Sunday, January 10, 2010

2009: Year in Books, Part 2

Continuing my look at some of the books I read in 2009, I'll start now with Why the Civil War Came, edited by Gabor Boritt, which is a very nice collection of essays about the coming of the war, including his own thoughts on how Lincoln refused to see the war coming in time to try to prevent it, some interesting discussion of the failure of the U.S. political system, and other thought-provoking essays on topics like the Northern reaction to the war, as well as the pre-war actions of women and of African-Americans. It is a bit difficult to read at times, but is well worth the effort.

All That Makes a Man: Love and Ambition in the Civil War South by Stephen W. Berry is a book that I found difficult to read at times, trying to understand the language and themes he used, especially when he discussed psychological and philosophical themes . For some reason, it did not fit my personal style of what I like to read, or maybe I just did not fit it. This book discusses the role of love and ambition in Southern men, discussing gender roles and how that influenced the way men handled the controversies leading to the war. I liked how he used pairs of men as examples in different sections, showing how the experiences and lives of each compared and contrasted. It is a really good subject, with a lot of potential, but I just did not find this book as readable or as easy-flowing as his next book House of Abraham: Lincoln and the Todds, a Family Divided by War, which I read a couple of years ago.

I believe the following books (or most of them) have already been the subjects of reviews on my blog, but I will give them brief mention again here.

James P. Duffy's Lincoln's Admiral: The Civil War Campaigns of David Farragut is a very enjoyable, informative and smoothly-flowing review of the career of David Farragut, concentrating on his Civil War experiences on the Mississippi River, at New Orleans, Mobile Bay and other locals. I do wish it had included endnotes or footnotes, however.

I claim no objectivity on this one, as I do know Dr. James A Ramage and am privileged to work at the museum named in his honor, but still found his Rebel Raider: The Life of General John Hunt Morgan to be a very informative look at the life of this famed Confederate, offering both praise and critical analysis of Morgan's actions and decisions.

Another book that I found to be absolutely outstanding, both in style of writing and, especially, for its subject and treatment thereof was Mr. Lincoln's T-Mails: How Abraham Lincoln Used the Telegraph to Win the Civil War by Tom Wheeler. It is a concise, but informative review of Lincoln's uses of this new technology, which had not been available to any war-time U.S. President previously. Wheeler shows how Lincoln had no precedent on how to use such a tool, but how he found an effective way to employ it to his advantage.

One book which was a bit confusing at times due to the many voices used, yet still provided many unique and interesting perspectives was The Slaves' War: The Civil War in the Words of Former Slaves  , edited by Andrew Ward. The confusion came from so many different sources used, yet that added to the variety and diversity of opinions and viewpoints. There were surprising views as well, such as slaves thinking of Yankees as monsters, or protecting their masters' valuables from invading Northern forces. It took me some time to get used to the format but once I did, I found this to be a very interesting look at life from the perspectives of these who had lived as slaves during the war.

1776 by David McCullough took me away from pure Civil War studies, but I actually found several themes throughout the book that reminded me of various discussions of the "2nd American Revolution," including the one large, powerful existing government versus the upstart Rebels and some mentions of sectional discord or distrust among the American leadership and troops. It is an outstanding book to read and gives a fascinating look at this pivotal year in American history.

A Yankee Goes to Gettysburg is a series of beautiful photographs from the Gettysburg battlefield followed by original poetry by Todd Patrick Coleman, a local author whom I have been fortunate enough to meet and befriend and whose book is available at the Ramage Museum. I enjoyed these short tributes to those who fought at that Pennsylvania town – they are not the typical poems with rhyming lines, but are of a more abstract style, while still adding meaning to the wonderful pictures. This is a book that can be read in one sitting, and is well worth it.

Daniel Mark Epstein wrote a fine book entitled Lincoln's Men: The President and his Private Secretaries that provides a nice perspective at some of the background work taking place in Lincoln's White House, and how Lincoln and these young men came to rely on each other for support and developed close relationships over the years. The amount of work these men (John Nicolay, John Hay & William Stoddard) did was amazing.

I did read one collection of diary and journal entries this year, and it was another fascinating book, concentrating on the last year and 4 months of the Confederacy. No Soap, No Pay, Diarrhea, Dysentary & Desertion: A Composite Diary of the Last 16 Months of the Confederacy compiled by Jeff Toalson, is exactly what its long title suggests. It takes excerpts from many people and locations to provide a diverse set of views of the end of the Civil War, including comments from soldiers, sailors and people at home, including women, some of whom had very strong opinions on Confederate leadership. This work is very enjoyable and informative.

William Lee Miller's President Lincoln: The Duty of a Statesman is a good solid look at Lincoln during his presidential years, focusing on his new-found role as not just a local lawyer and politician, but a statesman who now had worldwide correspondents and responsibilities. It focuses mostly, though, on h is role in America as a statesman and how his personal set of values and morals guided him through the tough job of war-time leader. I found it to be very enjoyable and informative, and a fairly easy read.

Lincoln at Peoria: The Turning Point by Lewis Lehrman was the final book I finished in 2009, and is one of my favorites, not just from that year. It is a very detailed, organized and fascinating look at the importance and impact of the speech Lincoln gave at Peoria, Illinois in October 1854. Lehrman argues, convincingly, I may add, that this speech marked a change in Lincoln's professional life, in terms of how he prepared and delivered his speeches, and about the topics he argued in those speeches. It simply is an outstanding book that I enjoyed about as much as any other I can recall reading. It, along with White's & McCullough's works, is one of the best I read in 2009, and perhaps in my life.

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