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The B&N Podcast

May 16, 2019

f you've ever heard the name Frederick Law Olmstead, it's probably because of his work as  the co-creator of New York City's Central Park. But long before that career a young Olmstead was a journalist, and in 1852 he was hired by a still-young New York Times to tour the American South -- to meet and interview people, write up his impressions of cities, towns and slave-labor plantations -- and to write dispatches for readers about the part of the country that was coming to represent the other side of a political divide from northeastern readers.

Enter journalist and author Tony Horwitz, and his new book Spying on the South. In books like his groundbreaking Confederates in the Attic and Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War, Horwitz has already mapped our national obsession with the conflict that tore the U.S. in two. When Horwitz rediscovered Olmstead's writings, he decided to set out on his own journey --one that takes us back into the fraught 1850s that Olmstead chronicles, and juxtaposes it with travels that Horwitz takes in the present day --visiting historical sites, taking part in solemn ceremonies and raucous festivals -- and mostly talking with the people he meets. Inventive, bold, ever-curious and always good company for his readers, Horwitz joined us in the studio to talk about this ambitious project.