What Did You Read This Year?

Oxford University Press

I am beginning to think about my “Best of 2011” list, which will be published at the end of the month.  A few of the titles that are likely to be included were recently highlighted as part of a best of list that can be found in the most recent issue of The Civil War Monitor.  I had plenty of time to read this year, which has made this year’s list much more difficult to nail down.

With Christmas fast approaching I wanted to thank those of you who have purchased books from Amazon by clicking through my affiliate link in the sidebar.  As many of you know, I make a small percentage on each sale and thus far I’ve done fairly well.  For the past four quarters I was able to purchase anywhere between 3-5 hardcover books.  I just started my latest acquisition, which is Paul Quigley’s, Shifting Grounds: Nationalism & the American South, 1848-1865 (Oxford University Press, 2011).

Enough about what I’ve read.  What did you read this year that you can recommend?  Of course, I am interested in Civil War books, but please feel free to share anything that you think is worth spending some time with.  Thanks.

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34 comments… add one
  • Kyle Menig Dec 10, 2011 @ 9:51

    Most of my selections in 2011 are older books that I’m sure many of you have read many times over.

    “Battle Cry of Freedom” by McPherson
    “Autobiography of US Grant” by Grant
    “Apostles of Disunion” by Dew
    “Mothers of Invention” by Faust
    “Race and Reunion” by Blight
    “American Oracle” by Blight

    I’m currently taking a break from reading up on the Civil War and just started “Gotham” by Burrows and Wallace. It’s a behemoth of a book, but fantastically written and very engrossing. That will be followed by Morris’ TR trilogy and some tabloid history with Asbury’s “Gangs of New York”.

    • Kevin Levin Dec 10, 2011 @ 9:58

      Excellent selection of books.

  • Bruce Clary Dec 9, 2011 @ 8:47

    I don’t have time to read voluminously in this area so I think the only works I’ve read this year with actual 2011 publication dates would be what has appeared online. However, since I see “Reluctant Rebels” (a 2010 release) has–rightfully–received mention, I feel justified in recommending another 2010 book, Stephanie McCurry’s “Confederate Reckoning,” which I read this past spring. “Confederate Reckoning” is the single best treatment of the rise and fall of the CSA that I am familiar with. If someone asked me to recommend a historical introduction to the Confederacy, I would direct them to this work. Are there better ones I may not know about? I’d be glad to learn about them if so.

    I’ve really enjoyed Adam Goodheart’s contributions to the NYT’s “Disunion” series, but I notice that “1861” isn’t on anyone’s list yet. Is it a good choice for someone whose budget for Civil War books is limited?

    • Kevin Levin Dec 9, 2011 @ 8:49

      You will enjoy Ken Noe’s book. I am right there with you in regards to McCurry’s book. Goodheart’s book is also worth reading. Thanks for the contribution.

      • Bruce Clary Dec 10, 2011 @ 12:32

        Ah, yes. *Now* I see you have “Confederate Reckoning” on your preliminary best-of list for 2011 so I suppose I wasn’t so behind the times as I thought. 😉

  • John Stoudt Dec 8, 2011 @ 18:43

    Most recent: _The Origins of the Republican Party, 1852-1856_, by William Gienapp, and _Nativism and Slavery: The Northern Know Nothings and the Politics of the 1850s_, by Tyler Anbinder. It’s amazing how quickly the Know Nothings rose to prominence and unfortunate that they are little remembered today.

    Also: “Slavery’s Invisible Engine: Mortgaging Human Property”, by Bonnie Martin, and “‘The worst kind of Slavery’: slave-owning Presbyterian churches in Prince Edward County, Virginia”, by Jennifer Oast, both in the November, 2010, issue of the _Journal of Southern History_. Credit is absolutely essential for growth in a free market economy, but how often do we consider that some of the South’s economic power was based upon mortgaging enslaved persons? Too, when a church is an institutional owner of enslaved persons, what happens when these persons are leased to different masters each year?

    Lastly, “Savior Nation: Woodrow Wilson and the Gospel of Service”, by Richard M. Gamble, in _Humanitas_, Volume XIV, No. 1, 2001. When service to others becomes a critical element in a nation’s foreign policy, will that mission evolve into idolatry? A well reasoned analysis with breadth and depth.

