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West Virginia: A History (States and the Nation) Paperback – August 17, 1984

4.3 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From the Back Cover

John Alexander Williams's West Virginia: A History is widely considered one of the finest books ever written about our state. In his clear, eminently readable style, Williams organizes the tangled strands of West Virginia's past around a few dramatic events-the battle of Point Pleasant, John Brown's insurrection in Harper's Ferry, the Paint Creek labor movement, the Hawk's Nest and Buffalo Creek disasters, and more. Williams uses these pivotal events as introductions to the larger issues of statehood, Civil War, unionism, and industrialization. Along the way, Williams conveys a true feel for the lives of common West Virginians, the personalities of the state's memorable characters, and the powerful influence of the land itself on its own history.

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

John Alexander Williams received his doctorate in history from Yale University in 1966, having studied with the eminent American historian, C. Vann Woodward. He taught at the University of Notre Dame and the University of Illinois at Chicago before joining the Department of History at West Virginia University in 1972. He is now Professor of History at Appalachian State University in Boone, NC, having also directed the Center for Appalachian Studies for seven years. He is the author of West Virginia and the Captains of Industry, a West Virginia University Press classic.

Product Details

  • Series: States and the Nation
  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (August 17, 1984)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393301826
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393301823
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 0.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #757,483 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
"West Virginia" is a fast reading introduction to the history of the Mountain State. Beginning with a brief section on the region from Revolutionary times, the book quickly moves on to the Civil War era which gave birth to West Virginia statehood.
The Unionist sentiment in the Western part of Virginia resulted, in 1863, in the only case of succession of a portion of one state from another in American history. The Civil War in West Virginia is portrayed both in its military and political aspects.
Williams tells the story of the evolution of West Virginia from the political, economic and social perspectives. The fabled Hatfield-MCcoy feud is given ample attention, as is the Hatfield who served his state as governor and United States Senator.
In a state with an undistinguished political history, Williams introduces the reader to a series of governors, senators and political bosses who struggled with absentee landowners, rail and coal concerns and labor leaders to lead West Virginia through the 19th and 20th centuries.
The story of West Virginia is a story of hope and despair, promise and danger, fulfillment and disappointment. Through it all Williams presents its story as a drama, partly heroic and partly tragic. Not a partisan Mountaineer booster, Williams tells the good with the bad. For anyone wishing to know the history of our country, state by state, this book fills in one piece of the American mosaic in a most pleasant fashion.
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Format: Paperback
I feel like I'm cheating the writer by giving it only four stars, because this book's great strength is its biggest flaw: It's a very good read. This is a broad outline of West Virginia history with some of the more important events colored in a bit. It's a bit over 200 pages and reads a like a novel.

I wish this had been the text we used in West Virginia history class back in junior high in the instead of that dreadful, trivia-laden textbook.

It's divided into chapters named after some of West Virginia places where major events in state history took place, (Point Pleasant, Harpers Ferry, Droop Mountain, Tug Fork, Paint Creek, Hawks Nest, Buffalo Creek) but the chapters cover far more in geography and time than the events that made the places famous. The Droop Mountain chapter, for instance covers not only that battle, but most of the Civil War and statehood period.

So it's not all-inclusive (Jim Comstock tried to do that with his West Virginia encyclopedia), but that's what makes it a pleasure to read and not a chore. One night when I couldn't sleep I picked up Williams' book and started in the middle, in the Paint Creek chapter. I was more than 30 pages into the book and into the next chapter before I could sleep.
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Format: Paperback
239 pages long and written by John A. Williams, "West Virginia: a history" was originally published in 1976 by W.W. Norton & Co., Inc. as "West Virginia: A Bicentennial History". It is remarkable in that it is not slow moving or boring even for those who find its subject matter interesting. This book reads more like a novel, and I found it quite compelling all the way through. "West Virginia: a history" tells as thorough a story of the Mountain State as any book does. It tells a story of joyous triumph but more often than not one of bitterness and hardship. West Virginia has many dark aspects to its history, and this book does not shy away from them. It is ironic that West Virginia was allowed to secede from the already seceding Commonwealth of Virginia in order to remain in the United States. If secession truly were illegal and wrong, West Virginia would not have been allowed to exist, regardless of who won the Civil War. It is also ironic that as the book points out, many of West Virginia's constituent counties were not interested in leaving Virginia but got dragged along anyway. Beginning in the colonial days of the Commonwealth, continuing into the Civil War and statehood years, and ending just after the final end of the Vietnam War, "West Virginia: a history" is an excellent and fascinating book. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in West Virginia and how it came to be.
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By 5/0 on March 22, 2013
Format: Paperback
"West Virginia: a History" by John Alexander Williams

Despite the unassuming title this talented treatment of the history of West Virginia is a most excellent read.
West Virginia, the state and the area, has long been a sort of "stepchild" that the country wasn't quite sure what to do with and, sometimes, it didn't know what to do with itself. Since even before the American Revolution, West(ern) Virginia has been something of an enigma.
Given the technologies of the 17th, 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries, West(ern) Virginia was definitely not a place for sissies. The various hardy (and hard-bitten) cultures that came and grew there were long shrouded in mystery and legend and misunderstanding just as surely as their homes were shrouded by the mountain mists.
This book is something of a "tour guide" taking the reader to unique places that figured prominently in West(ern) Virginia's rather rambunctious history. Williams visits the famous feuds (real and imaginary), the sins of the "extraction industries" and their political puppets, the hearts of the peoples and the soul of the land. It is a unique and very readable treatment that makes one wish more histories were presented so well.
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