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The New Mind of the South Hardcover – March 5, 2013
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“Thompson, a writer who lopes easily from the dispensing of statistics to shoe-leather reporting to touching autobiography to impressive flights of moral reflection, makes an ideal guide to this landscape….For this outsider it offered illumination on every page.” (Laura Miller, Salon)
“[Thompson] displays a splendid cynicism toward establishment politicians of all kinds, and her passion for the truth about forgotten wrongs will inspire all but the most hidebound Southerner.” (The Wall Street Journal)
“[An] able blend of reportage, travelogue, and memoir….The New Mind of the South is a lucid and inspired endeavor that gracefully handles the Southern paradoxes and polishes away rusted typecasts.” (Boston Globe)
"[B]rilliant. . . . On this diagnostic tour of the South's kudzu-lined highways, Thompson's cartographic eye is keen. . . . Southern roads, Thompson shows us, are haunted by the heat shimmers of the past and potholed by uncertainties in the present-and we must grapple with both if we're ever going to get anywhere. . . . If we heed Thompson's plea, if we can try together to finally detoxify those battlefields of the heart and mind, then maybe the South can actually be 'new'-not merely rise again, but truly bloom." (Slate)
"A narrative that pulls on new data, interviews, historic archives and plain old observation.....I'm thinking The New Mind of the South has come along at just the right time." (Garden & Gun Magazine)
“The New Mind of the South is a clear-eyed, deeply considered look at the evolution of a part of the country that, more than a century after the end of the Civil War, continues to remain something of a foreign entity to rest of the nation.” (DailyBeast.com)
“A nuanced—and sometimes astringently humorous—portrait of a multifaceted, often misunderstood region that overturns stereotypes.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))
“[A] splendid new book….The New Mind of the South does its namesake proud. Thoroughly researched and beautifully written, it suggests that if Dixie can make peace with the hellish parts of its legacy while fostering its inherent strengths, it just might achieve a real breakthrough.” (Los Angeles Times)
“Thompson yearns to define 'Southern identity' in the twenty-first century. . . .[I]t's high time that we're given an unflinching and accurate characterization of this place that has grown so different in even the last thirty years, despite sometimes clamoring to remain the same.” (The Oxford American)
“The more that's written about the American South—as a region and as a mindset—the more confused people seem to be. Tracy Thompson helps clear up the myths and the outdated stereotypes. She correctly portrays the South and its people not as stubborn but as always changing. This is a knowing and sensitive book.” (Walter Isaacson, author of Steve Jobs and Benjamin Franklin)
“Tracy Thompson's valuable book brings into modern times the search for Southern identity undertaken seventy years ago by W.J. Cash. With clear-eyed reporting, she shows us the multi-ethnic and more individualistic South that is emerging from the still-powerful matrix of black-white race relations, religion, and one-party politics. She argues that there is a newer New South of demographic diversity, and this book makes an impressive stride toward a fresh Southern sociology needed to carry students of the region beyond the familiar labels of Bible Belt and Sun Belt.” (Howell Raines, author of My Soul Is Rested)
"Thompson draws nicely on personal experiences, interviews and visits to conventions of the Children of the Confederacy and the United Daughters of the Confederacy. A well-considered, well-written appraisal of a region that is more complicated than many readers realize." (Kirkus Reviews)
“Engaging, thoughtful.” (Tampa Bay Times)
“Reading is usually a comfortably reflective pursuit, but occasionally some books invite a more energetic response as they offer arguments that challenge or stimulate. Such a book is Tracy Thompson’s The New Mind of the South…. Thompson asks provocative questions about the past and the present.” (Richmond Times-Dispatch)
“Thompson’s upbringing in Georgia allows for an intimacy of sight (not to mention a pleasing front-porch cadence) that tempers her chastisements with a weary strain of compassion. She loves the South, and though she recognizes its many flaws, ultimately wants to see it heal.” (CivilWarTalk.com)
About the Author
Tracy Thompson is a reporter and essayist who has written about subjects ranging from psychiatry to law to the Civil War. She is the author of The Beast: A Reckoning with Depression and The Ghost in the House. She lives just outside Washington, DC, with her husband, their two daughters, one tabby cat, and an enthusiastic beagle named Max.
Top customer reviews
Thompson writes very well, and deftly combines traditional journalism with both data and some archival research into her own family and home region. You’ll find expected topics such as evangelical Protestants or the legacy of the Civil War as well as issues such as immigration from Latin America and southeast Asia. Unlike some others, she explicitly treats black Southerners as Southerners, and examines their role in Southern culture. She explores how both diversity and change assimilate to “the South” while changing the South at the same time. To take one example, imagine the identities that children of Mexican immigrants in North Carolina might bring to school, and how they contribute to whatever school culture they join.
While wiling to be critical of her region – notably, its refusal to acknowledge the legacy of slavery and the Civil War, Thompson clearly loves the South in both its old and new forms. She has written a very effective overview of the South today.
Thompson starts out with long explanations of the warped version of history - that states' rights and not slavery were the cause of the war - and the region's intense religiosity. As a history buff, I felt that I learned very little here and for the most part skimmed the first 150 pages. There were also many descriptions that I found too lengthy, such as the operation of a capitalistic church. While she mentions the hypocrisy and tendentious nonsense of much of this, I feel she should have offered more perspective and detail. Nonetheless, if not hard hitting enough, she never crossed the line of appearing apologetic or obtuse; for that, I respect her courage as many from her region will be alienated and angered.
It was in the last 100 pages - on Atlanta as a city and the socio-economics of the region - that I learned the most. First, the South is becoming far more diverse than it has been, with Mexican and Asian immigrants as well as blacks in "remigration". Second, the rural areas are progressively becoming de-populated, a brain drain to the cities that is decimating the traditional society. Third, and most interestingly, she explains the Southern notion of community in a clearer way than I have yet seen. It is a masterful performance, with much moving, personal detail. Fourth, she looks at a city that is dominated by business-oriented ideology, which is growing haphazardly out of control in a variety of unsustainable ways; even in the face of the evidence, its politicians resist the notion of some guidance of the process.
The most significant failure for me is Thompson's insufficient examination of what has happened to entrench Southern conservatives into believing in the Tea Party and candidates like Donald Trump. Southern politics seems to me excessive and wildly unrealistic, unable to distinguish between opinion and fact, just blindly ideological and absurdly entrenched. I do not mean to judge them here or make a political argument against them, but I did want a better understanding of what is spawning their rage. I will have to seek it elsewhere.
This is a good book, but I was hoping for more. Recommended.
They also tend to overlook 100 years segregation as well.