Monday, July 11, 2005

It's nice when a book lives up to its reputation. I just finished Battle Cry of Freedom, reading it in just under a week because I couldn't put it down. It's really hard, in one volume, to do both what I call a chronicle and a history. By "chronicle", I mean getting the facts down into an organized narrative. By "history", I mean provide coherent analysis of those facts. If you can make both compelling, you've written a hell of a history book; if you can do it on an enormous topic--the Civil War, including the 20-year run-up--that has been and continues to be written to death, then you've accomplished something incredible. James McPherson did both here, in his Pulitzer-winning magnum opus. It's entirely possible that the analysis is out-of-date since the book is 17 years old, and I'm sure historians have filled in some gaps and dug up some new sources. Also, real military buffs would probably be disappointed by the depth of treatment that actual battles get. But if you've ever thought you'd like to read one book that would tell you about the political, military, social, and cultural history of the Civil War period, this is the one.

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