- Published: 31 May 2019 31 May 2019
"Even aimless journeys have a purpose." --Tony Horwitz
Like anyone else who admired his work, her ladyship, the editor was profoundly shocked to hear of the sudden and unexpected death this week of Tony Horwitz -- one of this era's most beloved historians and journalists. It is perhaps no good testament to the times we live in that when she first saw the notice her ladyship immediately checked the hoax websites, so incomprehensible and unbelievable was the news. Alas, it was no hoax.
Although Mr. Horwitz already enjoyed a laudable reputation for his journalism -- he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1995 for his Wall Street Journal series on working conditions for low wage workers -- he first came to her ladyship's attention, along with everybody else's, with the release of his runaway bestseller, Confederates in the Attic, over twenty years ago. It has the distinction of being one of the first books her ladyship sent to her mother unsolicited, just because she wanted her to read it, and thus started a tradition wherein they traded book recommendations back and forth that has continued to this day.
It is also, her ladyship admits with some shame, the book that began their habit of calling each other weekly to talk about books when her ladyship interrupted her mother's impressions to ask "did you get to the part where they pee on their buttons?"
Despite this somewhat inauspicious demonstration of her ladyship's critical thinking skills, the conversation continued on for the better part of an hour, as both she and her mother declaimed over Mr. Horwitz's eye for detail, empathy for his subjects, and general even-handed manner in situations that would have tried less hardy souls. Or, has her ladyship put it less coherently to her mother on the day of that first phone call -- "Boy, he will talk to ANYONE."
More to the point, he wanted to talk to everyone. In a recent piece he wrote for the New York Times on the occasion of the publication of his latest book, Spying on the South, he wrote about the travels he made through the rural South, following the footsteps of Frederick Law Olmsted from dive bar to local watering hole:
"I’ve been met affably, by drinkers open about their views and curious to know mine, as a visiting writer from 'Taxachusetts.' Often I hear opinions I don’t expect, like self-described right-wingers dissenting from Trumpian orthodoxy on health care or a border wall."
He writes of his concern over the divisive rhetoric that passes for political discourse in our current culture, unable to see people as "red" or "blue": "I conjure instead the three-dimensional individuals I drank and debated with in factory towns, Gulf Coast oil fields and distressed rural crossroads," he notes, "And I hope they occasionally remember me. Not as a Fox-induced boogeyman on the bar TV, one of those “coastal elites” dripping with contempt and condescension toward Middle America. But rather, as that guy from “up north” who appeared on the next bar stool one Friday after work, asked about their job and life and hopes for the future, and thought what they said was important enough to write down."
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