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North Carolina in the 1940s

August 23, 2022

This book is the first in a series of small, richly illustrated books about North Carolina history through the decades. Originally published as hugely popular serialized articles for Our State magazine, this book chronicles events in North Carolina in the 1940s—a decade which began with the state gearing up for war just as the last formerly enslaved person passed away. The volume is not a textbook overview of the state’s history. Rather, each chapter focuses on a lively and illuminating set of events in the era, such as the music explosion around John Coltrane and Thelonius Monk in eastern part of the state and Earl Scruggs and traditional string band music in the west, the polio pandemic, shipbuilding in wartime, a harsh era of hurricanes and floods, as well as tobacco as the king of the farming and industrial sectors.


Hardcover, 2019
Ebook, 2019
Paper, 2021

To understand the long march of events in North Carolina from secession to surrender is to understand the entire Civil War--a personal war waged by Confederates and Unionists, free blacks and the enslaved, farm women and plantation belles, Cherokees and mountaineers, conscripts and volunteers, gentleman officers and poor privates. In the state's complex loyalties, its sprawling and diverse geography, and its dual role as a home front and a battlefield, North Carolina embodies the essence of the whole epic struggle in all its terrible glory.

Philip Gerard presents this dramatic convergence of events through the stories of the individuals who endured them--reporting the war as if it were happening in the present rather than with settled hindsight--to capture the dreadful suspense of lives caught up in a conflict whose ending had not yet been written. As Gerard reveals, whatever the grand political causes for war, whatever great battles decided its outcome, and however abstract it might seem to readers a century and a half later, the war was always personal.


Hardback, 2013
Ebook, 2013
Paper, 2022

In Down the Wild Cape Fear, novelist and nonfiction writer Philip Gerard invites readers onto the fabled waters of the Cape Fear River and guides them on the 200-mile voyage from the confluence of the Deep and Haw Rivers at Mermaid Point all the way to the Cape of Fear on Bald Head Island. Accompanying the author by canoe and powerboat are a cadre of people passionate about the river, among them a river guide, a photographer, a biologist, a river keeper, and a boat captain. Historical voices also lend their wisdom to our understanding of this river, which has been a main artery of commerce, culture, settlement, and war for the entire region since it was first discovered by Verrazzano in 1524.

Gerard explores the myriad environmental and political issues being played out along the waters of the Cape Fear. These include commerce and environmental stewardship, wilderness and development, suburban sprawl and the decline and renaissance of inner cities, and private rights versus the public good.


Paper, 2012
Independent Publishers Book Awards, Gold Medal

Meet the characters of essayist Philip Gerard’s world: a misguided sailor and his crew of rowdy teenage boys, an ancient nun, a nurse who believes the government has been secretly spreading the bubonic plague, a park ranger, jaded baseball players, a voice on a VHF radio far out to sea, a family of itinerant Mexicans camping dangerously in a dry riverbed, a famous alcoholic writer, and a few inexplicable ghosts. Gerard’s true stories are shot through with the uncanny and the mysterious—they are not quiet interior contemplations but instead are full of public events, remarkable encounters, life-and-death moments that both reveal and deepen the mysteries of our lives.

The Patron Saint of Dreams is a collection of fifteen narrative essays that address events in the world through the lens of personal experience, moments when seemingly small decisions have large consequences: enduring the terror of a direct hit by a hurricane, hiking through bear country and suffering a heart attack, hearing a disturbing secret from a old soldier who has kept it for sixty years, discovering an imposter who maintains his dual life long after death. Told by one of the South’s most acclaimed and masterful nonfiction writers, these are the stories we live, and the lovely and terrible people who live them with us.


Secret Soldiers: The Story of World War II's Heroic Army of Deception

Hardcover, 2002
Paper, 2004

They were masters of the craft of illusion and deception, and their greatest disappearing act was to vanish from history. The men of the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops were recruited to become phantom warriors in a ghost army to help win the Battle of Eurpoe. A thousand strong, they fought in more campaigns, from D Day to the Rhine River, with more Allied armies, than any other unit in the European Theater of Operations-yet not even their fellow American soldiers were aware of their presence.

After Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., USNR, completed a tour of England and its special forces installations, the Hollywood star convinced the Navy brass to train an elite unit that eventually evolved into the only Army force of its kind. These elite soldiers counted among their number designer Bill Blass and painter Ellsworth Kelly, and was inspired by Hilton Howell Railey, the "P.T. Barnum of Deception." The Special Troops' mission was two-fold: to deceive the German Army into believing that the Allies possessed more troops and material than they actually did and, even more heroically, to draw enemy fire on their position to allow other units to advance free of lethal resistance. Through the art of camouflage, sonic deception, and illusion this extraordinary troop of brave, ingenious men saved countless American lives-while sometimes losing their own. From the use of inflatable rubber tanks and howitzers to elaborate sound effects, fake radio transmissions, special effects artillery, and other elements of stagecraft, these shadow soldiers put their lives on the line for their brother soldiers and for their country-only to disappear from history and memory.

Secret Soldiers tells the astonishing story of this special troop whose mission was so top secret, information about it was only recently declassified. More than half a century later, these uniquely talented patriots can at long last take their place alongside the other honored veterans of World War II.


Brilliant Passage


Novelist Philip Gerard sailed aboard Mystic Seaport's classic schooner-yacht Brilliant from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Mystic. In these pages, his journal of that passage becomes a journal of the Brilliant's notable 60-year career, and is full of observations on the values offered by an experience under sail.

Nonfiction: Work
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