Thursday, October 30, 2014

Booknotes VIII (Oct '14)

New Arrivals:

1. John Wilkes Booth: Beyond the Grave by W.C. Jameson (Taylor Trade Publishing, 2014).

Alternative folklore abounds surrounding the deaths of famous and infamous historical figures (for the Civil War, John Wilkes Booth, Jesse James, and Bloody Bill Anderson come to mind), with some believing these men escaped their traditionally accepted fates and went on to live quieter lives elsewhere. This book, written by a distant relative, posits that the Lincoln assassin "was never captured but escaped to live for decades, continue his acting career, marry, and have children." What I think of this stuff you can probably guess.

2. The Ordeal of the Reunion: A New History of Reconstruction by Mark Wahlgren Summers (UNC Press, 2014).

With much of the current crop of Reconstruction era studies concerned primarily with the unrealized promise of full black citizenship in the decades following the Civil War, Summers "goes beyond this vitally important question, focusing on Reconstruction's need to form an enduring Union without sacrificing the framework of federalism and republican democracy. Assessing the era nationally, Summers emphasizes the variety of conservative strains that confined the scope of change, highlights the war's impact and its aftermath, and brings the West and foreign policy into an integrated narrative. In sum, this book offers a fresh explanation for Reconstruction's demise and a case for its essential successes as well as its great failures."

3. Lincoln and the Power of the Press: The War for Public Opinion by Harold Holzer (Simon & Schuster, 2014).

Lincoln the politician was always closely entwined with the newspaper press. He wrote editorials and even owned a paper at one point. Much is written about Lincoln being on the sharp end of press barbs, but he used the medium himself to attack his enemies and promote his own message. Though New York's Big 3 editors (Greeley, Bennett, and Raymond) are singled out for special attention, Holzer's thick tome attempts a wide ranging examination of the relationship.

4. The West Point History of the Civil War by the U.S. Military Academy (Simon & Schuster, 2014).

Among the section contributors to this new history are Neely, Glatthaar, Woodworth, and Hess so readers can expect reliably authoritative text. The full color maps are clearly inspired by Esposito's classic West Point atlas, but the unit scale (mostly division and higher) will disappoint many. More than anything else the book's look and feel reminds one of the American Heritage volume updated with current scholarship.

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