In This Review

The South and America since World War II
The South and America since World War II
By James C. Cobb
Oxford University Press, USA, 2010, 392 pp

This masterful history of the American South since World War II analyzes the social and economic transformation of a region that within living memory was still William Faulkner territory. In 60 years, the Jim Crow laws have fallen and much of the region has been through both industrialization and (as textile mills fled to Asia) deindustrialization. The country's most rural region has become suburban and metropolitan; domestic migrants and immigrants are changing the South's demography and culture at an unprecedented rate. The most Democratic region of the country has become the most Republican; the South has more weight in Congress today than at any time since the Civil War. Yet the region remains the country's most distinct and problematic. Cobb, one of the South's leading historians, has produced a clear and compelling portrait of a tumultuous time, using race relations, economic development, and culture as three lenses through which to understand the contemporary South and its future. A look at how underdevelopment has both restricted the South's choices and shaped its culture would have made the book even more useful; at times, Cobb seems to be scolding the South rather than explaining it. But the South does not always make perverse choices because of some flaw in its nature; frequently (as with its hunger to attract low-wage and environmentally destructive industries), it is trying to make the best of a bad situation.