The Southern Way of Life

Meanings of Culture and Civilization in the American South

By Charles Reagan Wilson

616 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 39 halftones, notes, index

  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-6498-9
    Published: January 2023
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-6499-6
    Published: November 2022
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-7152-7
    Published: November 2022

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Awards & distinctions

2024 Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Award for Nonfiction

How does one begin to understand the idea of a distinctive southern way of life—a concept as enduring as it is disputed? In this examination of the American South in national and global contexts, celebrated historian Charles Reagan Wilson assesses how diverse communities of southerners have sought to define the region's identity. Surveying three centuries of southern regional consciousness across many genres, disciplines, and cultural strains, Wilson considers and challenges prior presentations of the region, advancing a vision of southern culture that has always been plural, dynamic, and complicated by race and class.

Structured in three parts, The Southern Way of Life takes readers on a journey from the colonial era to the present, from when complex ideas of "southern civilization" rooted in slaveholding and agrarianism dominated to the twenty-first-century rise of a modern, multicultural "southern living." As Wilson shows, there is no singular or essential South but rather a rich tapestry woven with contestations, contingencies, and change.

About the Author

Charles Reagan Wilson is professor emeritus of history and southern studies at the University of Mississippi.
For more information about Charles Reagan Wilson, visit the Author Page.


"An impressive and elucidating work of cultural history"—Publishers Weekly

"This book is a masterful study . . . . engaging, enlightening, and deeply relevant—an impressive and fitting accomplishment for Wilson’s already storied career."—The Civil War Monitor

"[Charles Reagan Wilson] knows all there is to know about Southern culture, and then some. His 1,600-page half-tonne truck of a book, Encyclopedia of Southern Culture (1989), was a landmark work that, in this 600-page epic, has found its narrative partner . . . . He ranges across the full story, from fine oratory to racial epithets, from great literatures to two-dime records, from classical mansions to juke joints . . . . Wilson has spent his life turning the South from something not forgotten into something born again."—The New Statesman

“What makes this book a commanding work of scholarship is the subtlety of Wilson’s exploration of the centuries-long evolution of regional identity, its engagement with questions of authority, and its adaptation to changing social and economic conditions. . . . This work, the product of a distinguished career, powerfully shows that southern cultures and identities remain vital scholarly subjects.”–North Carolina Historical Review

"Wilson, the dean of southern studies, has given us a monumental interdisciplinary and multicultural reassessment of a fabled and oft-troubled region. This study will force a recalibration of old pieties while charting a path toward new forms of social and cultural critique."—John Wharton Lowe, author of Calypso Magnolia: The Crosscurrents of Caribbean and Southern Literature