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Look Away!: A History of the Confederate States of America Hardcover – April 2, 2002

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Editorial Reviews Review

The military history of the Civil War is well known. The political history of the era, and especially of the South, is less documented, a gap that William Davis's Look Away! admirably addresses.

Although the rhetoric of secession was democratic, invoking the ideals of the American Revolution and its classical forebears, Southern politics was directed by members of a small, self-serving aristocracy. And though the Confederate government advanced what then and now might be thought to be radical proposals (for one, that the postal service had to be self-supporting within two years of its founding), it was intolerant of dissent; the South's leaders, Davis writes, even barred a constitutional provision "recognizing the right of a state to secede." The natural result, Davis shows, was widespread resistance, including the development of a peace movement and of political groups loyal to the old Union. At the end of the war, Davis writes, "Confederate democracy had gone and would not be seen again--but the oligarchies had survived." Davis's study affords a new view on the Civil War, and it makes a fine addition to the overflowing library devoted to that crisis. --Gregory McNamee

From Library Journal

The director of the Virginia Center for Civil War Studies at Virginia Tech, Davis (Lincoln's Men) here offers a sweeping nonmilitary perspective of the Confederacy, examining the political turmoil that led to its creation and the social and economic devastation left after its defeat. Civilian life, civil law and justice, internal dissent, the opposition to Richmond's dictates, and the uneasy relationships between old-line Whigs and Democrats in the Rebel state legislatures and governors' mansions constitute the bulk of the work. With reference to the South's planter class and political base, the author concludes: "They had begun in 1861 as a movement dedicated to the professed belief that sovereignty lay with the states. For four years that democracy went through strains and wrenches testing its ability to resist centralization through one compromise of its ideology after another." Herein lies the kernel of Davis's penetrating analysis of the values and differences among the various factions of the Confederacy. This important contribution to Confederate historiography is recommended for all Civil War collections and major libraries. John Carver Edwards, Univ. of Georgia Libs., Cleveland
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press (April 2, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684865858
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684865850
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.4 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #763,836 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Scott A. Gold on June 20, 2004
Format: Hardcover
In my opinion, this book deserves much praise for presenting an important, but almost completely ignored perspective on the Civil War. The military history is used only as a backdrop in this book. The focus instead is on the political history of the Confederacy. The book opens with the whirlwind in which the southern states seceded from the union and tells the story of the Confederate constitutional convention and of how Jefferson Davis became the Confederate President. The remainder focuses on the politics of the Confederate government. Among the many ironies is how a government that started focusing on "states rights" after suffering through much paralysis, saw the states cede more and more power to the Confederate government as the war went on. The title of this book may lead some to believe that this is some sort of apology for the South. In reality, it is quite critical of the Confederate cause. Those who hold the view that the Civil War was not about slavery but rather about states rights, will have that view challenged. The book is well written and is a must read for anyone interested in the Civil War.
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28 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Wayne A. Smith VINE VOICE on July 24, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is more than a history of the Confederat States of America. It is broader. The book is a history of the polity known as the CSA.
The first few chapters give a strong recap of the different philosophical strains that led the delegates to Montgomery to craft the CSA's constitution. These chapters are well done. The reader has a good idea of the tensions that framed early issues of governance.
In other chapters, Davis writes about federal-state relations, the administration of justice in the Confederacy, the socialization of key industries (in an abortive republic founded on the sanctity of property rights!) and other interesting aspects of the slave nation.
Davis provides many interesting descriptions and some new information -- even for serious Civil War buffs. However, this is somewhat of an uneven book. In several chapters, Davis uses a few or even one anecdote to draw conclusions at a broad level -- the reader is unsure if these descriptions are generally true or extrapolations.
He spends a lot of time with the governors and on dissidents. This is not a drawback, but the book is weighted toward the mindset of the Confederacy as opposed to a description of how it worked and how the machinery of government functioned (or didn't). There are good sections on the frustrations and lives of regular folk. Military aspects are treated with seperate and short sections giving brief descriptions of broad aspects of the war. This is a positive, as it would have been easy to pad a book on the CSA with military recaps that are properly the subject of military histories.
Not bad, overall.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Phillips on September 28, 2002
Format: Hardcover
When one has read several books by the same writer there is a tendency to judge one book against another. That was a problem I had while reading this book. This book is not as well written or as well documented as Davis' other works although it is still much better than many books I have read.
The book begins with the secession of the States and their meeting in Montgomery to form a nation. The delegates met with the mind set that in this new country there would be none of the political fights that had been such a problem in the old Union. They would all, "be of one mind." From the beginning however the factions started to grow. What would become the anti-Davis faction started as a bunch of former fire-eaters who were left out of the new government and grew to include even the Vice President. These men, Rhett, Cobb, Toombs, Stephens, Foote, and Wigfall with egos the size of Texas did vast damage to the Confederacy all through the war. Again and again Davis brings these men up as he looks at different issues Jefferson Davis and the State governments had to face.
These issues were many but most involved how far could the Confederate or State governments go while taking more and more control in order to win the war. The army had to come first and the government began to simply take the things they needed and draft southern men to keep the ranks filled. The States themselves became directly involved in the economy not only telling farmers and industry who they could sell to but what they could produce, and the price they could sell it for. The Confederate and State governments actually began to run industry of their own. As strange as it sounds the southern nation for the most part became an experiment in socialism and a welfare state.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful By John M. Dawson on August 21, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Those of us with Southern ancestral links to the Civil War tend to think of the war in romanticized terms of the virtue of States rights and property rights, the battlefield genius of Lee and Jackson, the heroism of the hard-fighting and under-equipped CSA troops, political oppression by the North and their tariffs, the viciousness of Grant, Sherman, Sheridan, et al. The Lost Cause frame of mind will not survive Look Away! intact. Professor Davis provides a meticulously documented account of the launching and failured nurturing of the Confederacy. His books shows that those men needed time that they didn't have to get through the pettiness and incompetency before going to war. The saddest parts of the book deal with how the CSA Founding Fathers mismanaged and mistreated the civilian population (the women, children, the aged, and the slaves) left behind by the men who went to fight for the Southern cause.
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