Civil War Interactive has released it latest poll of the "Top 50 Civil War Books of all Time." The list includes some very important titles from the last few decades such as James McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom, Joseph Harsh’s Taken at the Flood, and Bell Wiley’s Life of Johnny Reb. What is striking, however, is how few titles fall outside the boundaries of military history. Doris K. Goodwin’s excellent study, Team of Rivals, Jay Winik’s popular April 1865, as well as Ed Fischel’s study of Union intelligence, but that’s about it. For the most part the books included in this list reflect a war that is understood in strictly military terms. There is little interest in the cause of the war or the ways in which the war transformed this nation politically, socially, economically or racially. Even on a military level, however, the choices fall almost entirely within the battles/campaigns category. We should keep in mind that most of the people who contribute to discussion boards are primarily interested in military matters so there are very few surprises here.
When CWI first announced the poll I spent a few minutes jotting down titles that I thought would make the list: Here they are: Shelby Foote’s Trilogy, McPherson’s Battle Cry, Freeman’s Lee’s Lieutenants, Robertson’s Stonewall biography, Watkins’s Co. H, something by Catton, one of the two Shaaras, one of Wiley Sword’s books, Bel Wiley’s Johnny Reb, Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, Horwitz’s Confederates in the Attic, something by Stephen Sears, Winik’s April 1865, and Goodwin’s Team of Rivals. Given that a few of my authors have more than one book on the list that’s not too bad for 15 minutes.
We love our Civil War battles and leaders. Unfortunately, the price is a great deal of ignorance when it comes to the broader questions that those battles helped to settle.