It’s a long read but worth it, in so many ways.
A good book should entertain you, teach you something, and — hopefully, if it’s really, really good — help you unlearn something you felt you knew.
It is impossible to overstate how the American Civil War classic, Gone With the Wind, does each of these. It teaches us what the Civil War and the Reconstruction Era were like from the perspective of a Southerner. It forces us to reexamine what we think of race and class issues and even the very basis of the great American experiment. And it does all of this around the most compelling cast of characters and page-turning plot that makes the 900-page epic fly by and end way too soon.
I won’t dwell on the plot. It follows the life of the beautiful daughter of a Southern cotton plantation owner — Scarlett — and Rhett — a war profiteer and all-around scoundrel — through the US Civil War and the reconstruction after the war.
In a nutshell, here is why it’s the perfect book:
Unlike the current discourse between the left and right and the North and South in the US, the book brilliantly unpacks the nuance and complexity of race and class in the US South during that era.
The South entered the Union — the US of A — on the condition that it was a confederacy of states where much of the power and decision-making rested with the individual states. The Civil War was as much about states’ rights as slavery.
Slavery is awful and indefensible, but there are complexities in the relationships and class structures between whites and blacks and the poor and the rich that should be understood. And it takes a thousand pages — not a 500-character Tweet — to get your head around it. Race relations were very complicated then, and both the North and South had an agenda that was a little mixed regarding their relationships with people of color. And the freeing of the enslaved people not only freed black people, it flipped class relations within the black community on its head — in a way that was quite damaging to many. I’m not explaining it well here… because it’s complex and needs a thousand pages — read the book.
The South — the Confederacy — had much to be proud of, and it’s understandable why they…