Thursday, October 2, 2014

Read This: The Civil War

           The heritage of the south is Civil War literature. Everyone in Dixie has to read the Bible and at least one Civil War book. God knows there are plenty to choose from, but if you are looking for a definitive, and engrossing, history of the Civil War, you would do well to try The Civil War by Geoffrey C. Ward, Ric Burns, and Ken Burns.

           Written as a supplement to a 10-hour television series, The Civil War is about just that: the Civil War, from its underlying causes to its final effects on American life and politics. Told year by year, this book covers the whole scope of the war objectively, taking a few breaks now and then to discuss related or personal stories from history. Everything from slavery to troop movements in major battles to the use of photography receives its due space. Written in a concise, enjoyable, objective style, The Civil War is an excellent resource for study and a wonderful read.

           Accompanying the prose are pictures taken from the war. These images capture a variety of faces: soldiers posing for cards to send home, landscapes of Richmond in ruins, gatherings of ex-slaves resting in front of their homes. The images bring life to the text that could not be conveyed otherwise, giving real faces to the men and women we’re told about and whose letters and diaries we read. They bring the war and its time to us, reminding us of its reality in our not-too-distant past.

           The Civil War is no easy subject for an author to tackle, but Ward and the Burns manage to give a telling of its history that is arresting and enjoyable but also enlightening. Essays by scholars appear in each chapter, dissecting the reasons for the war and its effects on us as a nation. These discussions make the book not just a story but a lesson, and show us how much we have to learn from the Civil War… and why we can never forget it.

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