  • Rob Wick Dec 8, 2011 @ 8:05

    I’ve finished the first two volumes of Edmund Morris’s biography of Theodore Roosevelt and am about halfway through the third volume. Morris has such an engaging writing style and attention to detail which will make this the standard biography for years.

    I also enjoyed Blight’s American Oracle, John Milton Cooper’s biography of Woodrow Wilson and a book called Elizabeth and Hazel by David Margolick which talks about the unlikely friendship which developed between two women, Elizabeth Eckford, a black woman and Hazel Bryan, a white woman, who were in the thick of things during the battle to integrate Little Rock’s high school. Bryan was the teenager in the famous photo shouting at Eckford. It was a very good, and in the end, a rather sad read..

    Also enjoyed Erik Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts.


    • Kevin Levin Dec 8, 2011 @ 8:07

      I read one of the Morris volumes as well as Blight’s book, but your other titles sound interesting. Thanks.

  • Scott MacKenzie Dec 8, 2011 @ 5:06

    I’ve been reading a lot over the past year for my exams and for my dissertation. 2011 brought these books to my list:

    William C. Harris’ Lincoln and the Border States – a very good tome on how the president managed to deal with those people. I wish he had included West Virginia, though.

    William G. Thomas, The Iron Way – stimulating book on the importance of railroads to the Civil War.

    Mark Snell’s West Virginia and the Civil War – I find some limits to its coverage of the social/political history of the 35th state, but this will become the standard text on the war for many years to come.

    I can’t wait to see what 2012 has in store.

    • Kevin Levin Dec 8, 2011 @ 5:15

      Thanks, Scott. I can’t recommend Thomas’s book enough. I still need to get to Snell’s book.

  • Laura McCarty Dec 8, 2011 @ 4:53

    For winter break reading, I’m planning Geraldine Brooks’March and Mcpherson’s book on Antietam. They, along with an anthology make up the NEH/ALA book series Making Sense of the Civil War, which will be occurring at lots of places in 2012. Ed Ayers was the lead scholar for the effort.

    • Kevin Levin Dec 8, 2011 @ 4:55

      Thanks for reminding me of Brooks’s book. McPherson’s book is a good read, but he doesn’t add much of anything to what we know.

  • Tom Jones Dec 8, 2011 @ 4:31

    I liked Dennis Boman’s “Lincoln and Citizen Rights in Civil War Missouri.” He thinks that the Lincoln Administration handled matters in MO pretty well–that martial law and firm military rule were needed to prevent things getting even worse–but says the decision to summarily execute guerrillas inflamed anti-Union sentiment. He organizes the book around the tenure of each military commander and describes how each handled matters, giving high marks to Halleck, but blames Radicals like Lyon, Fremont, and Curtis for bungling MO politics. The biggest problem in MO was the fight between Conservative Unionists and Radicals, who didn’t understand how someone could be pro-slavery and pro-Union, and yet the Conservative Unionists may have been the largest block of MO citizens.

  • TF Smith Dec 7, 2011 @ 19:36

    Odds and ends (thanks to my not so local independent bookstore)”

    The Remains of Company D – JC Nelson (journalistic study of Co. D, 1st/28th, 1st Division, AEF) – nicely written and impressive work in primary sources;

    The Lost History of the 6th USCT Heavy Artillery – DW O’Sullivan (MA Thesis – not mine) Pretty good, and maybe the starting point for an article on a murder case allegedly involving US soldiers and southern civilians.

  • John Fox Dec 7, 2011 @ 19:07

    I’m almost finished reading Rick Atkinson’s “The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1945” I cannot put it down and would rate it as the top battle study of the Italian Campaign as he synthesizes an immense amount of info and makes it quite readable. He also has excellent perspectives on what is going on in the Allied trenches, the German trenches and then the military/political situation in London, Washington and Berlin.

  • Leonard Lanier Dec 7, 2011 @ 18:52

    Although not directly related to the Civil War, just finished Jill Ogline Titus’s “Brown’s Battleground” about the school closing crisis in Prince Edward County, Virginia. Easily one of the best case studies about the Civil Rights Movement yet written, with a surprising thing or two to say about Civil War memory as well.

