... marvelous ... Richardson’s search for the truth carries the reader from the first European settlers to modern day, not an easy task in a comparatively short narrative. Her text combines articulacy with accuracy. Her analysis is compelling ... Her narrative moves quickly ... Richardson’s scholarly work puts to an end the fantasy of American exceptionalism.
... a short, provocative assault on conservatism and the Republican Party ... a book that, while lucid and jargon-free, too often feels tacked together and lacking in the intellectual heft that characterizes her academic work ... Dissenters from Ms. Richardson’s own somewhat apocalyptic vision, likely including the vast majority of Republicans, might point out that where she sees a malign conspiracy to undermine American democracy they see, these days, a landscape of rupture and realignment, the ultimate shape of which is far from clear. Ms. Richardson’s haste to score political points too often leaves nuance, and sometimes accuracy, behind ... Her pummeling hyperbole will probably confirm both like-minded and skeptical readers in their assumptions and prompt less reflection than it should among those whom she presumably hopes to convert.
A timely book, it sheds light on what was perhaps the most important political coalition of the 20th century ... [an] engrossing and deeply relevant story ... An otherwise dark picture is brightened ... There is a glimmer of hope, especially in these tumultuous times, that a more just and equal America will emerge and thrive.
Throughout American history, [Richardson] contends, the forces of oligarchy and democracy have been involved in a mortal struggle for the nation’s future, and she wants to show how the visions of oligarchy have often won out—how, in other words, we got from the era of emancipation and Confederate defeat to the presidency of Donald Trump ... Richardson shows how the rise of movement conservatism, as personified by Barry Goldwater in his 1964 presidential campaign, came to embody this vision of an oligarchic America. The new oligarchy’s triumph—one that combined economic domination with racial inequality—lay in a political alliance between the South and the West, Richardson argues, and in the Republican presidencies of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, the Bushes, and finally Trump. Her interpretive scheme is simple yet also compelling and clear. The title of the book, of course, is not meant literally, but Richardson does show that while the South lost the Civil War, it eventually, in many respects, won the peace ... According to Richardson, the unending struggle between American democracy and oligarchy began with the birth of the nation ... By offering an account of the forces of both democratic progress and oligarchic reaction, Richardson provides historical detail to Corey Robin’s argument in The Reactionary Mind , which traced the antidemocratic origins of American conservatism while offering insight into the democratic forces that resisted it.
Richardson is particularly adept at describing the ways in which [...] American oligarchs, the nineteenth and twentieth/twenty-first century versions, use narrative, myth, and symbol rather than rational argument to win power. And she pulls no punches in describing the result, from the degradation of slaves, immigrants, and women to the hoodwinking and exploitation of the working and middle classes. Her analysis of twentieth century politics, especially from the 1960s forward, is especially sharp ... But it’s the parallels Richardson draws between the modern period and the antebellum period that is especially original and noteworthy ... The book is well-written, well-argued, and frighteningly timely as America tries to dig itself out from the abyss of the Trump era. And her work is an implicit warning to modern Democrats, who must learn that politics depends on symbolic narratives as much or more than on rational discourse.
Richardson is interested in big ideas. On more than one occasion, I could have used a bit more about how a specific cause had its effect. But getting into the weeds is not her goal. Rather, she is a surgeon who opens an unobstructed view of the arteries of history that have fed, and still feed, the American heart ... In theory, the Civil War saw the triumph of democracy over oligarchy. Richardson argues, powerfully, that it didn’t really turn out that way ... Richardson hammers home her points over and over again. This is no criticism ... And this is not mere repetition. It is as beautifully (and relentlessly) organized as a Bach fugue. Quite simply, How the South Won the Civil War should be required reading for everyone.
... [an] incisive, politically minded history ... Though Richardson underemphasizes the prevalence of racism, sexism, and inequality in other parts of the country during and following the Civil War, she marshals a wealth of evidence to support the book’s provocative title. Conservatives will cry foul, but liberal readers will be persuaded by this lucid jeremiad.