by Peter Applebome ‧ RELEASE DATE: Nov. 1, 1996
Cogent political and cultural reportage proves a strikingly simple, if seemingly incongruous, theorem: With the rise of the so-called ""New South,"" the nation has come to resemble the region, not vice versa, as is widely assumed. ""Think of a place that's bitterly antigovernment and fiercely individualistic, where race is a constant subtext to daily life, and God and guns run through public discourse like an electric current,"" writes Applebome, a New York Times reporter and former chief of the paper's Houston and Atlanta bureaus. That description has always fit the South. Applebome persuasively argues that, given the current obsession with states' rights and the elevation of Christian Right values from radical fringe to political mainstream, it fits the nation too. No one embodies this transformation better than George Wallace, portrayed as a frail old penitent veering between public apology for his segregationist ways and quiet pride that the divisive issues raised by those politics of resentment--school prayer, middle-class tax relief, vilification of welfare--are now central tenets of the Republican revolution. If Wallace is the granddaddy of populist demagogues like David Duke and Pat Buchanan, Newt Gingrich is the slick Prodigal Son, an adoptive Southerner who modifies the gritty ""good-against-evil moral universe"" of southern politics to woo a national constituency. As a friend observes during one of Applebome's many freewheeling forays around the South, ""It's the juxtapositions . . . that drive your crazy"": Gingrich lambasting welfare while protecting white-flight Cobb County's status as the third-largest recipient of federal largesse; abject poverty persisting in the shadow of Mississippi's glitzy new casinos; rabid boosterism in Atlanta contrasted with neo-Confederate nostalgia for ""The Lost Cause."" Applebome's keen eye for telling details and wide-angle perspective on historical trends renders a fascinating, far-reaching portrait of the South--a must-read for students not only of Southern culture's virtues and vices, but of the nation's as well.
Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1996
Page Count: 384
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1996
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