Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Spying on the South: Travels with Frederick Law Olmsted in a Fractured Land” as Want to Read:
Spying on the South: Travels with Frederick Law Olmsted in a Fractured Land
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Spying on the South: Travels with Frederick Law Olmsted in a Fractured Land

really liked it 4.00  ·  Rating details ·  2,647 ratings  ·  451 reviews
Beloved best-selling author Tony Horwitz retraces Frederick Law Olmsted's epic journey across the American South in the 1850s, as he too searches for common ground in a dangerously riven nation.

On the eve of the Civil War, an up-and-coming newspaper, the New York Times, sent a young travel writer to explore the South, which was alien territory to the Connecticut Yankee cor
...more
Hardcover, 476 pages
Published May 14th 2019 by Penguin Press
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 Spying on the South, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
Leslie Ray From what I have read it sounds like it was unexpected.
I read in a New York Times article that he was walking in Chevy Chase, MD and collapsed. He was…more
From what I have read it sounds like it was unexpected.
I read in a New York Times article that he was walking in Chevy Chase, MD and collapsed. He was declared dead at the hospital.
The family said that it was sudden cardiac arrest. How sad as he was only 60 years old.(less)
Jessica The book is more tempered - still funny, still insightful but gentler, more nuanced. The book takes another look at the geographic/ cultural divide bu…moreThe book is more tempered - still funny, still insightful but gentler, more nuanced. The book takes another look at the geographic/ cultural divide but also leads to you ask yourself, what makes a town; what makes a country? Also left me asking, how can he be such a damned good writer but funny and entertaining too?(less)

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
really liked it Average rating 4.00  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,647 ratings  ·  451 reviews


More filters
 | 
Sort order
Start your review of Spying on the South: Travels with Frederick Law Olmsted in a Fractured Land
Diane S ☔
Aug 23, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 5000-2019, lor-2019
Reading this last book by Horowitz was bittersweet, and since he narrated his own book it was even more special. Following a journey by Frederick Olmstead that he had undertaken between 1852 through 1857 through our southern states, Tony sets out to duplicate this journey as much as was possible. Olmstead took this journey to investigate the slave economy, dispatches he sent back to the Times.

So in-between quotes from Olmstead on his discoveries, we see how much of how little things have changed
...more
H. P.
May 22, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I love Tony Horwitz’s nonfiction. He has a simple formula: he picks some interesting, underappreciated bit of history, then explores the modern day geography. The result is a mix of travelogue and history as Horwitz interweaves his own adventures with the history. His best known work is Confederates in the Attic, and I was beyond overjoyed when I saw that he was returning to the South.

Spying on the South retraces the steps of Frederick Olmstead on a pre-Civil War trip through the South. (It wasn
...more
Leslie Ray
May 31, 2019 rated it liked it
Tony Horowitz follows the path of Frederick Olmsted, who was a writer for the then, New York Daily Times, who wrote about his trips to the South, in the 1850's. Olmsted made 2 trips, of which Horowitz chose to follow the second journey that took place in 1853-4. This 2nd trip from Maryland through West Virginia, on the Mississippi River through Louisiana and finally to Texas, was the one that this book follows as the author manages to seek out, in some cases, the most idiosyncratic and eccentric ...more
Bruce Katz
I could have gone to a 4 but really, 3 means 'I liked it,' so I'll leave it like that. Horwitz is a fine companion as he follows in the pre-civil war footsteps of Frederick Law Olmstead through the South. Olmstead was archly anti-slavery. He traveled the south as a correspondent for what was then the New York Daily Times, trying to understand the people who defended slavery and seemed to live in such a different world than his. (Later, of course, he became the country's foremost landscape archit ...more
Christine
America lost something great when Tony Horowitz died in May 2019. When you read this book, you are made painfully aware of that fact. Horowitz possessed not only ability to get people to talk to and with him, but also to capture them on the page. Reading this book, you realize how rare and powerful that skill is.

