Guest Review: Born Fighting by Jim Webb

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Six word review: Scots-Irish Fight  Anyone and Everyone



Book Review Born Fighting by Jim Webb


 Buy this book in paper or in elec­tronic format*

Upon reading Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “Outliers”, I was drawn to a passage about violence in the American South and that region’s culture of honor. He posited that this was a relic of Scots-Irish culture, particularly as it applies to the hill people who eventually settled in Appalachia area. There was a lot going on in the theory, but one idea was that people of the hills often find themselves fighting over murky borders without a legal presence to arbitrate. Hence Cletus kills Jethro with a VCR in a dispute over a corn mash recipe. The fact that there were plenty of Percys and Beauregards killed each other with pistols at dawn also proves that the culture of honor and it’s accompanying violence in Dixie wasn’t unique to poor mountain folk.

Gladwell’s books, while entertaining and informative, are too ubiquitous to be dealt with on this website. After all, there is little point in recommending books that everyone has already read. However, it did spark my interest in Scots-Irish culture and it’s relationship to America, particularly in the South. James Webb’s book provides an in depth look at the under-appreciated influence of these people on American life.

Scots-Irish can be a confusing and malleable term, but it generally refers to Ulster Scots, Protestants from Uster in Ireland who have Scottish roots., many of whom immigrated to rural America. They tend to be independent, transient and ruggedly individualistic. They value honor, martial service and family rather than rallying behind an ethnic flag, so they aren’t as visible as some other cultural groups.

However, if you’ve ever been in a roadside bar in the middle of nowhere and had someone with a “Bass Pro” hat accuse you of looking at his woman, than you’ve probably met a Scots-Irish person. At worst, they will break a bar-stool over your back. But, at their best, they answer the call to serve their country in war the quickest and the most often.  Consisting of both Congressional Medal of Honor winners and “crackers”, they are more likely than an other American ethnic group to pull you from a burning helicopter in the Hindu Kush or run moonshine in rural Georgia in an orange Dodge Charger with the Stars and Bars painted on the roof.

Webb’s book is a look at this culture from the days of the Roman emperor Hadrian when they were Celts in Scotland, through Ulster and all the way across the Atlantic into rural America. Distinct from both the northern urbane “WASP-y” class and the tidewater aristocracy of much of the South, these people did much of the dirty work in America, whether it was fighting the British, the Native Americans or each other in the Civil War.

The Rundown: The book starts out a little confusing, as it relates to a lot of British history, a weak subject of mine. Like most Americans, I thought Britain didn’t exist until we needed someone to fight in the Revolutionary War. The closer it gets to the present day,  though, the more interesting it gets.  As the story gets more American, Webb gets more personal by relating stories of his ancestors. It’s a book that spans hundreds of years and thousands of miles, but is also deeply personal, as Webb brings  the story home with his combat  experiences in Vietnam and ensuing experiences with the academic elite while in college.

 Buy this book in paper or in elec­tronic format*


The Two Fisted Reader is Doug Connolly, an avid book enthusiast from Austin, TX. His blog serves as a cheerleader for “manly” books and is a reflection of  his years of standup comedy, his Catholic faith and his love of reading. He’s worked in ministry, public education and a variety of other jobs that didn’t make him rich. Most importantly, he’s the a husband (to his wife) and father to a boy and a girl. And he’s constantly working on his patience.

*Ama­zon links point to an affil­i­ate account

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