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The Thin Light of Freedom: The Civil War and Emancipation in the Heart of America by Edward L. Ayers

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This book is a real tour-de-force. It compares the impact of the Civil War and emancipation in two valley counties about 150 miles apart on either side of the Mason-Dixon Line: Augusta County, Virginia, and Franklin County, Pennsylvania. The county seats are Staunton, Virginia and Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.  The author, Edward L. Ayers, was born in the North Carolina mountains and raised in East Tennessee, the son of a textile mill worker and used car salesman who became a fifth grade teacher. Ayers graduated from the University of Tennessee Summa Cum Laude and received his masters and doctorate at Yale where he took the last class that C. Vann Woodward taught.  After a career as a history professor and administrator at the University of Virginia, he served as President of the University of Richmond from 2007 until 2015. President Obama bestowed the National Humanities Medal on  Ayers in 2013. This is the 5th book he has authored along with seven books he has edited. His previous books have won prestigious national prizes. He has advocated for a national holiday to celebrate the end of slavery. Kirkus Reviews gave The Thin Light of Freedom a starred review and called it  “luminous” and “An exemplary contribution to the history of the Civil War and its aftermath.” Publishers Weekly also gave it a starred review and averred that “Ayers shares riveting details about average, resilient people trying to survive the devastation around them.” They called it “A superb, readable work of history.”

New York, W. W. Norton, 2017. 576 pages with an Index, Notes, bibliography, photos and maps. Hardback in dust jacket