Since the eighteenth century, a vast range of thinkers, artists, writers, and critics have wrestled with the notion that something distinct characterizes life in the American South. But in this sweeping new intellectual and cultural history, Charles Reagan Wilson reveals that there has never been a singular understanding of this southern way of life. Considering nearly three centuries of regional expression in history, literature, music, recreation, religion, and more, produced by those inside and outside the region, Wilson argues that the consciousness associated with the American South is best understood by examining three related yet discrete ideas that have evolved over time: southern civilization, the southern way of life, and southern living. The story he tells is not of an essential South but of one marked by contestations, contingencies, and change. Wilson draws on multiple histories, disciplines, geographies, and cultural strains to show how ideas of southern culture have been plural and dynamic, complicated always by race and class. This monumental study promises to shape and invigorate writing about southern culture for years to come.