Tar Heel Dead

"In my honest and unbiased judgment, the Good Lord will place the Garden of Eden in North Carolina, when He restores it to earth. He will do this because He will have so few changes to make in order to achieve perfection."
—Sam J. Ervin Jr.

William S. Powell's magnificent portrayal of an American state through a collective biography of its men and women of eminence or interest has reached midpoint in its publication. I will try to explain why it is worthy of serious notice by readers of the magazine of American culture.

One of the great virtues of this collection is an old-fashioned scholarship that is at once skillful, thorough, aware without being trendy, and pious without being blind. The editor has spent a lifetime exploring every facet of the history of his state and mastering it with a thoroughness seldom matched today. The result is a grand and comprehensive design that leads to an inclusiveness, accuracy, and insight that is of permanent value.

Let's face it: the libraries are full of biographical dictionaries. Many of them, even some bearing the names of famous scholars as editors, are merely publishers' gimmicks, cut-and-pasted together by people who were unable or unwilling to see their subject freshly and comprehensively and full of articles written hastily by clockwatching "scholars" who merely compile and...

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