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The Slave States, Before The Civil War [PDF]

by Frederick Law Olmsted
Frederick Law Olmsted is probably better known as the architect of Central Park and the Columbian Exposition World Fair in Chicago in 1883.But before that he was a well-known journalist (which I didn't know).He had published a book on his rambles through England (which gave him a lot of ideas on landscape architecture) and was asked to do the same with the Southern States.Although he was hired by a anti-slavery editor (NOT an abolitionist), the focus was to be on the actual living conditions, society, etc. of the area.

The result was actually three volumes of well over 600 pages each.This book is a MUCH condensed version but doesn't lose any of the overall "taste."Olmsted IS a very good writer and manages to take the reader right into whatever he is experiencing, whether it is experiencing extremely bad service in most of the public houses on his trip or meeting with the Germans of Neu Braunsfel in Texas and contrasting their industry with the lack thereof he has seen elsewhere.

My favorite parts were the time he was off to Mr. W's house and wasn't sure of the way.At the livery stable he was told it was tricky, but if he followed these directions he'd get there.Whereupon follows a exceeding long list of the kinds of instructions you expect in the backcountry now - go to the empty farmhouse and turn left, go straight down the road until you come to a dead sycamore tree on the left of the road and veer right through the field to another dead sycamore....You get the idea.He even wrote the instructions down but it was such a nice day for riding, he got lost.Thereafter anytime he asked for directions from black or white he was told "road goes straight there.Don't get off the road, just follow the road," and inevitably he would go a mile and discover a very distinct fork.His telling is hilarious.

The other part is when he is in the backcountry along the Appalachians.The people he meets are extremely poor.When they find he is from New York, they have an inevitable question: "Do you know Mr. ——————-? He lives up there in New York."You can almost hear him sighing deeply and then patiently answering that New York City has more residents than there are ants on this farm.

It's a delightful read.Olmsted leaves no doubt that he doesn't see the warmth and hospitality that were supposed to be the South's trademark.Although he doesn't see any cruel treatment of slaves, he shows how slavery does not make sense economically and should be abolished.He's got a great touch with characters much like Dickens and Twain and it's hard to imagine that he kept a straight face during some of the conversations he had.

Everyone who is interested in the antebellum South should read this book. Even those who aren't but enjoy travel books should.
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1 comment

1. Persia Emily | 02.02.2017 17:33

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Thank you! Great book!

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