Thursday, June 19, 2008

"Battle: The Nature and Consequences of Civil War Combat"

Like many essay collections, Battle: The Nature and Consequences of Civil War Combat [general editor Kent Gramm, University of Alabama Press, 2008] covers a range of topics with varying degrees of success in terms of compelling analysis and originality. Scott Hartwig begins it all with a John Keegan [Face of Battle]-inspired treatment of Gettysburg. The rest of the chapters are essentially devoted to the aftermath of battlefield carnage. One may differ with his conclusions, but Eric T. Dean penned a thoughtful article that centered around his critique of the standard scholarly works [e.g. Hess, Linderman] that sought to relate how Civil War soldiers dealt with their combat experiences. Neurologist Bruce Evans contributed one of the better chapter length summaries of Civil War medicine that I've come across. Out of place, in my opinion, were the personalized, emotional chapters by Paul Fussell and Alan Nolan (Nolan's recitation of his now trademark anti-"Lost Cause" presentation seemed particularly so). Finishing up the book is a 'numbers' article by general editor Kent Gramm. While not covering terribly new ground, it serves as a reminder of the importance of analyzing the underlying assumptions behind the calculation of various Civil War numerical figures [they tend to get passed on through the ages with little reflection], and also the significance of context when attaching meaning to the numbers.

2 comments:

  1. Drew,

    I've been meaning to get this book myself as it crosses some territory that will also be covered in a forthcoming (Edinborough Press, 2009) collection on Civil War medicine I am co-editing with Guy Hasegawa, Pharm.D. Apart from specifics of this book, what are your general expectations for an edited collection of invited essays? Is 'cohesion" important to you? Length (148 pages for "Battle" seemed a bit slim to me)?

    All My Best,

    Jim Schmidt

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  2. Hi Jim,
    Well, ideally I expect something (at least one main thrust) significantly original in content or analysis (preferably both) in each article -- esp. for a relatively expensive university press book of short length. Dean's article probably fit this expectation best.

    As for that jacket blurb about this collection demonstrating exceptional cohesion...I don't know, that kind of impression didn't immediately pop into my mind. 'Cohesion' can be interpreted so broadly I don't know what to say about it in general. I suppose some overall theme is what initially draws one to a particular essay collection. In my mind, true cohesiveness would require articles to relate to a larger theme AND directly to each other. That degree of intersection certainly isn't typically done.

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