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This is a fascinating combination of intellectual and social history focusing on the life and thought of Edmund Ruffin, a 19th-century reformer whose activities in the movement for secession made him a symbol of the antebellum South. Although much has been written about Ruffin, this is the first examination of the connections between his family life, his thought, and his career in reform. Allmendinger shows, through careful analysis of Ruffin's personal papers, how Ruffin's family history informed his thinking and writing. His early experiences of isolation contributed to his valuable discoveries about soil fertility, which in turn guided his notion of a reconstruction of the rural Southeast led by individuals possessing the mentality of scientific farmers. Without this rejuvenation and fundamental restructuring of institutions, Ruffin believed, the southeastern United States would be faced with a Malthusian crisis of subsistence which would lead to the complete dissolution of the social system. An insightful analysis of the experiences of this influential thinker, Allmendinger's study offers a unique perspective on life in the antebellum South.