What Have You Read This Year?

I would love to know what book(s) have made an impression on you this year. Feel free to share titles that go beyond the field of Civil War history and even history altogether. Don’t know about you, but I sometimes get caught up in books about the Civil War for months at a time and fail to come up for air.

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21 comments… add one
  • Andy MacIsaac Dec 16, 2014 @ 20:26

    Kevin, I have had a varied reading list this year. In no particular order Trapped Under the Sea by Neil Swidey, Chasing Shadows by Ken Hughes, Through the Perilous Fight by Steve Vogel, The Dead and those about to Die by John McManus, Enola Gay by Gordon Thomas, Rethinking Life on the AppalachIan Trail by Gary Bond, A Misplaced Massacre by Ari Kelman, A Broken Regiment by Lesley Gordon and lastly I am about a quarter of the way through To Antietam Creek by Scott Hartwig, but I think this book will be on the 2015 list

    • Kevin Levin Dec 17, 2014 @ 1:55

      Now this is a blast from the past. Nice to hear from you, Andy.

  • Brad Dec 16, 2014 @ 3:17

    On Civil War, among others I read Scorpions Sting and am now reading Edward Baptist’s book.

    I became interested in WW I and read

    Margaret Macmillan’s The War That Ended Peace
    1914, which is a day by day account of the events from Sarajevo to the declaration of war.
    Catastrophe: Europe Goes to War by Max Hastings

    I also discovered New York Review of Books Classics and have been plumbing their catalogue:

    Books by Stefan Zweig such as Beware of Pity, The Post Office Girl, Confusion and Chess Game. Also his memoirs.
    Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis
    Fear: A Novel of World War I by Gabriel Chevalier. Can’t recommend this enough.
    My Face for the World to See by Alfred Hayes

  • Kevin Levin Dec 15, 2014 @ 13:45

    Thanks for sharing, everyone.

  • Rob Wick Dec 15, 2014 @ 10:36

    I only read 17 books this year (and some of those were books I finished in 2014 but had started in 2013). In my 51 years I had never read “To Kill a Mockingbird” but after reading “The Mockingbird Next Door” by Marja Mills, I decided it was time. What can I say that hasn’t already been said? It was a wonderful read.

    On the recommendation of a friend, I read John Steinbeck’s “Travels With Charley in Search of America” which enthralled me. I also read a collection of Steinbeck’s other non-fiction called “America and Americans” which I can highly recommend.

    I finished Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “The Bully Pulpit”. As good as it was, for those who read Edmund Morris’ three volumes on TR and as one who has spent the last several months reading Ida Tarbell’s papers, I have to admit to some disappointment. Had I not read all of Morris’ books I might have liked it better since I would have approached it with fresh eyes, but most of it was more of a review for me. Jill Lepore’s “The Story of America” was a solid set of essays that I would highly recommend.

    I’m almost finished with A. Scott Berg’s biography of Woodrow Wilson, which I’m enjoying. Having read John Milton Cooper’s biography just a few years ago, Berg’s strikes me as being geared more toward a popular audience while Cooper’s was more scholarly. Both, for those interested in Wilson, are well worth having.

    Most disappointing for 2014 was “Angry Optimist: The Life and Times of Jon Stewart”. As a huge fan of Stewart, I was hoping for an insightful book. All I got was a cut and paste job from other interviews Stewart did. Not worth the time or cost.


  • Bruce Vail Dec 15, 2014 @ 1:46

    I read the unsatisfactory “Four Years In the Saddle,” a war memoir by Confederate cavalry officer Harry Gilmor.

    I was intrigued by the fact it was published in 1866, and therefore one of first such memoirs published. I was hoping it would provide a different perspective than that developed by so many historians over the decades, but was disappointed.

    Turns out the book was an effort by Gilmor to repair his damaged reputation. He had led irregular forces in the Shenandoah Valley area and some of his activities had degenerated into mere banditry, a fact which was reported in the newspapers in Baltimore (Gilmor’s home) and New York. The book was apparently successful in repairing his reputation locally, as he later served as a commissioner of police in the city of Baltimore and was quite a local celebrity when he passed away.

