Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Booknotes: Civil War Barons

New Arrival:
Civil War Barons: The Tycoons, Entrepreneurs, Inventors, and Visionaries Who Forged Victory and Shaped a Nation by Jeffry D. Wert (Da Capo, 2018).

Jeffry Wert's Civil War Barons examines the lives and work of a number of northern creators and innovators who together made Union victory even more likely than it already was. "The Civil War woke a sleeping giant in America, creating unprecedented industrial growth that not only supported the struggle but reshaped the nation. Energized by the country's dormant potential and wealth of natural resources, individuals of vision, organizational talent, and capital took advantage of the opportunity that war provided. Their innovations sustained Union troops, affected military strategy and tactics, and made the killing fields even deadlier."

Books like this are typically organized as a series of chapters, each devoted to a single individual. Wert's study instead adopts a more thematic approach with the stories of two of more "barons" examined in every chapter but one. With chapter headings of The Administrators, The Visionary, The Inventors, The Improvisers, The Patriots, The Investors, The Tinkerers, The Dreamers, The Opportunists, and The Builders, the variety of contributions addressed across society and industry is broad indeed. The author also does a fine job of mixing famous men with those that were well known in their own time but comparatively obscure historical figures to today's readers. So for every Jay Cooke, Cyrus McCormick, and Cornelius Vanderbilt, there's a Gordon McKay, Abram Hewitt, and Henry Burden.

As one might expect from Wert, his writing in Barons is stylistically easy going but backed by serious research. More from the description: "Individually, these men came to dominate industry and amass great wealth and power; collectively, they helped save the Union and refashion the economic fabric of a nation. Utilizing extensive research in manuscript collections, company records, and contemporary newspapers, historian Jeffry D. Wert casts a revealing light on the individuals most responsible for bringing the United States into the modern age."

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