I finished Kenneth Stampp’s And the War Came, which details the secession crisis of 1860-61. In parts, I almost suspected Stampp of being a magnolia-eater on the scale of (the admittedly really great) Shelby Foote, and when I shifted to Stampp’s The Era of Reconstruction I thought maybe the latter had been written before And the War Came. However, it wasn’t–Reconstruction was published in 1967, and the book on the secession crisis in 1970. Maybe it was my own bias, since the secession crisis book seemed far, far too generous to the Southern states and their maneuverings.
It was also interesting to come across comments in the text that remind me of how far civil rights have come since 1970, and just what is at stake in the current political clime.
Other interesting things were Stampp’s very definite tracing of Lincoln’s politicking, and the fact that sainted Abraham was really no abolitionist per se. He was a Whig, and a Unionist, so when the Republicans gathered up the remnants of the Whigs and the Southern Democrats began making their secession noises, he became Republican by default, and his Emancipation Proclamation was somewhat unwilling and did not admit of equal rights, merely manumission in the war zones to make the Southern economy incapable of funding further warfare. The radical wing of the Republican party fell into line behind him not because they thought him a fire-eating abolitionist, but because the Unionist cause was the abolition cause for a variety of reasons. Lincoln’s Reconstruction policy, had he lived, would have borne this out in chunks.
I planned to move right into Stampp’s The Peculiar Institution yesterday after finishing the Reconstruction book, but I fell into Tzvetan Todorov’s Facing the Extreme instead, which has been on my TBR for a long while, mostly because I didn’t feel emotionally ready to read it.
To my relief, it is a philosophy book, and while I take issue with Todorov’s sexism in several places, there’s a lot of good food for thought. One of his most interesting points is about caring versus heroics, how caring is personal and “heroics” as we generally think of them are just another form of death-worship. I’m paraphrasing, of course, but the book articulates a lot of things I had only dimly held in the back of my head while reading other philosophy.
I should probably get some Kant and study, but I’d have to work through more of the TBR first.
In the process of trying to find the last Stampp book (I figured, why not keep going, since I’d read two in close succession) I ended up shelving a lot of “already-read” and organizing the TBR pile into fiction, nonfiction, fairytales/litcrit/poetry. (LOOK, THESE DIVISIONS DON’T MAKE SENSE BUT THEY’RE MINE.) After the Todorov and the last Stampp I might clean my palate with Osinga’s book on John Boyd’s strategic theory, which I have been meaning to get to for AGES. I may have to take a small break with Marina Warner, or there’s that lovely big chunky history of the American Whig party I might want to get into while the 1800s are still fresh in my head.
In short, I have an embarrassment of choices. That’s the state of the Reading Lili, and of course all of this is going into the bubbling cauldron that is my emotional well, from whence I draw bits of half-composted things for stories. Working at a white-heat requires plenty of fuel and right now that fuel is textual.
*stuffs pages in mouth, grins*
What are you reading?