The death of Tony Horwitz earlier this year was a tragic loss to the literary community and his last book, Spying on the South (Penguin Press, $30), is an exceptional example of the kind of intrepid spirit that he was. Following the wanderings of Frederick Law Olmsted through the South on the eve of the Civil War, Horwitz’s own travels read as an homage to the restless curiosity that drove Olmsted to roam and the empathy for humanity that inspired him to create Central Park, aka the “people’s park.” Rather than attempting to explain the South here, Horwitz—as Olmsted did—opts for offering observations over analysis. He lets us hear the voices of the people he meets, and as we listen to them tell their own tales, the book offers an implicit hope that we as readers will be able to find common ground among the diversity of experiences. Conversational and often humorous, Horwitz’s journalistic style is ultimately more poignant that comic; his openness and genuine interest in dialogue feels as uncommon and incredibly important in our political climate as it did to Olmsted two centuries ago.
Spying on the South by Tony Horwitz