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Formerly concentrating on the 19th-century South and the politics of slavery in particular--most recently in Liberty and Slavery (1983)--Cooper (History/Louisiana State Univ.) now expands that horizon, together with Terrill (History/Univ. of South Carolina), in what purports to be a ""comprehensive"" history of the region from Jamestown to Jesse Jackson. The prologue states, ""for the sake of convenience and clarity,"" that ""southerners are white in this book unless we explicitly state otherwise,"" and while this manifestation of Eurocentrism is moderated somewhat by subsequent discussion, such a distortion in the basic approach still makes comprehensiveness impossible. African- and Native-American contributions to the South's development are marginalized in subchapters, while women fare only slightly better. The white man's history--social, political, and cultural--that remains relies heavily on statistical comparisons and summaries indicating population ebb and flow, wages, health data, economic productivity, and so forth, and neglects the more human side of the equation. Anecdotes and individual histories of southerners great and small, black and white, are included, but are isolated and overwhelmed by bare facts to the point of insignificance. The institution of slavery is examined from the familiar political and socioeconomic perspective of white landowners, with little new material added. Whether concerned with the origins of various colonies, or with the pervasive presence of Jim Crow and the systematic suppression of African-American liberties as the South entered the 20th century, the analysis lacks depth and distinction. At best this is a southern sampler, a patchwork of names and numbers, giving the flavor of this enigmatic part of America without revealing much of the substance. Wilbur J. Cash's 1960 classic, The Mind of the South, is invoked at the outset and periodically thereafter, but this book is a shallow, dull descendant, a numbing contribution to the grand and eloquent tradition of endlessly rewritten Southern history.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1990
Publisher: Knopf