I love this book because it was written just for me. I grew up in Williamsburg, Virginia, a whole town that’s been restored to as close to 18th-Century colonial life as they can get. In school, it was drilled into me that Virginia was an important place back then. When I looked around, though, it was obvious that we were not a big deal in the mid-20th century. In history classes, the teachers would just mumble about anything after 1830. “What happened?” I wondered. How did a beacon of the Enlightenment turn into a poor, violent, religion-soaked backwater?
This book is subtitled, “Jefferson, Madison, and the Decline of Virginia”, and it settles that question authoritatively. It won’t surprise anyone that the answer involves money and race. The wealthy land-owners of the east used evangelical religion and racial hatred to preserve their social status, at the cost of staying behind as the Industrial Revolution made the rest of the world better off.
Now, thanks to the Internet, Virginia is one of the richest places on the globe. But that’s another story.