Exclusive media partner: The New York Times


Receive regular updates about forthcoming events and other news from Intelligence Squared


You have been added to our mailing list and will now be among the first to hear about events.


Lessons from the American Civil War With Sarah Churchwell and Karen Joy Fowler

How can history and literature can help us make sense of the current turmoil?

The American Civil War still resonates through the US today. Deep moral divides, populism and fanaticism find their echo in today’s febrile cultural and political climate. And in July 2022, bestselling authors Sarah Churchwell and Karen Joy Fowler came to Intelligence Squared to discuss how history and literature can help us make sense of the current turmoil. 

Churchwell’s new book The Wrath to Come analyses the history and legacy of Margaret Mitchell’s epic novel Gone With the Wind. The book became an overnight bestseller when it was published in 1936 and the film would famously go on to win ten Academy Awards. Churchwell traced the novel and film’s relationship to the myth of the Lost Cause – the romantic nostalgia for the Old South and the collective forgetting of the horrors of slavery – as well as Mitchell’s feminist portrayal of the book’s heroine Scarlett O’Hara, whose agency in the novel is achieved at the expense of people of colour. Fowler recounted the themes of her recent novel Booth, an historical epic set against the looming Civil War, which tells the story of the eccentric theatrical dynasty and its scion John Wilkes Booth, the supporter of slavery who made the fateful decision to decision to assassinate Abraham Lincoln in 1865.

In a wide-ranging conversation, Churchwell and Fowler showed how stories and national myths from the past foreshadow and shed light on the controversies in America today – from the removal of Confederate statues, the rise of white nationalism and the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Praise for Sarah Churchwell’s The Wrath to Come: Gone With the Wind and the Myth of the Lost Cause

Eye-opening and at times jaw-dropping; a powerful reminder of the prejudices and suffering horrors of the recent past, and a call to arms to learn from the lessons of history. Highly recommended‘ – Peter Frankopan

An extraordinarily and shockingly powerful read… With meticulous research and fine structure, it offers a most disturbing arc that transports us from now back to what we thought was another era but which is, in reality, so deeply enmeshed with the intolerances and prejudices of today. At times the narrative took my breath away. I was riveted from start to finish’ – Philippe Sands

Praise for Karen Joy Fowler’s Booth

Captures with enthralling vividness a country caught in the grip of fanatical populism, ripped apart by irreconcilable political differences and boiling with fury and rage …. An unalloyed triumph’ – Literary Review

Brilliantly recounts the story of the American theatrical dynasty that produced Lincoln’s assassin’ – Sunday Times Book of the Month


For the motion

Sarah Churchwell

Professor of American Literature and Chair of Public Understanding of the Humanities at the School of Advanced Study, University of London.

Professor of American Literature and Chair of Public Understanding of the Humanities at the School of Advanced Study, University of London. She is the author of Behold, America: A History of America First and the American DreamCareless People: Murder, Mayhem and The Invention of The Great Gatsby and The Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe. She comments regularly on arts, culture, and politics in the press and on television and radio, where appearances include Question Time, Newsnight and The Review Show.

Karen Joy Fowler

New York Times bestselling author, whose latest novel is Booth

New York Times bestselling author of six novels and three short story collections. Her 2004 novel, The Jane Austen Book Club, spent thirteen weeks on the New York Times bestsellers list and was a New York Times Notable Book. Fowler’s previous novel, Sister Noon, was a finalist for the 2001 PEN/Faulkner Award for fiction. Her debut novel, Sarah Canary, won the Commonwealth medal for best first novel by a Californian, was listed for the Irish Times International Fiction Prize as well as the Bay Area Book Reviewers Prize, and was a New York Times Notable Book. Fowler’s short story collection Black Glass won the World Fantasy Award in 1999, and her collection What I Didn’t See won the World Fantasy Award in 2011. Her most recent novel We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, won the 2014 PEN/Faulkner Award for fiction and was short-listed for the 2014 Man Booker Prize. Her latest novel Booth was published in March 2022.