Spying on the South is on one level a recreation of Frederick Olmstead’s journey to report on the South prior to the Civil War. Much of it was done during the 2016 election, and, theref
...more
Lorna
This beautiful book, Spying on the South: Travel with Frederick Law Olmsted in a Fractured Land by Tony Horowitz was a treasure to savor as the author followed the travels of Frederick Law Olmstead and his explorations in the deep South in the years prior to the Civil War. Sent as a correspondent for The New York Times, Olmsted sent dispatches back regarding the deep divisions in the country with the issue of slavery at its core. This experience would propel Olmsted later to become the nation's ...more
Jessica
May 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I had 12 pages to go in Spying on the South when my best friend texted me that Tony Horwitz had died.

"I'm so sorry. I know you loved him. I loved him too." I was going to lend her the pre-publication copy I'd gotten through goodreads. I'll still send it to her but she will have to give it back. It's marked up and underlined with stars and exclamation points in the margins. I circled places Olmstead had passed through where I'd lived before and places I want to go to some day. I'd scribbled in th
...more
Jamie
Apr 25, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had read two of Tony Horwitz’s previous books, Confederates in the Attic and Blue Latitudes, and enjoyed them both, and so was interested when I learned that he had published Spying on the South, which followed in the footsteps of Frederick Law Olmstead’s journeys through the American South in the years just before the Civil War. Olmstead is remembered today as a landscape architect, most famously for his work designing New York City’s Central Park, but he was also a journalist and farmer in h ...more
thefourthvine
This is a typical Tony Horwitz book (and his last; I was sad to learn that he died while on tour for this book). He travels! He chats with people! (He must have been the foremost chatter of our time.) He draws conclusions!

This one, since it is about both Fredrick Law Olmstead’s travels in the South right before the Civil War, and Horwitz’s own travels along the same route right before the election of Donald Trump, is, in places, really painful to read. Horwitz quotes extensively from Olmstead’s
...more
Barbara
Aug 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Spying on The South is a wonderful journey following the steps of Frederick Olmsted as he traveled in the South on the eve of the Civil War. Reporting for the New York Times he sought dialogue from slaveowners and slaves, hoping that through conversation secession could be averted. This quest to end slavery, as well as his appreciation for the natural beauty he encountered, had a great impact on his yet unknown career as a world famous landscape designer.

Tony Horwitz replicates Olmsted's trek th
...more
Angus McKeogh
Jun 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
Another really great read. Two in a row. Delves into the underlying psyche and current of the Southern culture. Similarities and differences between the present and the time of the Civil War. Demonstrates how some things, ideas, and ethics within the culture show very little progress from the attitudes that existed during the Civil War. Horwitz shadows Olmsted’s trek through the South in the 1850s. It’s expected how much has changed and it’s telling how much hasn’t.
Kristy Miller
I received a copy of this book in a Goodreads Giveaway in exchange for a fair review.

I first found Tony Horwitz a few years back, when my book club read Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War. I quickly became a huge fan of Mr. Horwitz, and have collected/read several other books by him since then. I was devastated when Mr. Horwitz died suddenly on his tour for this book. This, and life in general, slowed my progress with this book, but I am happy to report that I h
...more
Paul
May 02, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Olmsted on one side, 2016 on the other, and Horwitz in the middle. I’ve read four of his other works and this is a much more immediate view of history and the United States than the other books. It is view of many things: the legacy of the Alamo, the struggling coal industry, modern tourism, and a man who changed the way cities and recreation spaces are built in this country. But the narrative kept going back to the way history endures through many people’s eyes.

4.5 out of 5 stars

For my full rev
...more
Hank Stuever
Feb 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
I read the first part, set it aside, read some more, set it aside. Maybe I was savoring it, in a way, knowing it's the last we'll hear from Tony Horowitz, who died suddenly after "Spying on the South" was released. A true loss. (If you've never read "Confederates in the Attic," you MUST.)

