Tuesday, July 15, 2014

"Most Unread" Civil War book

In a recent WSJ essay, math professor Jordan Ellenberg published a "Most Unread" book list using his informal Hawking Index [aside: how is The Great Gatsby, the paragon of literary readability, on this list?]. The fiction choice that defeats me has to be Cormac McCarthy's Suttree. CM is firmly set among my handful of favorite authors and I've read everything he's published but, after multiple aborted attempts, I just cannot finish Suttree, even though many critics consider it his best work.

It got me thinking about the Civil War titles that everyone else tells you are must-reads but you cannot bring yourself to finish or even start. In terms of long term struggle, one title comes to mind, but I can't count it anymore. It took me three tries over many years but I did finally get Richmond Redeemed by Richard Sommers under my belt. I guess the most memorable candidate still in play is David Potter's The Impending Crisis. Every year I tell myself I am going to read it, yet there it remains on the shelf gathering another sedimentary layer of dust.

So what is your "Most Unread" Civil War book?

19 comments:

  1. "Battle Cry of Freedom." And "Richmond Redeemed."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If I had ever owned a copy of BCoF I would have chosen that one.

      Delete
    2. Same here, Drew. I think Foote is another. I feel like by the time I got back into reading and studying the war, I was ready to dive right into the battle and campaign studies.

      Delete
  2. Brian C. LeeJuly 15, 2014

    It took me 3 tries over a period of 2-3 years to read all of Shelby Foote's trilogy.

    ReplyDelete
  3. AnonymousJuly 15, 2014

    Just can't bring myself to wade through Gerald Linderman's "Embattled Courage: The Experience of Combat in the American Civil War." I have a copy and it may be worth the effort, but its not happening anytime soon.

    As far as Shelby Foote's "The Civil War: A Narrative," goes—wonderful! I read it while working on my doctoral dissertation in graduate school and again about 10 years later. The man could write!

    I too have yet to read "Battle Cry of Freedom." Once your read Foote's trilogy, why read another general history.

    As a Western Theater and Trans-Mississippi aficionado, I always avoided getting too wrapped up in the Eastern Theater literature, but I recently started Gordon Rhea's four book series on the Overland Campaign—excellent!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've never gotten around to "Embattled Courage" either.

      Delete
  4. Joel ManuelJuly 16, 2014

    I couldn't finish either "Stonewall Jackson at Cedar Mountain" (2 attempts) or "Extraordinary Circumstances: The Seven Days Battles," even though I had a direct ancestor present during all of those battles. I'm still not sure why; just not for me, I guess. And from what I gather both are considered fairly "definitive" accounts of both campaigns.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Guilty feelings about cheating on the western theater? I understand entirely.

      Delete
    2. AnonymousJuly 18, 2014

      That and not reading Cooper's Davis bio, even though I took two of his classes. -Joel M.

      Delete
  5. AnonymousJuly 16, 2014

    Hello Drew

    You and someone else mentioned Richmond Redeemed. What about this title makes it so difficult to get through? I believe the author is considered one of the experts on this period of the war.

    I had to read Battle Cry of Freedom for a college course and found it very readable.

    One of your readers mentions Gordon Rhea's 4(hopefully 5) volume history of The Overland campaign. I also feel they are wonderfully written and very easy to read.

    Don

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dry writing never bothers me provided I am interested in the subject, but RR was (to me) both clinically dry and too peripheral to my preferred areas of study, my desire to read it primarily stemming from wanting to see why it's often mentioned as a model of CW operational & tactical history. I'm glad I finally finished it, though. It was worth it.

      Delete
  6. AnonymousJuly 16, 2014

    About 10 years ago I began William C. Davis's biography of Jefferson Davis. It's a massive but very readable tome. I got halfway through and, if memory serves, (both) Davises hadn't even reached secession yet. I gave up, just mentally exhausted. But like I said, very readable.
    Will Hickox

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Looking back on it, I'm surprised at myself that I actually read both the WCD and Cooper bios of Jeff Davis.

      Delete
  7. This is an interesting discussion. I loved Richmond Redeemed and have read it twice. I just love detailed tactical studies, especially on things I don't know a lot about.

    Of course, as a publisher I would be remiss to not mention that we are about to publish a revised and updated edition of Dr. Sommers' tome (out in September). It will be a very limited hardcover run with a great new jacket, and then paperback.

    As for the Davis bios, I have also ready Jack Davis' treatment twice. It is one of my all-time favorite biographies.

    Foote: Didn't read them for years, and finally threw my back out once in late 80s and laid in bed and read them cover to cover. Magnificent.

    Thanks for this post, Drew.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Chris EvansJuly 17, 2014

    'Battle Cry of Freedom'

    A one volume general history that I wish people would read instead is 'The American Civil War' by Peter J. Parish from 1975. It is awesome.

    Chris

    ReplyDelete
  9. Chris, I have never heard of the Parish book, but will give it a read. What makes it so good in your eyes? Can you provide a few specific examples?

    Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Chris EvansJuly 18, 2014

      Yes. I also meant to mention that in 2007 the Civil War historian Alan Guelzo called Parrish's book 'The finest single-volume survey of the Civil War, complete with attention to civilian as well as military conflicts in American society. Gorgeously well written by, surprisingly, a British historian.'

      Parish doesn't overwhelm with his overview of the military campaigns as they are to the point, concise, good and accurate.

      Where I think he truly comes into his own (and maybe because he is British) he just has a completely sane, accurate, straight to the point account of why the war came, how it was conducted, Emancipation, the Confederate government and home front, Lincoln and most wonderfully what was gained by the war and what it meant to America. He does all of this articulately and quite beautifully.

      He will go through points and list them 1, 2, 3, etc and in these paragraphs he really cuts through the smoke and the fire that Americans have thrown up about their own war.

      I wish all discussions of the war could be as clearheaded and sane as his are.

      Chris

      Delete
  10. Thanks Chris. I will give it a go.

    ReplyDelete
  11. AnonymousJuly 21, 2014

    Alan Nevins' four volume "The War For The Union".

    ReplyDelete

Blogger ID not required, but if you choose not to create one please sign your post with your name (no promotional information, please). Otherwise, your comment and/or link may be deleted.