Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Thin Light of Freedom: Civil War and Emancipation in the Heart of America” as Want to Read:
The Thin Light of Freedom: Civil War and Emancipation in the Heart of America
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Thin Light of Freedom: Civil War and Emancipation in the Heart of America

4.19  ·  Rating details ·  90 ratings  ·  17 reviews
Virginia’s Great Valley, prosperous in peace with a rich soil and an enslaved workforce, invited destruction in war. Voracious Union and Confederate armies ground up the valley, consuming crops, livestock, fences, and human life. Pitched battles at Gettysburg, Lynchburg, and Cedar Creek punctuated a cycle of vicious attacks and reprisals in which armies burned whole towns ...more
Hardcover, 640 pages
Published October 24th 2017 by W. W. Norton & Company
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Thin Light of Freedom, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Thin Light of Freedom

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
4.19  · 
Rating details
 ·  90 ratings  ·  17 reviews

Sort order
Aug 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
Really good read.
Todd Stockslager
Apr 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Review title: In the Valley of the Shadow

Ayers has undertaken an approach to writing about the American Civil War that (surprisingly after so many words have been written about it) is unique and insightful. It looks specifically at the war through the eyes, pens, and newspapers of the great central valley of the Shenandoah which runs north and eastward from Staunton, Virginia up through the Mason-Dixon line, then, known as the Cumberland Valley, through southcentral Pennsylvania to Chambersburg
Fred Svoboda
Dec 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
The real plus factor for this history of the valley from mid-war into Reconstruction is its access to a digital archive of letters, diaries and the like that allows Ayers to track and illustrate the attitudes of those in two representative counties, one Union and one Confederate. These make clear why the two sides could not understand each other and compromise--and why southern attitudes against African Americans were so virulently negative once these people tried to act in their own self intere ...more
Ted Hunt
Nov 22, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is the second volume of a two book set about the Civil War that was based on the research that Edward Ayres did to put together the website "Valley of the Shadow" when he was teaching at the University of Virginia three decades ago. The website contains a treasure trove of primary source materials- newspapers, letters, government records, etc. from two counties 100 miles apart- Augusta Country, Virginia, and Franklin County, Pennsylvania. The first book, "In the Presence of Mine Enemie ...more
Jun 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This well-written narrative focuses on the counties of Augusta, Virginia and Franklin, Pennsylvania (both in the Shenandoah Valley but divided by the Mason-Dixon Line) from July 1863 through 1902. The historical record that is the basis for the book is from Dr. Ayers' Valley of the Shadow Digital Archive that he created at UVA. In the last chapter of the book, Ayers tells about the conclusion of the life of a man who we followed through the war, Joseph Waddell (because of the diary he kept and h ...more
Emily Purcell
Feb 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: american-history
This book is an exceeding well documented look at two counties, separated by the border between the Union and the Confederacy during the civil war -- from the beginning of the war through reconstruction. There is a wealth of first hand and contemporary second hand detail here from letters, diaries, newspaper and government records. Amazing and eye opening. It shows that the very things that are still contested about this conflict today were moving targets even then. The wealth of detail about th ...more
Sep 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Two communities at the ends of the Shenandoah Valley, in Virginia and Pennsylvania, represent rich sources for two diverse perspectives of the Civil War and Reconstruction. Mining an impressive number of primary sources, Ayers highlights the deep rooted differences and conflicts that shaped not only the future course of the United States but foreshadow the tribalism currently shaping our nation.
Sep 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book has two parts. The first deals with battles in the Civil War, focusing on Virginia and Pennsylvania. That part is not unlike other Civil War books. The second part is the interesting one. It deals with reconstruction after the war and is enlightening for those who don't know what was done to try to reunite the country and to figure out how slaves were to live their lives now that they were free for the first time.
Bonnie Hoover
Mar 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
Interesting topic, expertly researched and very well composed prose. Towards the end, I did tire of the highly personal stories. Overall, a great read.
Drew Hill
Apr 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
Fascinating window into the lives of civilians as well as soldiers during the Civil War in the Shenandoah Valley.
Nov 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: toread-2017
Oct 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
A remarkable approach to the Civil Way in the Shenandoah that brings out the humanity of ordinary people.
william a. mcmanus
Really interesting local perspective on the civil war. Really draws out the pro slavery democrats and the anti slavery republicans. The reconstruction
fiasco was very enlightening.
Mar 07, 2018 rated it liked it
Hmm, this book had some great trivia and was pretty engaging. However, the attempts to weave it into a grand narrative often felt a bit forced.
Alex Joyner
May 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
For everyone who ever thought the Civil War fits neatly into a pretty story of American progress, The Thin Light of Freedom is a welcome corrective. Ed Ayers doesn't play by those rules. Beginning mid-War in 1863, Ayers follows two communities through the close of the official conflict and the beginning of new ones in Reconstruction. It's a riveting, eye-opening read. A full review is on Heartlands:
Oct 30, 2017 marked it as to-read
Have not yet read this, but this would be a great gift for Dad.
Eileen Sullivan
rated it really liked it
Jun 17, 2018
rated it liked it
Dec 19, 2018
Kc Blaisdell
rated it it was amazing
Dec 06, 2017
rated it really liked it
Jun 12, 2018
rated it really liked it
Mar 29, 2018
Myke Reid
rated it it was amazing
Apr 19, 2018
rated it did not like it
Feb 04, 2019
Stephanie Pounds
rated it it was amazing
Mar 17, 2018
Brian Penick
rated it it was ok
Nov 17, 2017
rated it it was amazing
Feb 19, 2019
Mark B
rated it it was amazing
Jan 23, 2019
rated it really liked it
Apr 18, 2018
rated it really liked it
Apr 30, 2018
rated it liked it
Feb 19, 2018
« previous 1 3 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • What This Cruel War Was Over: Soldiers, Slavery, and the Civil War
  • A Savage War: A Military History of the Civil War
  • A People's History of the Civil War: Struggles for the Meaning of Freedom
  • City of Sedition: The History of New York City during the Civil War
  • Iron Dawn: The Monitor, the Merrimack, and the Civil War Sea Battle that Changed History
  • The Republic for Which It Stands: The United States during Reconstruction and the Gilded Age, 1865-1896
  • Lincoln's Gamble: How the Emancipation Proclamation Changed the Course of the Civil War
  • The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-Bellum South
  • Lens of War: Exploring Iconic Photographs of the Civil War
  • American Scoundrel: The Life of the Notorious Civil War General Dan Sickles
  • Lift Up Thy Voice: The Sarah and Angelina Grimké Family’s Journey from Slaveholders to Civil Rights  Leaders
  • Lincoln's Admiral: The Civil War Campaigns of David Farragut
  • The Fate of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties
  • Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America
  • The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History
  • Lincoln and the Abolitionists: John Quincy Adams, Slavery, and the Civil War
  • The Cause Lost: Myths and Realities of the Confederacy
  • Now the Drum of War: Walt Whitman and His Brothers in the Civil War
Edward Ayers is President Emeritus of the University of Richmond, where he now serves as Tucker-Boatwright Professor of the Humanities. Previously Dean of Arts and Sciences at the University of Virginia, where he began teaching in 1980, Ayers was named the National Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching in 2003.

A historian of the American South, Ayers has