I also think "Spying on the South" is just kind of a slow read; not especially revealing, given the heap of books and journalism we've seen in the past few years about the great American divide, the flyover terr
...more
Brian
Jun 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Such a fun, witty, entertaining, and informative book - but also a very bittersweet read with the author's recent, unexpected death. Mostly a travelogue, partly a biography of Frederick Olmsted (designer of Central Park) - it really didn't veer into politics as often as you might think from the title, and never comes across as snide or condescending. Sharing the author's political leanings, it was very enjoyable for me to read Horwitz's "reports" from the part of the world where I live, surround ...more
Matt Bender
Jun 12, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Horowitz stayed true to Olmsted’s style of narrating the details. I enjoyed his use of Olmested’s writing as a reference point. The most enjoyable chapters were with his Australian friend as a travel companion who added much needed humor. The book is timely and like his last one provides perspectives on rural and political revanchism of red America. I could have done with less roaming the Texas ranges.

There were some new insights for me like the link between anti-evolution beliefs and racism, s
...more
Carole
Dec 22, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
In his last book before his untimely passing, Horwitz traces the routes Olmsted traveled in the 1850s as a reporter for a New York newspaper. He was probing the Southern slave culture with his ailing brother, and they engaged the local populace with curiosity and some astonishment. A hundred and sixty years later, Horwitz tries to follow the route as closely as possible, including some adventurous segments taken on a barge as well as on horseback. Horwitz has a remarkable ability to draw out peo ...more
Gretchen Stokes
May 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A truly human tour of the south, guided by a historical journey. Tony Horwitz applies his historically astute writing to a modern picture of various regions of the south. He crafts a whole cloth out of a hugely varied cast of characters, and somehow tells an engrossing and cohesive story.
Rita Ciresi
Jul 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I finished this compelling travelogue weeks ago, but put off writing a review as I didn't want to acknowledge that this would be the last journey I'd ever get to take with the late Tony Horwitz as my guide. My enjoyment of this crazy, wild ride through the contemporary south was tinged with sadness that this kind, compassionate, and talented writer passed away so early and unexpectedly. ...more
Nikki
Mar 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: america, non-fiction
My heart wants to give this book 5 stars because it had only just been published when Tony Horwitz died unexpectedly last year, but I'll try to put my sentimental feelings to one side and comment on the books's actual contents.

As you'd expect from Horwitz, this is part travelogue, part history lesson, and part social commentary, in this case focused on his attempts to retrace the journeys of Central Park landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. (In the 1850s, Olmsted made a series of journeys
...more
Pam
Oct 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was a terrific book and I am so sorry that it was his last. I love travel books like "Travels with Charley" by Steinbeck and "Blue Highways" by William Heat Moon and this book was similar to those. However the addition of his travels tracing the journey made by Frederick Law Olmsted as an undercover correspondent for the New York Tmes 160 years previously made a wonderful contrast and added a lot of history. I learned a lot as an armchair traveler! I fortunately still have books to read by ...more
Julie M
Jun 19, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Sara
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Scott Leffler
Jun 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The only thing bad about this book, his last. Tony Horwitz died 5-27-19.
All of his books are highly recommended.
Walker
Oct 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a piece of writing. I’d be hard pressed to think of a book more tailor-made for my interests. Ever since being introduced to George Plimpton’s participatory journalism, I’ve loved the genre, seeking out books that offer a sense of place, a willingness to push boundaries into unknown situations, or in this case, “a mix of travel, journalism, history and memory.” Frederick Law Olmsted, architect of Central Park, once journeyed through the South in the 1850s as a NYT correspondent, and this bo ...more
Kelly
May 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Kathie Harper
May 15, 2020 rated it liked it
In all honesty, I struggled with this book, wondering if I was ever going to finish. My husband only
made it half way through. We both thought it would resonate with us as we took a similar trip through
Mississippi last year. The idea was inspiring, following Frederick Law Olmsted's trips through the South in the mid 1800's. Some parts were interesting when the author felt invested and engaged like the trip down the Mississippi on the Riverboat Queen. His observations were sharp and funny. Then ot
...more
Sandi Banks
Sep 06, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I feel very sad that Tony Horwitz recently died too soon at 60 years old. I was anxious to read this book because I have liked others he has written. Others books he has written include Blue Latitudes and Confederates in the Attic. I give it 4.5. Horwitz followed part of the journey Frederick Olmsted the designer of Central Park, as young man prior to the Civil War.
It was an ambitious project to follow Olmsted “footsteps” as much over 150 years later. Horwitz has some real challenges and mishap
...more
John
Jan 12, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Want to say at the outset that I read much of the book several weeks ago, coming back to it for the last few chapters recently. So, I don't have a lot of specific recollection here.

