I've known nothing about "America's second favourite book" Gone with the Wind for most of my life, other than that it was some sort of chick lit. Now having read the book, I can attest that it is indeed chick lit, but it's also so much more.
I read the book to help me understand the mentality of some US southerners, such as those who wave the Confederate flag despite knowing how offensive it may be to those whose ancestors were enslaved under its banner. The book takes place in Georgia just prior to the US Civil War, during the Civil War itself, and also during the reconstruction period. Readers are taken through the dramatic changes in the lives of a group of characters who were (previously) wealthy plantation owners.
It was fascinating stuff. On the one hand, a lot of bad things happened to this wealthy group of people thanks to the war and subsequent carpetbagging. The young men were killed/maimed in the war, and their families poverty-stricken as they lost their lands after the war. On the other hand, these were the slave drivers, whose wealth prior to the war was astounding, and built on the backs of coerced (i.e. slave) labour. Land reform under such circumstances is likely vitally important to a functional society going forward.
Some of the thoughts of these plantation owners are so foreign to me that it made it quite hard for me to sympathize with their views. At times, it felt like I was reading a parody, even though the book was written by a Southerner from the viewpoint of her parents' generation. Every black person depicted in the book either wants to remain a slave (they are considered children who are not able to look after themselves, and apparently they considered themselves so as well!) or is a criminal-in-waiting post-freedom. No black people are harmed or abused as slaves in any part of the book as far as I can recall, which is not consistent with other literature of that period. There is also a level of hypocrisy which is hard to overcome. The upper class have no problems using slaves, but are rankled by those who purchase prison labour because they consider it exploitation(!).
I've read some books about wars, but this one delved into the post-war reconstruction period more than other books I've read, which was interesting. I don't think I've read what felt like such a firsthand account of what happens in the aftermath of a war. The book goes into some of the changes that occurred in society (e.g. black people getting the vote) and how some groups reacted (e.g. the formation of the KKK). Even after losing the war, the legislature of Georgia still refused to allow black people the right to vote.
It was also fascinating how the political parties were perceived back then versus today. It was the Republicans who wished to abolish slavery and give black people the right to vote, and it was the Democrats doing whatever it took to prevent these changes. Today, it's as if those parties have switched sides. I would be fascinated to find out how that happened!
The book had way more "love story" than I would have liked, but it still provided enough historical context to keep me interested. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in this topic.