Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Book Review: How Kentucky Became Southern

How Kentucky Became Southern: A Tale of Outlaws, Horse Thieves, Gamblers and Breeders by MaryJean Wall

Though not a true "Civil War" book, Wall's book discusses Kentucky, it's horse racing industry, it's image and other topics from the Civil War era.  The title is not totally accurate - most of the book is about horse racing and it does not really discuss Kentucky's image as becoming southern until late in the narrative, though once it does, the author does a fine job explaining the treatise and providing examples. I wish the book had more of that type of discussion. 

The book is a bit similar to Anne Marshall's Creating a Confederate Kentucky, especially in discussions of the violence around the state and region and in showing how popular literature ("plantation literature" in Wall's words) contributed to the how peoples round the country came to view the Bluegrass State. Marshall's work, which I admittedly read a couple of years ago,  struck me as being more detailed and is a longer work, but that foes not detract from Wall's fine writing.

Wall's book is well-written and a pleasure to read, perhaps not a surprise given her long time in the field of journalism. It flows well and is a quick read.

One Civil War  related tidbit that stood out to me and that I will remember and maybe use in the future is the role of August Belmont in the horse racing industry. While reading the book, I looked up his name online and found that the Belmont Stakes was named in his honor. 

The Civil War tidbit is that Mr. Belmont was the president of the 1864 Democratic National Convention where General  George B.  McClellan was nominated as that party's Presidential candidate. 

Overall, this is an enjoyable, informative look at pieces of Kentucky's history and image, including horse racing and several of the characters involved in that sport. It does discuss the post-Civil War era more than the war, but the ties of Southern and Confederate images to the state make this a good choice for those interested in that era and/or Kentucky history.

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