  • Jerry Sudduth Dec 14, 2014 @ 20:14

    I myself read many books on the Great War. I read:

    The Sleepwalkers: How Europe went to War in 1914

    July 1914

    The War that Ended Peace

    Poilu: The World War I Notebooks of Corporal Louis Barthas, Barrelmaker

    I found all of these indispensable to further my understanding of the First World War, but none more than Poilu. It is the most heartbreaking and eye-opening book on war I’ve read.

    I read just one Civil War title this year, which was The Battle of Wild Cat Mountain. This book is about the US victory in southeast Kentucky during October 1861. It’s a quality read and it appears that the rebels did quite a bit of degradation of private property in the campaign.

    I am an avid auto racing history buff and I read some titles from that genre as well.

    Black Noon: The Year They Stopped the Indianapolis 500.

    Beast-I forget the subtitle but it’s about the Penske-Ilmor engine that dominated the 500 in 1994.

    Janet Guthrie: A Life at Full Throttle.

    The Unfair Advantage by Mark Donohue.

    All of these are outstanding titles in a genre that really doesn’t get many quality books.

    I also read a few baseball books,

    Spitballing: The Life and Times of Long Bob Ewing

    The Chalmers Race: Ty Cobb, Napoleon LaJoie and the Batting Race that Became a National Obsession.

    The Summer of Beer and Whiskey.

    The Best They Could Be.

    I also read volumes three through seven of Harry Potter. I promised my fiancee I would read them if she’d read Jackie Stewart’s autobiography, Winning Is Not Enough (there are good lessons in that book for anyone!).

  • Dudley Bokoski Dec 14, 2014 @ 18:29

    “Collapse: The Accidental Opening of the Berlin Wall” by Mary Elise Sarotte. Really enjoyed this one, it’s about the series of events which caused the opening of the Berlin Wall. Most of them were caused by very human responses (and miscalculations) to a rapidly unfolding situation and don’t fit neatly with how we today understand what caused the Wall to open. In a way it is a book about historical memory and interesting because here we are 25 years on and most of what we think we know about those events is either wrong or only partially accurate.

    Also, “On the Road With Janis Joplin” by John Esten Cooke. Cooke was Joplin’s road manager and also the son of Alistair Cooke. A bit dry, but an interesting view of how Joplin’s career evolved in three distinct phases with three different bands with some interesting personal stories.

  • James Harrigan Dec 14, 2014 @ 17:15

    I had no idea it was actually possible to make sense of the French Revolution.

    Craig, I hear you. Baffling doesn’t begin to describe it. But I found The Oxford History of the French Revolution, by William Doyle, to be indispensable. I had to read it about 1.5 times, but I am now confident that I have a good beginner’s grasp of the Revolution. In addition to a good chronological exposition, it has some very useful background on the causes and consequences of the events of 1789-1802.

  • Craig L. Dec 14, 2014 @ 16:17

    I’m reading Black Count by Tom Reiss and What Hath God Wrought by Daniel Walker Howe. I’ve ordered The New American Exceptionalism by Donald Pease. I’m thinking about reading The Last Cavalier by Alexander Dumas. Unpublished when Dumas died nearly 150 years ago, it finally found the light of day in 2005. Black Count is fascinating. I had no idea it was actually possible to make sense of the French Revolution.

  • Dan Dec 14, 2014 @ 10:50

    “Decision in the West: The Atlanta Campaign of 1864” by Albert Castel (1992)
    “Kennesaw Mountain: Sherman, Johnston, and the Atlanta Campaign” by Earl J. Hess (2013)
    “Six Armies in Tennessee: The Chickamauga and Chattanooga Campaigns” by Steven E. Woodworth (1998)
    “The Chickamauga Campaign” by Woodworth et al (2010)
    “Roll Call to Destiny: The Soldier’s Eye View of Civil War Battles” by Brent Nosworthy (2008)
    “Confederate Generals in the Western Theater, Volume 1” by Lawrence Lee Hewitt & Arthur W. Bergeron Jr. et al (2010)

