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BOOK REVIEWS177 endowed with common sense but a narrow vision of politics, "mulish," and holding a "flawed" solution to the crisis of 1850, he had a mixed record as a field commander, pursuing a conventional plan at Monterrey that was probably not his and performing at Buena Vista in a manner not "especially notable" (pp. 320-27). Yet the American people hailed him as a warrior hero and made him their president. Bauer's biography is a product of thorough research. It is well organized and lucidly written, except for some slips a skilled copy editor might have mended. The author makes no pretense of breaking new ground by discovering new materials or overturning old interpretations. What he has written is a serviceable, balanced one-volume life of a man who, he says, "was and remains an enigma." James A. Rawley University of Nebraska Looking Back: The Perils of HistoricalWriting. By C. Vann Woodward. (Baton Rouge and London: The Louisiana State University Press, 1986. Pp. x, 158. $12.95.) C. Vann Woodward's career has spanned half a century. He has written some of the finest history books in our time, and he is justly regarded as the premier historian of the post-Civil War South. Along the way, he has attracted a host of critics. Looking Back is a gentle answer to those men and women. At its worst, criticism can be a form of scholarly cannibalism—or, as Woodward has dubbed it, "gerontophagy" (the eating of one's elders). But at its best, it is the very electricity of our profession. Woodward began his career by questioning the wisdom of his elders, and he observes that the book never criticized is frequently the book on its way to oblivion. Woodward believes he has been fairly treated by most of his critics. Therefore, he dedicates Looking Back to them—"without whose devoted efforts life would have been simpler but less interesting." Each chapter of Looking Back examines one of Woodward's books— how he came to write it, how it was first received by critics, and how it has fared over the years. Thus we are treated to the life and times of his most celebrated works: Tom Watson, Agrarian Rebel (1938); Reunion and Reaction: The Compromise of 1877 and the End of Reconstruction (1951); The Origins of the New South, 1877-1913 (1951); The Strange Career ofJim Crow (1955); The Burden of Southern History (1960); and The Comparative Approach to American History (1968). But Looking Back is more than an apologia. Woodward is quick to admit his errors, and he is sometimes more critical of his work than are his detractors. Still, he believes his theories have generally worn well, as indeed they have. Woodward, however, is not content to offer just a history of his schol- 178CIVIL WAR HISTORY arship. He also tries to explain what influences, both intellectual and environmental, moved him to write each book. Men like Robert Penn Warren and Reinhold Niebuhr and events like the Great Depression and the civil rights movement shaped his thinking. Also included are wonderful vignettes from Woodward's college and graduate school days. We see him taking his only history course at Emory—a class so wretchedly taught that it all but annihilated his interest in the past. Weseehim in a barn discussing his dream of graduate school with Howard Odum, while the great man weaned a calf. And we see him at the University of North Carolina, stunned by the tedium of post-Civil War scholarship, and wondering if he might yet begin a career as a "fruit-peddler, panhandler , or hack-writer" (p. 22). Such a fine book is sure to be widely read by historians—especially, one suspects, by historians living below the Mason-Dixon line. A myriad of influences, some of them strange to the South, molded Woodward's thought. But the roots of his work stretch back to the hills of Arkansas and the red clay of Georgia. Indeed, Woodward begins Looking Back with words from Chaucer's "Parson's Prologue": I wol ful fayn at Cristes reverence Do yow plesaunce leefful, as I kan. But trusteth wel, I am a southren man...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 177-178
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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