Sunday, June 16, 2019

the last book I ever read (Casey Cep's Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee, excerpt one)

from Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep:

Enough water, like enough time, can make anything disappear. A hundred years ago, in the place presently occupied by the largest lake in Alabama, there was a region of hills and hollers and hardscrabble communities with a pretty little river running through it. The Tallapoosa River forms where a creek named McClendon meets a creek named Mud, after each of them has trickled down from the Appalachian foothills of Georgia. Until it was dammed into obedience, the Tallapoosa just kept on trickling from there, lazing downward until it met its older, livelier sibling, the Coosa River, near the town of Wetumpka, where together the two streams became the Alabama River, which continued westward and southward until it spilled into Mobile Bay, and from there into the Gulf of Mexico. For 265 miles and millions of years, the Tallapoosa carried on like that, serenely genuflecting its way to the sea.

What put an end to this was power. Man’s dominion over the earth might have been given to him in Genesis, but he began acting on it in earnest in the nineteenth century. Steam engines and steel and combustion of all kinds provided the means; manifest destiny provided the motive. Within a few decades, humankind had come to understand nature as its enemy in what the philosopher William James called, approvingly, “the moral equivalent of war.” This was especially true in the American South, where an actual war had left behind physical and financial devastation and liberated the enslaved men and women who had been the region’s economic engine. No longer legally able to subjugate other people, wealthy white southerners turned their attention to nature instead. The untamed world seemed to them at worst like a mortal danger, seething with disease and constantly threatening disaster, and at best like a terrible waste. The numberless trees could be timber, the forests could be farms, the malarial swamps could be drained and turned to solid ground, wolves and bears and other fearsome predators could be throw rugs, taxidermy, and dinner. And as for the rivers, why should they get to play while people had to work? In the words of the president of the Alabama Power Company, Thomas Martin, “Every loafing stream is loafing at the public expense.”

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