    New reads:
    “The Union Soldier in Battle: Enduring the Ordeal of Combat” by Earl J. Hess (1997)
    “American Colonies” by Alan Taylor (2001)
    “Banners to the Breeze: The Kentucky Campaign, Corinth, and Stones River” by Earl J. Hess (2000)
    “Vicksburg is the Key: The Struggle for the Mississippi River” by William L. Shea & Terrence J. Winschel (2003)
    “The Battle of Peach Tree Creek: Hood’s First Sortie, 20 July 1864” by Robert D. Jenkins, Sr. (2014)
    “Founding Brohers: The Revolutionary Generation” by Joseph J. Ellis (2000)
    “American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the founding of the Republic” by Joseph J. Ellis (2007)
    “What Ifs? of American History: Eminent Historians Imagine What Might Have Been” by Antony Beever, Caleb Carr, Robert Dallek, et al (2003)
    “The Marne, 1914: The Opening of World War I and the Battle that Changed the World” by Holger H. Herwig (2009)
    “The First World War” by John Keegan (1998)
    “Towards An American Army: Military Thought from Washington to Marshall” by Russel F. Weigley (1962)
    “Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy” by Ian W. Toll (2007)
    “The Linguist and the Emperor: Napoleon and Champollion’s Quest to Decipher the Rosetta Stone” by Daniel Meyerson (2004)
    “The Pursuit of Power: Technology, Armed Force, and Society since A.D. 1000” by William H. McNeil (1982)
    “The History of American Wars: From Colonial Times to World War I” by T. Harry Williams (1981)
    “The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789” by Robert Middlekauff (1982)
    “John Bell Hood: The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of a Confederate General” by Stephen M. Hood (2013)
    “The French and Indian War: Deciding the Fate of North America” by Walter R. Borneman (2007)
    “To the Manner Born: The Life of General William H. T. Walker” by Russel K. Brown (2005)
    “Bentonville: The Final Battle Between Sherman and Johnston” by Nathaniel Cheairs Hughes, Jr. (1996)
    “Bunker Hill: A City, A Siege, A Revolution” by Nathaniel Philbrick (2014)

  • Msb Dec 14, 2014 @ 9:47

    Freedom national, just a tremendous book that I read twice, once fast and once slow, to maximize my understanding and retention. I found it particularly valuable to have a framework into which to put all the different antislavery measures taken during the Civil War. And I just galloped through Sue Monk Kidd’s “The invention of wings”, a novel about how the Grimke sisters invented themselves as antislavery and feminist campaigners. The novel juxtaposes real historical figures, stretching from Sarah & Angelina Grimke to members of their families and Denmark Vesey, and other reformers including Lucretia Mott, with imagined characters, mostly slaves owned by the Grimkes. Two intertwined first-person narratives, Sarah and an invented slave given to her as an 11th birthday present (!), brilliantly show how embedded and enmeshed owners, as well as slaves, are in a slave system, and how much daily, casual, almost unnoticed cruelty is needed to run such a system. Sarah and Angelina really were among “The ones who walk away from Omelas”, and the book shows how hard it is to do.

  • James Harrigan Dec 14, 2014 @ 8:11

    It has been a great year in reading for me. Nothing directly about the Civil War except, partly, the very last item on my list, which is still in progress:
    We Need New Names, by NoViolet Bulawayo, 2013, 298pp.
    The Borrower, by Rebecca Makai, 2011, 324pp.
    The Plague of Doves, by Louise Erdrich, 2008, 311pp.
    Metamorphoses, by Frank Kafka, 1915, translated by Susan Bernofsky, 126pp.
    Things We Set on Fire, by Deborah Reed, 2013, 223 pages.
    Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, 2013, 588pp.
    Dept. of Speculation, by Jenny Offill, 2014, 192pp.
    The Lover, by Marguerite Duras, translated by Barbara Bray, 1984, 117pp.
    All the light we cannot see, by Anthony Doerr, 2014, 530pp
    The Great Glass Sea, by Josh Weil, 2014, 470pp.
    The Unknowns, by Gabriel Roth, 2013, 210pp.
    Can’t and Won’t, by Lydia Davis, 2014, 289 pp.
    The Dog, by Joseph O’Neill, 2014, 241pp.
    Dear American Airlines, by Jonathan Miles, 2008, 180pp.
    Quarantine, by Jim Crace, 1997, 241pp.
    Lydia Millet, Mermaids in Paradise, 2014, 300pp.

    Sisters Antipodes, by Jane Alison, 2009, 288 pages.
    Men We Reaped: a memoir, by Jesmyn Ward, 2013, 251pp.

