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Confederates in the Attic : Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War Hardcover – March 3, 1998

4.3 out of 5 stars 501 customer reviews

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Amazon.com Review

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Tony Horwitz returned from years of traipsing through war zones as a foreign correspondent only to find that his childhood obsession with the Civil War had caught up with him. Near his house in Virginia, he happened to encounter people who reenact the Civil War--men who dress up in period costumes and live as Johnny Rebs and Billy Yanks. Intrigued, he wound up having some odd adventures with the "hardcores," the fellows who try to immerse themselves in the war, hoping to get what they lovingly term a "period rush." Horwitz spent two years reporting on why Americans are still so obsessed with the war, and the ways in which it resonates today. In the course of his work, he made a sobering side trip to cover a murder that was provoked by the display of the Confederate flag, and he spoke to a number of people seeking to honor their ancestors who fought for the Confederacy. Horwitz has a flair for odd details that spark insights, and Confederates in the Attic is a thoughtful and entertaining book that does much to explain America's continuing obsession with the Civil War.

From Publishers Weekly

The first book the author's Russian grandfather bought on emigrating to the U.S., though he neither read nor spoke English, was about the Civil War, a book he still pored over into his 90s. And when Horwitz was a child, his father read him tales of the Civil War instead of fairy tales and children's literature. The powerful hold of that conflict on a diverse assortment of Americans translates into more than 60,000 books on the subject, according to the author; for some Civil War buffs it is an obsession that generates a startling number of clubs whose members regularly reenact the battles, playing out once again the logistics, problems, hardships, leading characters, losses and victories. Horwitz (Baghdad Without a Map), on a year-long exploration of these groups throughout the South, participated in some of their activities and came to know the lives and personalities of several of their members. His vivid, personal account is a mesmerizing review of history from a novel and entertaining angle.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 406 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; 1st edition (March 3, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679439781
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679439783
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6.5 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (501 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #117,318 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Although I don't know more than the average person about the Civil War, I've always had a sneaking suspicion that it is still with us somehow. Tony Horwitz's "Confederates in the Attic" confirmed that suspicion and in a most amusing, touching, and balanced way.
A War reenactor friend recommended I read the book. We were talking about the modern-day states rights concerns and he said that the debate had its origins at Fort Sumter. So, I picked up the book thinking it would simply be a survey of what I now know is called neo-Confederate thought. But I was more than a little bit thrilled to find that it was not just a sociological study, but also a travelogue-probably my favorite kind of book.
After returning to the States from an extended time abroad, Horwitz's childhood interest in the Civil War-and especially Rebels-was rekindled after a band of hardcore reenactors showed up in his yard on their way to a battlefield. Soon he began to tour the South visiting relevant War sites and interviewing the Confederate descendants that kept that cause's heritage alive. Horwitz's has an amazing gift for storytelling and it shines through in this book. He has an uncanny ability to come across mundanely interesting characters in his travels and to write their stories with an original verve.
The book is also balanced. Although he is a Yankee, Horwitz's affinity for the Rebels is evident. But he checks that affinity with a good dose of history and reality. He conveys the notion that the South's resentment of the North is not wholly unjustified, but actually often well placed. At the same time, though, he illustrates the willful naivete that makes Gods of Confederate generals and that forgets the Old South's uglier sides.
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Format: Hardcover
Confederates in the Attic is a good read, but the subtitle, Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War, needs to be understood. This is not an exhaustive study of an issue, but snapshots taken on a journey around the edges; and, it is important to keep in mind, that the one taking the pictures chooses the subjects. In this case, it is the fringe subjects he has chosen. If you do keep that in mind, you can enjoy each snapshot without trying to make it fit into a bigger picture. This is not easy to do since it seems Horwitz himself forgets the dispatch philosophy and tries to bring a continuity to the work by tying it together under the theme of simmering southern racism and the dissenting opinions over the meaning of the Rebel batttle flag. Horwitz is at his best when he simply tells the story and lets it speak for itself. When he tries to extrapolate some greater theme, he gets into trouble. In a work this size, he can not exhaust a subject to present needed objectivity. He reminds me of the blind man grabbing the tail of an elephant and declaring the elephant is like a rope. Read this book like you're looking at the tail of the elephant and enjoy it for what it is--good stories, well told. But don't for a minute think you're viewing the whole elephant.
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Format: Paperback
This book started strong, keeping me rapt, but dragged at the end. Unlike a lot of the previous reviewers, I thought the emphasis on reënactment was rather dull. More interesting were Horwitz's conversations with Shelby Foote and Lee Collins, the HPA president in Atlanta. Collins made a great point when he said the Stars and Stripes flew over slavery for 80 years, while the battle flag never did. I also disagree with other Southerners that this book was totally biased. Sure it was written by a bleeding-heart Yankee, but I thought he did a fairly good job of keeping his personal views quiet, with a few notable exceptions.
I must warn Yankees, however, that this book doesn't really give a great example of what you should expect to encounter when you come to the South. Yes, Southerners take pride in being Southern and honor their Confederate heroes, but it's not as immediate a concern to most people as Horwitz would have you believe. Southerners mainly just don't like always being portrayed by the Northern media as rednecks and racists, when the North has just as many of both. Often this is why we hold dear our Confederate heritage as a kind of fraternal solidarity-bloc to fend off Northern bias.
All in All, good read...in short, you won't put it down before you're done.
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Format: Paperback
When this book first came out, I was concerned that it would, like so many books, paint those who still memorialize the Confederacy as either rabid racists or slack-jawed yokels. However, the photograph of Robert Lee Hodge on the cover kept calling me. Once I took the plunge, I couldn't pull myself out. He critically examines Southrons and our obsession for the War Between The States, yet he does so with pathos, respect, objectivity, and a sense of humor. I haven't enjoyed a vicarious road trip this much since reading Jack Kerouac and Hunter S. Thompson. The chronicle is worth reading, if for nothing else, the 'Gasm with Rob Hodge. He draws some interesting parallels between those re-enacting the 1860's and those attempting to re-enact the 1960's as well.
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