Friday, May 19, 2006

Volume 3 from Russel Beatie

As Brett and Dimitri have already pointed out, volume three of Russel Beatie's command history of the Army of the Potomac is scheduled for release at the end of this year (ISBN: 1-932714-25-1; photos, 30 original maps by George Skoch, extensive notes, bibliography, index. Hardcover, dust jacket, 864 pages, $45). It's published by Savas Beatie this time around and that's good news in and of itself. Volume I was very poorly edited, a matter I hope and expect Savas Beatie to improve upon.

It seems with each passing volume, the time interval covered steadily shrinks while book length expands. By the time the Seven Days rolls around, the books will start to exert a noticeable gravitational pull. That's not a real criticism on my part (I will eagerly devour each page), it's just an observation I find a little amusing.

Maybe it's a lack of understanding of just how monumental a project Beatie has undertaken (or maybe it's a 'wait and see' attitude), but it seems to me that even this early stage of Beatie's work remains a bit underappreciated. Granted, his books aren't for everyone. He doesn't have the pleasing narrative skills of Gordon Rhea and some readers appear to be put off by a superficially unstructured framework that can be interpreted as a lack of focus; but none of that bothers me to any great degree. What bugs me most is his penchant for taking passive recollections from the source material and converting them to direct dialogue with quotations. I don't have the inclination to go to the original sources themselves to determine whether Beatie actually takes any untoward liberties with the material, but it does make me uncomfortable.

Overall, though, I can't think of any recent Civil War book project that has this much ambition and that's backed up by such a burgeoning mass of primary source materials, new and old. A great fear I do have is being able to properly appreciate an event on the Peninsula when its setup was perhaps reconstructed by the author 2 years, 2 volumes, and 2000 pages earlier!

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