A folksy, meandering look at the American South's past and present. In his 1941 classic, The Mind of the South, W.J. Cash examined the clash between the myth of the Old South and the reality of the culturally variegated New South. Hall and Wood (Big Muddy, 1992) argue that Cash's concept of the ""Savage Ideal"" (""dogged resistance to change of any stripe, plus the sanguine determination to fight all challenges to the existing order"") continues to be central to an understanding of the modern South. The authors trace this tendency all the way back to English aristocrats at Jamestown, Va., then embark on a state-by-state journey across the region, fancifully -- if entertainingly -- reinterpreting Southern history along the way. They argue, for instance, that neither the Southern nor Northern states intended to fight the Civil War but blundered into it because of an unfortunate misunderstanding at Fort Sumter, and that the legacy of New York gangster Owney Madden's presence in Hot Springs, Ark., in the 1930s was critical to Bill Clinton's moral development. Hall and Wood create a disorienting mâ€šlange out of the Baptist religion, cockfights, auto racing, the Citadel (South Carolina's military academy), Eivis Presley, and the works of such diverse writers as Erskine Caldwell, William Faulkner, James Agee, and W.E.B. DuBois. The great historic traumas of the Civil War (the authors extol Confederate general Joe Johnston, who was sparing of his soldiers' lives in battle, and slight traditional Southern military icons like Stonewall Jackson), Reconstruction, and the modern civil rights movement (the 1968 deaths of several black students, who were demonstrating for the right to use a bowling alley, at the hands of South Carolina state police) are never far away. An enjoyable enough survey, burdened by excessive historical flights of fancy that add up to nothing very clear.