Your Choice For Best Books of 2016

I recently shared a couple of my favorite Civil War books from this past year. What about you? What did you read this past year that you would like to recommend to others? Of course, I am primarily interested in the Civil War era, but feel free to share whatever you like.

Finally, what future releases are you looking forward to reading?

27 thoughts on “Your Choice For Best Books of 2016

  1. David T. Dixon

    Kevin
    My favorite CW book of 2016 was Timothy Egan’s work titled The Immortal Irishman. It is a biography of Thomas Meagher, the leader of the Irish Brigade from NYC. Egan, like almost all my favorite gistorians, is a journalist. His talent and style matches the inherent drama and pathos of this terrific tale. A standout work.

    Reply
    1. Ed Farrelly

      I agree. His remarkable life encompassed the Irish anti-British movement, a penal colony in Australia, New York city before the war, numerous battles in the Civil War and ends up in the American west.

      Reply
    2. London John

      Does this add much to what’s in “The Great Shame” by Thomas Kenneally about Meagher? In particular, does it have any further information about Meagher’s death in Montana? Or does it give a fuller background about struggles in Montana at that time?
      Incidentally, Meagher and the other Young Ireland leaders weren’t sent to a “penal colony” in Australia. They were State Prisoners, unguarded and not required to work. Kenneally is naturally particularly informative about the Australian part of Meagher’s life.

      Reply
  2. Barbara Gannon

    Not Civil War, but awesome. Torchbearers of Democracy. Written a few years ago it choniciles the African American experience in WWI and after. AWESOME CW Adam Rothman, Beyond Freedom’s Reach: A Kidnapping in the Twilight of Slavery. My buddy, so I am not completely unbiased, Brain Miller, Empty Sleeves, amputation.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Hi Barbara,

      I actually read Williams’s book as well. It’s really good. The other two are excellent choices as well.

      Reply
  3. kurtluther

    My pick is the same as Kevin’s: “Thunder at the Gates.” But “Immortal Irishman” is a close second. I would also nominate Ron Coddington’s “Faces of the Civil War Navies.”

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  4. Ken Noe

    The one making me revise my class readings and lectures is Adam Arenson and Andrew Graybill, Civil War Wests. Joseph Beilein’s Bushwhackers and Matthew Hulbert’s The Ghosts of Guerrilla Memory are both exceptional. And I agree completely with Barb Gannon about Brian Miller’s Empty Sleeves.

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  5. Scott A. MacKenzie

    My 2016 reading list consisted mostly of catching up on books that I bought in previous years. Topics include ancient Egypt, Byzantium, the Russo-Finnish Winter war of 1939-40, and not one but TWO biographies of the long neglected WW2 General Jacob L. Devers.

    I nominate three Civil War books from this year: Gallagher and Waugh’s brilliant synthesis The American War, Christopher Phillips’ stimulating The Rivers Ran Backwards, and Joseph Beilein’s marvelous Bushwhackers.

    Happy Holidays, everyone!

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  6. Pat Young

    I have a few. Since I am on the train tapping on my iPhone I will give them separately.

    Abolitionizing Missouri: German Immigrants and Racial Ideology in Nineteenth-Century America by Kristen Layne Anderson published by Louisiana State University Press (2016) is part of a belatedly growing library of books that examine the German-language sources from the 1850s and 1860s exposing the complex world of the German diaspora in America.

    Germans tipped the scales for the Union in the most populated state west of the Mississippi. While German immigrants made up only 9% of Missouri’s white population, they accounted for 36% of Union soldiers from that state. Author Kristen Layne Anderson provides the context behind German Missourians’ shifting political affiliation from the Free Soil Democrats to the Republican Party and their divisions in the mid-1860s between moderate Republicanism and Radicalism. The slow turn of German immigrants away from continued reforms in race relations makes for a disheartening ending for the story of the most progressive element in white Missouri.

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  7. Pat Young

    I also was absorbed in the new abolition book. The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition by Manisha Sinha published by Yale University Press (2016) is a marvelous history of the Abolitionist Movement from the 1600s to the Civil War. It places African Americans at the center of the movement, both as activists and thinkers. Immigrant contributions to the movement receive very good treatment, and the efforts of the German abolitionists are rescued from obscurity.

