For over three decades John Shelton Reed has been “minding” the South. He is the author or editor of thirteen books about the region. Despite his disclaimer concerning the formal study of Southern history, Reed has read widely and in depth about the South. His primary focus is upon Southerners’ present-day culture, but he knows that one must approach the South historically in order to understand the place and its people.
Why is the South so different from the rest of America? Rupert Vance, Reed’s predecessor in sociology at Chapel Hill, once observed that the existence of the South is a triumph of history over geography and economics. The South has resisted being assimilated by the larger United States and has kept a personality that is distinctly its own. That is why Reed celebrates the South.
The chapters in this book cover everything from great thinkers about the South—Eugene D. Genovese, C. Vann Woodward, M. E. Bradford—to the uniqueness of a region that was once a hotbed of racism, but has recently attracted hundreds of thousands of black people transplanted from the North. There are also chapters about Southerners who have devoted their talents to politics, soft drinks, rock and roll, and jewelry design. Reed writes with wit and Southern charm, never afraid to speak his mind, even when it comes to taking his beloved South to task. While readers may not share all his opinions, most will agree that John Shelton Reed is one of the best “South watchers” there is.