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

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  1,526 ratings  ·  293 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
Hardcover, 476 pages
Published May 14th 2019 by Penguin Press
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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…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)

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Diane S ☔
Aug 23, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lor-2019, 5000-2019
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
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
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
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 ...more
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,
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
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
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.
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
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
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, ...more
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 ...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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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 ...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.
Chris Shores
Jun 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Tony Horwitz was at his best when he blended history and journalism to tell us of our country’s past and present. He excels at this in his final journey: “Spying on the South,” which was published just weeks before his death. The book is a mix of history lesson and travelogue as Horwitz follows in the path of landscape architect Fredrick Law Olmsted’s journeys through antebellum south. Each chapter includes part of Olmsted’s trip followed by Horwitz’ 21st-century odyssey. There are plenty of ...more
Jun 22, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
It must be fun to be a writer like Tony Horowitz who has had enough success that he can pitch an idea like retracing the route through the South that Frederick Law Olmstead took prior to the Civil War and reporting on that book and what is happening now. An unknown writer with this idea would have to finance it on his own but I’m certain that Horowitz got a big advance and could take his time. Spying on the South is a bit of a reprise of Confederates in the Attic, another book I liked, but this ...more
Mike Zickar
Jun 10, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, memoir
A very enjoyable trek through much of the South (WV to KY to Louisiana to TX) following the footsteps of a trip that Frederick Law Olmstead took in the 1850s, trying to understand the pre-Civil War South. The book has a bittersweet note to it, knowing that this is likely the last book that Tony Horowitz wrote.

The book excels at Horowitz's random exploring and ability to reach out and get everyday people to talk to a stranger and his ability to seek meaning in the everyday conversations he has
Bill FromPA
Jun 04, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, library
This was something of a slog for me. Though overall it’s well written, there’s not much momentum from chapter to chapter; I found my interest alternately engaged and disengaged as Horwitz moved from subject to subject, situation to situation.

Horwitz’s writing combines the scholarly minutiae and careful exposition of the study (or, as it often feels, the library carrel) with the immediate perceptions and improvisatory connections of the open road. These modes alternate throughout this book; his
Ryan Fohl
Oct 02, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A travelogue that hits the parts of the South confederates in the attic missed. (Sorry Florida you are still left out) The author makes several insightful connections that are helpful in understanding our present. Books like this are better than documentaries, because people act different in front of a camera.

I wanted another book about southern politics, but he also slipped in a biography of someone I would have never read about but that I enjoyed very much. (Olmsted is mom’s hidden
Mark Miano
Jul 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
I was on a business trip recently and brought this book along to start reading. Just moments before picking it up, I was looking at the New York Times on my device and made the surreal and upsetting discovery that Tony Horwitz had passed away a few hours earlier. What a terrible loss. Horwitz is best remembered as the author of CONFEDERATES IN THE ATTIC, but he's also the author of several other highly praised history books. I love the way he tells his narratives, by getting out on the road and ...more
Glennon Harrison
Jul 30, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
We have lost a great interpreter of the relationship between past and present. Sadly, Tony Horowitz died of a heart attack on Monday, May 27th, 2019 in Chevy Chase, MD. Your fans will miss your wit, insights, and your ability to interpret the stranger parts of America in a kind and humorous way.

Through his many books, Tony told fascinating stories that mixed humor with social criticism. Although this book was somewhat uneven in places (especially Louisiana), his trip down the Ohio was
Oct 13, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4.25 stars. Really loved the premise of this book - following the route Frederick Law Olmsted took just before the Civil War and comparing those times to today. I’ve always been fascinated by Olmsted and his landscape architecture in so many places I’ve visited, so I appreciated the biography but also enjoyed the author’s travel tales. I wish he’d spent more pages on Kentucky and Tennessee because naturally those were my favorite chapters, but he focused more on Texas and Louisiana. Reading the ...more
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Date of Birth: 1958

Tony Horwitz is 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 has also been president of
“with a” 0 likes
“Olmsted’s initial faith in reasoned discourse had also waned. In the course of his travels, the South’s “leading men” had struck him as implacable: convinced of the superiority of their caste-bound society, intent on expanding it, and utterly contemptuous of the North. “They are a mischievous class—” 0 likes
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