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  8. Mike Rogers

    Don’t think I read anything published in 2016. I find that I’ve been going back in time. Example – Reading (again) Jacobson’s book on Spring Hill & Franklin has led me to Connelly’s two volumes on the Army of the Tennessee, which of course, meant I had to read Horn’s history as well. At this rate I’ll get to the 2016 books in about the year 2030 🙂

    Reply
    1. hankc9174

      that’s me as well. I ended up reading nevins ‘ordeal of the union’ cover to cover to cover to cover, and so on for 12 covers.

      in this day and age, it may be apropos to choose the best short (say 30-90 minute) video of the year. Al Mackey is a leader in revealing the better ones.

      Reply
  9. Patrick Young

    The other books published this year that I really liked were:

    City of Dreams: The 400-Year Epic History of Immigrant New York by Tyler Anbinder (2016). About a quarter of this book by the outstanding immigration scholar Tyler Anbinder covers the Civil War Era, but the book runs from the 1600s through 2001. This will be an enduring classic of immigrant history. It has a lot of great details on how immigrant neighborhoods worked back in the 1800s. The one thing missing from the story was the impact of immigrant organizations on the world the immigrants made.

    City of Sedition: The History of New York City during the Civil War by John Strausbaugh (2016) is misnamed. This is a broad history of NYC duirng the war years. Everything from the formation of New York City regiments to the elections of the Lincoln Era is covered.

    Immortal Irishman by Tim Egan is my favorite new book to recommend to newcomers to Civil War reading. It incorporates race, gender, and ethnic studies within a compelling and accessible narrative. It tells the story of Thomas Francis Meagher in the context of Atlantic revolutionary history, liberal political history, and colonialism. The sections of the book dealing with Meagher’s captivity in Australia were fascinating, his escape from the British was amazing, and his post-war death was a political mystery. BTW, I did not know that Meagher was likely the lover of Oscar Wilde’s revolutionist mother.

    Troubled Refuge: Struggling for Freedom in the Civil War by Chandra Manning published by Knopf (2016) examines the interplay of black refugees who arrived by the thousands into Union army camps as the United States forces penetrated ever deeper into the empire of slavery and the Federal policies towards black people that evolved in response to the refugee crisis. Professor Manning provides revealing details of African American interactions with white Northerners which turned the Federal government from the stalwart protector of slavery into the defender of the rights of black men and women. For the first time in American history, the United States government became the protector of blacks fleeing slavery against the wealthy whites who hoped to re-enslave them.

    The book provides background on the situation of refugees, the complete unpreparedness of the Federal government to receive them in 1861, and the evolution of refugee policies, laws, and agencies over four years of war. What began as chaos was given some sense of order after the Emancipation Proclamation when black male refugees became soldiers and insisted that their wives and children be protected while they fought.

    Reply
      1. Patrick Young

        My pleasure. The two books I look forward to reading at the start of the new year are: A Nation Without Borders THE UNITED STATES AND ITS WORLD IN AN AGE OF CIVIL WARS, 1830-1910 By STEVEN HAHN and Forgotten Irish: Irish Emigrant Experiences in America by Damian Shiels

        Reply
  10. Josh Liller

    I didn’t read any Civil War books published in 2016 that I could recommend.

    For older Civil War books I read this year, the best was George Buker’s “Blockaders, Refuges, and Contrabands” about the East Gulf Blockade Squadron, Unionists, Confederate deserters, and runaway slaves in Florida particularly the Gulf Coast.

    Biggest recommendation for a non-CW us Tony Judt’s “Postwar” which is a big book, but vital for Americans to understand modern (post-WW2) Europe.

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  11. woodrowfan

    Since I’m not a CW specialist my readings are different. But I’ve been enjoying Lisa McGirr’s The War on Alcohol: Prohibition and the Rise of the American State and The Baltimore Sabotage Cell: German Agents, American Traitors, and the U-Boat Deutschland During World War I by Dwight R. Messimer.

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  12. fundrums

    I enjoyed Waging War : The Clash Between Presidents and Congress, 1776 to ISIS by David J. Barron. A timely account of a raging debate: The history of the ongoing struggle between the presidents and Congress over who has the power to declare and wage war. – Michael Aubrecht

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  13. James F. Epperson

    I just finished “Braxton Bragg—the most hated man of the Confederacy,” by Hess, and I really enjoyed it. I know that some friends of mine, who are more expert in Bragg’s story than I am, have some quibbles with it, and I certainly respect their expertise, but I really enjoyed the book and think the author did a great job of explaining why Bragg was Bragg.

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  14. Lyle Smith

    I finished this book not too long ago myself. I enjoyed it as well. It is a even-handed account of Bragg from Hess’ view of the conflict, and definitely contributes to a better understanding Bragg and the war.

    Reply

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