I don’t often blog about the non-fiction I read, mostly because such books probably require – and often deserve – a much more detailed review than I am going to bother with. However, I do try and mention those non-fiction books that are outstanding in one way or another, and may be of interest to a non specialist audience. This battle history is one such deserving book.
The story: this is a narrative history. It tells a story, and it tells it well. This is not a dry recitation of events, like a combination of a timetable and a script. It is carefully crafted, beautifully written, nicely paced, and came across as even-handed. At the same time – and this is a major achievement – the author includes good and thoughtful analysis; military, political, and philosophical.
For example, as well as battle performances, we are given an interesting insight to the political divisions within the Union leadership.
For example, the author reminds us of the development of liberal democracy and its sometimes disconnection from the movement for the abolition of slavery.
For example, he reminds us that this was a 19th century massive battle fought by many incompetent soldiers, and it could have turned out so differently. He shreds the simplistic military explanation of this having been “total war” and mentions battlefield analysis suggesting how little those outside the combat environment actually understood that hellish place. And running through that combination of perspectives, he shouts from the rooftops that studying military history is an essential part of understanding history in context.
The pictures are nothing special, but the maps are good – though sometimes separated from the relevant text. But there could always be more maps!
I thought this book was nice and fresh, without overly trying to kill sacred cows, and without forcing the issue of trying to make new discoveries. While I thought his analysis of the personalities and their decisions was well reasoned, I have seen other well constructed arguments making opposing points. That does not matter. It is for the reader to make up his own mind. What matters is that the author gives you the information and his views, his sources, and his guidance. That’s what you are paying for. (I thought I got a bargain, incidentally.)
If you want to understand the most important battle of the American Civil War, reading this book should achieve the desired result.