With an epic career that spanned two-thirds of the twentieth century, C. Vann Woodward (1908–1999) was a historian of singular importance. A brilliant writer, his work captivated both academic and public audiences. He also figured prominently in the major intellectual conflicts between left and right during the last half of the twentieth century, although his unwavering commitment to free speech and racial integration that affirmed his liberalism in the 1950s struck some as emblematic of his growing conservatism by the 1990s. Woodward's vision still permeates our understandings of the American South and of the history of race relations in the United States. Indeed, as this fresh and revealing biography shows, he displayed a rare genius and enthusiasm for crafting lessons from the past that seemed directly applicable to the concerns of the present—a practice that more than once cast doubt on his scholarship.
James C. Cobb offers many original insights into Woodward's early years and private life, his long career, and his almost mythic public persona. In a time where the study and substance of American history are profoundly contested, Woodward's career is replete with lessons in how myths about the past, some created by historians themselves, come to be enshrined as historical truth.