Reviews for Fall of the House of Dixie : The Civil War and the Social Revolution That Transformed the South
Booklist Reviews 2012 December #1
This masterful work is essentially an examination of the political and social disintegration of the antebellum South under the strain of slow but relentless military defeat. Levine presents compelling evidence to counter revisionist arguments concerning the role of slavery in the South. He asserts that the entire edifice of Southern society was based upon the "peculiar institution" and the racial assumptions used to justify it. He effectively demolishes the mythology of a passive, even content slave population and illustrates how the maintenance of slavery depended on the threat and often the use of violence. Levine also acknowledges schisms in Southern society between the planter elite and the nonslaveholding majority. Once the military conflict began, the pillars of Southern society slowly eroded as men left the farms and plantations to fight and slaves refused to work and often fled into the arms of approaching Union forces. Levine's employment of testimonies by slaveholders, slaves, and pro-Union Southerners is effective and often poignant. This work will be an excellent addition to Civil War collections. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.
BookPage Reviews 2013 January
Dixie's land no more
Few experiences are as exhilarating as watching a bully being brought to his knees. And if his former victims have had a hand in his collapse, it’s all the more delicious. That, in essence, is the scene Bruce Levine presents in The Fall of the House of Dixie as he traces the smug rise and ignominious fall of the Confederacy in America’s Civil War. Levine offers a fresh perspective on this oft-told story by relying heavily on personal letters, journals and diaries to reveal just how vile, self-serving and, ultimately, delusional the slaveholders were.
Brushing aside the notion that slavery was merely one of many issues over which the war was fought, Levine, a professor of history at the University of Illinois, shows that it was at the center of everything—the economy, culture, social relationships and worldview. While it was true that most Southerners didn’t own slaves, those most active in the push for secession did—and they were the ones who stood to gain the most if the war went their way. After describing the brutal conditions under which slaves lived, Levine then quotes a series of masters on how happy and contented their slaves are with their lot. “A fascinating quality of the human mind is its ability to hold firmly and simultaneously two contradictory ideas,” he observes wryly.
The dynamics of the war, even when the South seemed to be winning, made slavery increasingly untenable. Both sides needed their labor for military purposes, which gave blacks a certain leverage. With the men of the plantations away, it was more difficult to keep the slaves subdued and productive at home—and impossible to keep them from hearing the siren call of liberation, especially as Northern armies took control of the Mississippi and the vital port of New Orleans, and as General Sherman’s forces did their scorched-earth march from Atlanta to Savannah. Yet many slaveholders, instead of becoming gallantly self-sacrificing when the South needed them most, clung to their sense of entitlement, refusing to contribute war materials, pay higher taxes or allow their slaves to be used for the common good. Nobody was going to tell them what to do. Copyright 2012 BookPage Reviews.
Choice Reviews 2013 September
The dramatic change in character imposed upon the US South as a result of the Civil War has long been the subject of serious scholarship. The destruction of the slave system, fall from power of the prewar elite, and transformation in identity of the common folk are all well-considered issues. Levine (Univ. of Illinois) may not offer a great deal of new material or groundbreaking analysis of these same subjects, but he does provide an easy read. The author relies heavily on secondary sources to support his conclusions, revealing the limits of this volume's usefulness in advanced coursework or graduate studies. His interpretation of the destruction of the antebellum social and political structure in the South conforms perfectly with current perspectives in popular culture, which will likely enhance the book's appeal in certain quarters. A lively narrative, almost completely unburdened by statistical analysis or excessive details, provides the volume a nice flow that will render it an accessible selection for virtually all readers. Summing Up: Recommended. Best suited for undergraduates and the general public. General Readers; Lower-division Undergraduates; Two-year Technical Program Students. S. C. Hyde Southeastern Louisiana University Copyright 2013 American Library Association.
Kirkus Reviews 2012 November #1
Levine (History/Univ. of Illinois; Confederate Emancipation: Southern Plans to Free and Arm Slaves during the Civil War, 2005, etc.) examines how the slaveholder republic of the Confederacy collapsed. Early on in this splendidly colorful account, the author compares the old South's disintegration to "The Fall of the House of Usher," where microscopic cracks in the mansion's foundation gradually widen until the building implodes. He extends the Poe-themed metaphor in a later chapter, invoking "The Masque of the Red Death," when the Confederate elite of Montgomery and Richmond madly partied at splendid balls in 1864-1865, even as their civilization lay in ruins. Levine acknowledges that a force of arms was necessary to bring the South to its knees, and he frequently alludes to military developments that marked the South's unfolding destruction. But how the confident exuberance of the secession spring turned into the bitter resignation of Appomattox is more than simply a story of battlefield reversals. War exposed Southern political, social and economic deficiencies in ways unanticipated by Confederate leaders. The increasingly bloody, expensive conflict shattered any number of illusions: about slaves' faithfulness, white Southern unity, cotton's supremacy, the unimportance of financial and industrial power, divine favor, unwavering martial spirit and Northern fecklessness. The war's stresses and strains widened fissures between Jefferson Davis' government and the economic elite, between master and slave, between plantation whites and the poor who shouldered a disproportionate share of the conflict's burdens. Ironically, the enslaved third of its population, second only to land as a source of Southern wealth and the war's proximate cause, emerged as Dixie's "greatest and most severe structural weakness." As the Northern armies advance in the background of his narrative, Levine recounts this tale of Southern institutional rot with the ease and authority borne of decades of study. A sensitive, informed rendering of the wrenching reformation of the South. Copyright Kirkus 2012 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
Library Journal Reviews 2012 November #1
An award-winning author and University of Illinois history professor, Levine portrays the Civil War as a revolution that radically altered the social, political, and economic institutions of the South. Among those most affected, of course: the newly freed slaves. [Page 78]. (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2012 September #4
In a deep, rich, and complex analysis of the period surrounding and including the American Civil War, University of Illinois historian Levine (Confederate Emancipation) compares the South to the House of Usher in Poe's famous story: the prosperous and powerful South looked invincible, but it had a flaw that made its collapse slow but inevitable. The social structure and very nature of the South was torn down and transformed in a matter of years. While Levine gives some attention to military actions, he primarily concentrates on slavery and its relation to the conflict; on Lincoln's attempt to avoid a "revolutionary, emancipationist" war, with the Emancipation Proclamation, in Levine's view, more a matter of practicality than principle; on the complex decisions regarding the newly freed blacks and their role in the war; and on the increasing desperation of a disintegrating Southern society. With a quarter of the text given over to notes and works cited, it's clear Levine has left no stone unturned to tell this story, and his argument is solid. For those interested in the social, political, and economic effects of the fall of slavery in America, this account is definitely enlightening. 16 pages of b&w photos. Agent: Dan Green and Simon Green, POM Inc. (Jan.) [Page ]. Copyright 2012 PWxyz LLC