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Tony Horwitz, RIP

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Tony Horwitz has died suddenly, only 60 years old.

I can’t say what an important book Confederates in the Attic was when it came out in 1998. It’s really a pioneering book in the popular understanding of just how toxic the Confederate flag and Confederate nostalgia is in this nation. It combines hilarity–following around these goofball reenactors–with serious descriptions of violence and hate crimes surrounding the flag. Since that book came out, we have come very far as a nation seeing that flag for what it is and have won major victories and made its defenders double down on it in a last-ditch defense.

In fact, Horwitz was the kind of popular writer who combines history with journalism and political observation in a way that is tremendously useful. There’s a stereotype about professional historians that they don’t like people such as Edmund Morris–who also just died–because they write books that sell and we are jealous. This isn’t true, or at least isn’t generally so. The problem is that they are bad historians who ignore context in favor of personality-driven stories that reinforces heroic narratives which in itself reinforce a status quo that downplays or trivializes the oppression that defines history. For people such as Horwitz–or Sarah Vowell or Ta-Nehisi Coates or quite a few other popular writers–there’s a ton of respect from historians for their work.

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