by probing the war's power to haunt and inspire every generation. American Oracle is intellectual history at its best—deep terrain, mined by a scholar who brings gems to the page. (Tony Horwitz, author of Confederates in the Attic)

During the middle decades of the twentieth century the United States faced a dual challenge—of civility and memory, each one race-related. David Blight develops deep biographical links to connect and explain those troubled years, and does so with eloquence. He thereby adds a brilliant new aspect to the field of American memory studies. (Michael Kammen, Newton C. Farr Professor of American History and Culture (Emeritus) at Cornell University and Past President of the Organization of American Historians)

This is a distinctive addition to the books about the Civil War and how we view it on the conflict's 150th anniversary. (Publishers Weekly 2011-06-27)

As the sesquicentennial of the Civil War (2011–15) begins, historian Blight examines how we handled the centennial, which occurred at the infancy of the civil rights movement, and the persistent questioning about all the elements that were at the heart of the nation-rending civil conflict. History and great literature blend beautifully as Blight conducts his examination of the works of four writers--Robert Penn Warren, southern-born novelist; Bruce Catton, historian and journalist; Edmund Wilson, literary critic; and James Baldwin, northern-born essayist and race critic--providing background and context for their works and their views of the centennial and all its commercialism and hypocrisy. From their different perspectives, the four offer "a way of understanding the Civil War both as something very American and as an event in a larger human drama." Blight explores Warren's straightforward look at the racism at the heart of the war and the continued hypocrisy of southern commemorations, Catton's cold-eyed examination of the cost of war, Wilson's deconstruction of the war as a unifier of the nation, and Baldwin's chastisement of American racism. Throughout, Blight explores the mythology that came out of the Civil War and the sense of American redemption that did not include any examination of the tragedies of racism and slavery. (Vanessa Bush Booklist (starred review) 2011-09-15)

David W. Blight's richly interpretive American Oracle contextualizes the sentimentalized celebration of the Civil War in the early 1960s within the tense realities of the civil rights era and the Cold War. Blight unravels the complexities of Civil War memory and meaning at a time when most white Americans considered restoration of the Union, not emancipation, as the war's grand result. (John David Smith Charlotte Observer 2011-09-25)

This book is several things, suggests Blight, but he hits it best when he characterizes it as a "discussion of four Americans in search of their country's history." In doing so, he gives us more than a history lesson: he presents an introspective journey into America's most complex and enigmatic historical event through the minds of four exceptional storytellers. He offers us the opportunity to revisit a monumental tragedy and thereby invites us to probe its meaning. If we do, we will not only be reacquainted with a defining American moment but we will also learn more about who America is, and why. (James T. Crouse Times Higher Education 2011-11-10)

David Blight has written a searching and suggestive book. (Andrew Delbanco New York Review of Books 2012-02-09)

Overall a valuable contribution to historical understanding. (D. Schaefer Choice 2012-02-01)

About the Author

David W. Blight is Class of 1954 Professor of History at Yale University.

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Customer Reviews

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Cicero66 on August 12, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The national memory of the Civil War has always been an interest of mine and David Blight has been an author I've found who shares that interest, This book, like his others, is masterfully told and I read it within a few days, making abundant notes and highlights throughout. My wife says she can judge how much I liked a book by how heavily it's highlighted after I finish.
This one is loaded. An entertaining and educational look at the memory of the CW as seen by four literary "giants", with their views analysed, dissected, and clarified by Blight. I loved it!
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By G. Wickersham on June 13, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Reviewing what five important writers were saying at the time of the Civil War centennial is a superb way of analyzing the historiography of this conflict (especially since we're going through the 150th anniversary now). It also puts the Civil Rights movement of the early 1960s in a different light, b/c as many historians have noted, we're still fighting over the Civil War and what it means today.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By John G. Collinge on October 18, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a jewel of a book by a very perceptive historian. It is a quick but rich read. Blight's treatment of how four leading authors of the 1960s, Robert Penn Warren, Bruce Catton, Edmund Wilson and James Baldwin responded to the Civil War Centennial in the context of the Civil Rights struggle is full of insights. All of the essays are excellent but I particularly liked his treatment of Robert Penn Warren, an author I did not know very well. Blight is very sensitive to Warren's honesty and openness in his efforts to understand the legacy of slavery and the Civil War. This book stands alone but it should be read in tandem with Blight's earlier study, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory.
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