Looking backward with an eye on our time . . .


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Watercolor by Paul Cox


Several decades into my writing life, I find my work is to understand the American past.

Sometimes that involves thinking critically about what the past means today — as in a controversial op-ed piece of mine that ran in the Washington Post in July concerning the Confederate flag controversy.

I’ve given — and continue to give — talks about my books and about what I regard as essential issues. Past stops include visits to the Philadelphia Union League Club, the Edmonston-Alston House in Charleston, the Green-Meldrim House in Savannah, a C-SPAN-recorded lecture at the Carter Presidential Museum and Library in Atlanta, and a talk at the Harriet Beecher Stowe House. In a general way, I look to identify fault lines in the American narrative, then to recount stories drawn from the realms of architecture, art, presidents, and the crucible of war. These provide the means of taking a fresh look back—and casting a thoughtful light on our own time.

While most of my time is spent writing and talking, I also serve on boards at various historic sites, among them the Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford and the Advisory Council at the Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art in Nashville.

I’m just completing a book about the unexpected intersection of the lives of Frank Lloyd Wright and Philip Johnson (to be published by Bloomsbury in 2016), but my last book, Houses of Civil War America (Little, Brown, autumn 2014) continues to attract attention.

An article of mine, “The Complex Legacy of Appomattox,” appeared in the June issue Civil War Times. 

Wall Street Journal columnist Ralph Gardner Jr. and I took a trip to the General Grant National Memorial, which he reported on in his Urban Gardner column.

Rebecca Onion in the Slate blog “The Vault” cited the book in her column on Arlington House.

An interview ran at Examiner.com.00_Jacket for HH.com

Southern Living listed the book as one of the fall’s best illustrated books. More magazine put it on its Clever Gifts and Great Reads for Book Lovers list at No. 3.

The fall issue of Tufts Magazine ran an essay based on the book, “Private Lives of the Civil War.”

Earlier, the book received some enthusiastic words from Civil War Experts:

“As a historian, I am acutely conscious of the importance of place as well as time in our understanding of the past. One must walk the battlefields of the Civil War to know and appreciate what happened there. The same is true of historic houses, which take on the character of the people who lived there. This splendid narrative and photographic tour of homes inhabited by obscure as well as important figures in the Civil War era offers enlightenment as well as entertainment.”            — James M. McPherson, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of  Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era

“This book is a gem!  Author Howard and photographer Straus provide an unusual perspective on the Civil War era by focusing on houses associated with some two dozen actors and actresses in that great drama.  The famous – Lincoln, Davis, Grant, and Lee – are here as are John Brown and Frederick Douglass, but also the little known like Rowland Robinson and Mary Moore.  The writer and the photographer weave houses and personal histories into a fascinating story of Americans caught up in a mighty conflict.”         — William Cooper, author of Jefferson Davis, American & Boyd Professor at LSU

“The Civil War proved Lincoln’s warning that a ‘house divided against itself cannot stand.’ However, many of the actual houses of that roiling period withstood not only the war, but the test of time since—and it is a revelation to see them as they look today, and learn about the families who then and since have dwelled in and preserved them. This book literally opens a window into nineteenth-century domestic and cultural history, and brings us a giant step closer to the life and times of the families who survived and endured.”            —Harold Holzer, author of Lincoln and the Power of the Press

I’d be happy to come and talk to your group or institution. I can be reached at hhoward@taconic.net

Photo credit: G.M. Howard