Horwitz does a great job integrating Olmstead's historical observations with his own modern ones. His tagging along on river boats today hauling coal gave an insight into American society not easily available to non-locals. Likewise, it was quite interesting getting the non-white points-of-view during the Mississippi
...more
Fred Forbes
Oct 13, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have read a number of Tony's works over the years, found him to be an informative and entertaining journalist. Sad to note that my purchase of this one was triggered by news of his death at age 60 due to cardiac arrest in MD near where I grew up. He was there to speak at "Politics and Prose" one of my favorite bookstores. Doubly depressing to see authors pass away at an early age as they achieve notable success like Vince Flynn (Mitch Rapp series) and Stieg Larsson (Girl with the Dragon Tatoo) ...more
Mel Travis
Jul 28, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I learned so much about Frederick Law Olmsted from this book. It was interesting and also terrifying seeing the similarities between pre Civil War south and our country today.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »

Readers also enjoyed

  • The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz
  • Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents
  • The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West
  • The British Are Coming: The War for America, Lexington to Princeton, 1775-1777
  • Searching for Stonewall Jackson: A Quest for Legacy in a Divided America
  • The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution
  • The Age of Wood: Our Most Useful Material and the Construction of Civilization
  • Nature's Mutiny: How the Little Ice Age of the Long Seventeenth Century Transformed the West and Shaped the Present
  • Imperfect Union: How Jessie and John Frémont Mapped the West, Invented Celebrity, and Helped Cause the Civil War
  • March Sisters: On Life, Death, and Little Women
  • A Pilgrimage to Eternity: From Canterbury to Rome in Search of a Faith
  • Songs of America: Patriotism, Protest, and the Music That Made a Nation
  • The End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America
  • Quichotte
  • The Cold Way Home (Bell Elkins, #8)
  • The Problem of Democracy: The Presidents Adams Confront the Cult of Personality
  • War Fever: Boston, Baseball, and America in the Shadow of the Great War
  • The Ghost Ships of Archangel: The Arctic Voyage That Defied the Nazis
See similar books…
709 followers
Date of Birth: 1958

Tony Horwitz was a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author whose books include Blue Latitudes, Confederates In The Attic and Baghdad Without A Map. His most recent work, published in May 2019, is Spying on the South, which follows Frederick Law Olmsted's travels from the Potomac to the Rio Grande as an undercover correspondent in the 1850s.
Tony was also president of the S
...more

Related Articles

Happy Women's History Month! One of the undisputedly good things about modern scholarship is that women’s history is finally getting its due....
19 likes · 2 comments
“These westbound pioneers slogged through the morass on foot, or in wagons drawn by mules and oxen. Impossible for them to conceive that their mud march would one day become sport for modern Americans,” 0 likes
“No way can be found in this boasted land of civilization and Christianity to punish the perpetrators of this bloody and monstrous Crime,” Grant lamented of Colfax. “The spirit of hatred and violence is stronger than law.” 0 likes
More quotes…