    The New Geography of Jobs, by Enrico Moretti, 2012, 304pp.
    Capital in the 21st Century, by Thomas Piketty, translated by Arthur Goldhammer, 2013, 655pp.
    Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality, by Elizabeth Armstrong and Laura Hamilton, 2013, 322pp.
    The Sprit Level: Why Greater Equality makes Societies Stronger, 2009, by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, 374pp.
    The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin, by Masha Gessen, 2013, 304pp.
    The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832, by Alan Taylor, 2013, 435pp+notes.
    Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World, by David Brion Davis, 2006, 320pp+notes.

    • Kevin Levin Dec 14, 2014 @ 8:52

      Hi James,

      Anything in your fiction list that stands out? Thanks.

      • James Harrigan Dec 14, 2014 @ 15:03


        The best fiction I read was probably All the light we cannot see, by Anthony Doerr, which is worthy of all the literary hype it has had this year. It is a rare thing: a page-turning story which is also very sophisticated and beautiful writing, and it is formally inventive. The runners up in fiction are We Need New Names, by NoViolet Bulawayo, a semi-autobiographical bildungsroman set partly in Zimbabwe and partly in the U.S, and The Dog, a brilliant satire of expat life in Dubai, and the alienations of globalization more generally, by Joseph O’Neill.

        But given your interests in contemporary American society, particularly race relations, I’d recommend Jesmyn Ward’s brilliant, harrowing memoir Men We Reaped. This was probably the best work of literature I read this year.

  • Will Hickox Dec 14, 2014 @ 8:03

    I’ve read a ton of Civil War books this year. Five that stand out are:

    Richard G. Lowe, “Walker’s Texas Division.” An outstanding look at Confederate soldiers’ experiences in the little-remembered Trans Mississippi Theater.

    William L. Shea, “Fields of Blood: The Prairie Grove Campaign.” Very well-written campaign history that also gives an excellent description of what it was like to serve on the frontier.

    “I’m Surrounded by Methodists.” The journal of a chaplain in a Pennsylvania regiment. Great insights into the horrors of Fredericksburg and Gettysburg, as well as the duties of a chaplain and problems with draftees and substitutes.

    Two academic historians this year tackled the much-maligned regimental history genre and proved that it still has much to teach us about the Civil War era:
    Ian Michael Spurgeon, “Soldiers in the Army of Freedom,” about the 1st Kansas Colored Infantry.

    I’m currently reading Leslie Gordon’s “A Broken Regiment.” So far, so good. This is part of the new trend emphasizing the “dark” aspects of the war and self-interest on the part of its participants. She also includes much on the day-to-day administration of a regiment, which is important to know if you study soldier life.

    Finally, this one has nothing to do with the Civil War but is sort of history-related as it was first published in 1911:
    Stephen Leacock, “Nonsense Novels.” Leacock was a Canadian professor and humorist who wrote hilarious send-ups of literary cliches like the Great Detective and sea adventures. I highly recommend it for light reading.

  • E.J. D'Agrosa Dec 14, 2014 @ 7:49

    Did a lot of reading this year on WWI, it is of course the beginning of it’s centennial anniversary. I read, 1. “Guns of August” By: Barbara Tuchman, “The First World War” edited by: Hew Strachan, “Paris 1919” by: Margaret MacMillan, and “Tolkien and the Great War” By: John Garth.

  • Pat Young Dec 14, 2014 @ 5:58

    I did a lot of reading this year on the Civil War. I won’t go through the many established works on the war in 1864 that I read in connection with my series, but here are some of the newer books that I read and liked.

    1) The Half Has Never Been Told by Edward Baptist- Most of your readers know about this book. It does not fully develop its argument, but it is an interesting contribution to the “Slavery As Capitalist Labor Form” literature. Torture as technology was a novel approach.
    2) Two books by James Oakes, The Scorpion’s Sting and Freedom National helped me understand abolitionist and Republican ideology and strategy better.
    3) Megan Kate Nelson’s Ruin Nation.
    4) I started reading Damian Shiels’s book The Irish in the American Civil War with the same concerns that I had when I read Kevin’s Crater book. If I read their blogs what could they still have left to say? I was happily surprised in both cases.
    5) Joe Reinhart’s Yankee Dutchmen Under Fire which develops German immigrant soldier primary sources.

  • Matt McKeon Dec 14, 2014 @ 5:23

    “River of Dark Dreams” OK, a lot on steamboats. But very good.

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