Influential books are those that spawn imitators and/or detractors, or are so rich in theme and content that they inspire others to grab a kernel and run with it. Recently, as we all know by now, Brooks Simpson over at Civil Warriors set up a poll asking his readers to contribute a list of the 5 most influential books written after the publication of Battle Cry of Freedom. Of course, it's an impossible task to pick only five, but we can all make a go of it. Here are my choices:
War at Every Door: Partisan Politics and Guerrilla Violence in East Tennessee, 1860-1869 by Noel C. Fisher (UNC Press, 1997). The past 10 or 15 years have witnessed an explosion of important studies dealing with Southern Unionism. Fisher's comprehensive examination of East Tennessee politics, society, economics, and warfare is a fascinating model for others to emulate.
Race and Reunion : The Civil War in American Memory by David Blight (Belknap Press, 2001). Others have come before it (including such notables as Reardon's Pickett's Charge in History and Memory), but Blight's work could probably be regarded as the most significant force behind popularizing memory studies, in the academic press and historical journal worlds and beyond.
Apostles of Disunion: Southern Secession Commissioners and the Causes of the Civil War by Charles Dew (UVa Press, 2001). By specifically examining the secession movement in the words and deeds of its chief promoters, its underpinnings [at least those concerning the political framing elite] become indisputably clear.
Pea Ridge: Civil War Campaign in the West by William Shea and Earl Hess (UNC Press, 1992). The number of exemplary campaign studies published within the last 20 years is legion, but I will single out an early one that also happens to be my favorite [yes, I did my part to make sure it made CWi's Top 50]; and, if this wonderful book led to more study and publishing interest in the Trans-Mississippi region, all the better.
Lee Considered: General Robert E. Lee and Civil War History by Alan Nolan (UNC Press, 1991). We should be reminded that bad books can be just as influential as good ones. On the positive side, periodic iconoclasm can be refreshing, but Nolan's arguments tended toward silliness. Worse yet, rather than inspiring better studies, his work seems to have encouraged a stream of poorly argued polemical books, most having to do with Lee and Grant. Putting the Lee stuff aside, why writers and publishers continue to believe that Grant's stellar military career remains in need of rehabilitation is beyond me.
[BTW, while I admire UNC Press a great deal, the inclusion of so many of their books is simply a coincidence.]