Best of 2013

Ian BurumaI decided to post my “Best of” list a little earlier this year. As you might imagine a return to full-time teaching limited what I was able to read over the past few months, but I still managed to make my way through a good number of books in 2013. I thought it was a pretty good year for Civil War books. As for my own research, this past year was a bit of a disappointment. Responsibilities at school also hampered my progress on the black Confederates book, but I am hoping to return to it over the summer. As I reported a few weeks ago, I am also researching the Crater once again for an essay that will appear in an edited volume in 2015. [Should be able to provide more details on it in the near future]. Finally, keep an eye out in January or February for a special issue of Common-place on the Civil War sesquicentennial that I co-edited with Megan Kate Nelson. The essays cover a wide range of topics and should appeal to both scholars and Civil War enthusiasts alike.

Best General History: Ian Buruma, Year Zero: A History of 1945 (The Penguin Press, 2013).

Best Overall Civil War History: Brenda Wineapple, Ecstatic Nation: Confidence, Crisis, and Compromise, 1848-1877 (Harper, 2013).

Best Campaign/Battle Study: Allen Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion (Knopf, 2013).

Best Social History: Bruce Levine, The Fall of the House of Dixie: The Civil War and the Social Revolution That Transformed the South (Random House, 2013).

Best Slavery History: Walter Johnson, River of Dark Dreams: Slavery and Empire in the Cotton Kingdom (Harvard University Press, 2013).

Best Edited Collection: Andrew L. Slap and Michael T. Smith, This Distracted and Anarchical People: New Answers for Old Questions about the Civil War-Era North (Fordham University Press, 2013).

Best Memory Study: Ari Kelman, A Misplaced Massacre: Struggling over the Memory of Sand Creek (Harvard University Press, 2013) and Caroline Janney, Remembering the Civil War: Reunion and the Limits of Reconciliation (University of North Carolina Press, 2013).

Best Confederate Study: Jaime A. Martinez, Confederate Slave Impressment in the Upper South (University of North Carolina Press, 2013).

Best Union Study: John Stauffer and Benjamin Soskis, The Battle Hymn of the Republic: A Biography of the Song That Marches On (Oxford University Press, 2013).

Congratulations to the winners and happy reading!

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15 comments… add one
  • Patrick Young Dec 14, 2013

    I read three of three of the books:

    Brenda Wineapple, Ecstatic Nation: Confidence, Crisis, and Compromise, 1848-1877
    Allen Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion
    Walter Johnson, River of Dark Dreams: Slavery and Empire in the Cotton Kingdom

    All were good choices. I think River of Dark Dreams was my favorite. It integrated a lot of economic information without being technical or off-putting. Guelzo’s book surprised me because, while it is the 50th book on the battle that I’ve read, it didn’t seem like a rehash. I also appreciated his ready use of immigrant sources.

    • Kevin Levin Dec 14, 2013

      Johnson’s book is a masterpiece. It’s not everyday that a lengthy analytical study keeps my attention. In fact, I’ve gone through large sections more than once. I promised myself that I would never read another Gettysburg book, but Guelzo is such a creative writer and he managed to bring the battle/campaign alive in a way that hasn’t been done before. Wineapple is definitely worth reading, but it wasn’t one of my favorites on this year’s list.

      • Patrick Young Dec 14, 2013

        I agree with all three of your comments. I liked Wineapple’s book, but while I heartily recommended River and Gettysburg to both literate neophytes and those who have read a lot on the period, I had a hard time trying to figure out her audience. I liked the way she told the story of the era through partial biographies, but a lot of her material was familiar.

        I did appreciate her vignette on immigrant women as industrial workers.

  • Barbara Gannon Dec 14, 2013

    Thank you for your kind words on “Distracted and Anarchical People.” I am prejudice, of course, but I agree. : )

  • ari Dec 14, 2013

    Thanks, Kevin. As ever, I appreciate the kind words.

    • Kevin Levin Dec 14, 2013

      Your 15 minutes are up my friend. 🙂 Just kidding. It’s been my pleasure.

  • Jaime Martinez Dec 14, 2013

    Thank you! This made my night. I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts on it.

    • Kevin Levin Dec 15, 2013

      My pleasure, Jaime. I just finished it a few days ago. Thanks again for acknowledging a bit of my work on the blog in the last chapter.

  • Doug Didiér Dec 15, 2013

    River of Dark Dreams referenced Flush Times and Fever Dreams by Joshua Rothman. For those interested, more in depth narriative on 1835 Virgil Stewart story, events in Vicksburg, and the Panic of 1837.

    • Kevin Levin Dec 15, 2013

      Another excellent book.

  • Brad Dec 15, 2013

    River of Dark Dreams, Bruce Levine’s book and Guelzo’s book were definitely up there. I couldn’t figure out Winapple’s book. Just a little different.

  • Benjamin Soskis Dec 17, 2013

    Thanks much, Kevin! A real honor.

    • Kevin Levin Dec 17, 2013

      Nice to hear from you. My pleasure and best of luck with future projects.

  • Andy Slap Jan 1, 2014


    Thank you for the honor. Barb Gannon told me about it on December 24 and it was a nice surprise for Christmas.


    • Kevin Levin Jan 1, 2014

      Nice to hear from you, Andy. My pleasure. I noticed in my Amazon Affiliate account that I sold a couple copies as a result of the post. See you this summer at the SCWH. Happy New Year.

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