  • Will Hickox Dec 7, 2011 @ 18:17

    I concur with those who enjoyed Prof. Noe’s “Reluctant Rebels,” although I read it last year. I think Gary Gallagher’s “The Union War,” despite its flaws, must rank high on any list of this year’s important Civil War books.

    • Kevin Levin Dec 7, 2011 @ 18:22

      Gallagher’s book is definitely worth reading. Chandra Manning recently reviewed the book in the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography and even though she was singled out as one of the misguided she gave the book a fair shake.

  • Barbara A. Gannon Dec 7, 2011 @ 17:49

    Non Civil War–but amazing-“First Light” by Geoffrey Wellum- the youngest pilot in the RAF during the Battle of Britain. I cannot recommend this memoir as highly as it deserves.

  • P. S. Cobb Dec 7, 2011 @ 17:40

    I forgot, I also read Impeached.. the Trial of President Andrew Johnon and the fight for Lincoln’s Legacy by David O. Stewart.

  • P. S. Cobb Dec 7, 2011 @ 17:35

    Bloody Crimes: The Chase for Jefferson Davis and the Death Pageant for Lincoln’s Corpse ” and “Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer ” both by James L. Swanson, 1776 by David McCullough, “Abagail Adams” by Woody Holton, “Decision Points” by President George W. Bush, “Revolutionary Characters” by Gordon S. Wood, “Francis Hodgson Burnett, the Unexpected Life of the Author of the Secret Garden” by Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina · “Red Clay to Richmond” by John J. Fox

    Also read “HELP” by Kathryn Stockett, but that is.. a fiction .20 minutes ago ·

  • Chrisitne Smith Dec 7, 2011 @ 17:23

    _Midnight Rising_ by Tony Horwitz John Brown at his best and worst. I learned so much that I didn’t know about this subject from this book.
    _My Old Confederate Home_ by Rusty Williams about the Kentucky Home for Confederate Veterans and those who helped make a reality.
    _Caleb’s Crossing_by Geraldine Brooks, (wife of Tony Horwitz), a novel about early New England and based on an historical Native American character who tried to live in both worlds.

  • David Silkenat Dec 7, 2011 @ 17:17

    I really enjoyed David Blight’s American Oracle, Judkin Browning’s Shifting Loyalties, and Steve Berry et al.’s Weirding the War.

    • Laura McCarty Dec 8, 2011 @ 4:48

      I also read American Oracle and loved it. And Stephen Berry and friends are on to some really interesting approaches as evidenced by Weirding the War.

    • Scott MacKenzie Dec 8, 2011 @ 8:41

      I too liked the Browning book.

  • Charles Bowery Dec 7, 2011 @ 15:27

    I must second Chernow’s _Washington_, what an incredible book. I also enjoyed Ken Noe’s _Reluctant Rebels_.

    • Kevin Levin Dec 7, 2011 @ 15:28

      You can’t go wrong with a book by Ken Noe.

      • Ken Noe Dec 7, 2011 @ 15:37

        Wow, thanks to you both.

        • Charles Bowery Dec 9, 2011 @ 4:41

          Indeed! My Civil War ancestors all belonged to Dr. Noe’s statistical population- the later enlisters, so the book was especially interesting for me.

  • Ray Ortensie Dec 7, 2011 @ 14:43

    I read a bunch this year but two that stuck out to me was…

    Donald Stokers “The Grand Design: Strategy and the U.S. Civil War” (2010)

    Gordon Wood “Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815” (Hardback 2009, Paperback 2011)

    Just picked up from out of my HUGE pile, Ron Chernow’s “Washington: A Life.” Love his work, especially his work “Alexander Hamilton” – in my opinion the best work on Hamilton that I have read to date.


  • Joseph M. Adelman Dec 7, 2011 @ 14:10

    It’s not the Civil War, but you should take a look at Pauline Maier’s Ratification (a 2010 release, but I was a few months behind). It’s the first comprehensive look at the ratification debates, and she did a great job weaving thirteen disparate stories into a single narrative.

    • Kevin Levin Dec 7, 2011 @ 14:21

      One of my favorite historians. I read the introduction and the chapter on Massachusetts.

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