The Bonfire

13 10 2009

Bonfire, theI finished up Mark Wortman’s The Bonfire: The Siege and Burning of Atlanta.  Let me start off with a warning – this is possibly the most inappropriately titled book I’ve ever read.  Unlike Russell Bonds’s War Like the Thunderbolt, and despite the claims of its title, Wortman’s book is most definitely not primarily concerned with the siege and burning of Atlanta.  It’s more accurately described as a history of the city of Atlanta, from its wilderness days up through the climactic events of 1864.

Look at it this way: Wortman’s story takes up 361 pages.  John Bell Hood doesn’t take over command of the Army of  Tennessee until page 259, and William T. Sherman marches out of the burning city on page 336.  But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Bonfire is a social history first and foremost.  And it compliments rather than competes with Thunderbolt.  You’ll get more back story on the people and places in Bonfire, and more focus on a narrower timeframe in Thunderbolt.

I’m not a fan of Wortman’s writing style: as I’ve said before, I dig Hemingway, not Steinbeck, and so prefer fewer words to more.  Wortman is heavy on the adjectives and uses so many compound sentences I found myself having to read a lot of them more than once.  He’s at his weakest when he’s discussing military matters: Abraham Lincoln changed commanders of the Army of the Potomac two times in the first two years of the war, not five (from McClellan to Burnside and from Burnside to Hooker – that’s two.  Neither McDowell nor Pope ever commanded the AotP, and McClellan organized it);  the Army of the Cumberland was commanded by William Rosecrans, not William Rosencrans, and his army was attacked by that of Braxton Bragg at Chickamauga, not the other way around; Jefferson Davis placed Robert E. Lee in command of the army outside Richmond in 1862 because Joe Johnston was wounded, not because Lee was more aggressive.  But the correction of these problems would not significantly alter the product, which again is not a military history.  Of course, it does bring into question the accuracy of the non-military aspects of the book.  But I’m having trouble getting fired up about that – I guess I’m mellowing in my old age.

Bonds’s writing style is more appealing to me, but that’s a matter of personal taste.  The contents are so dissimilar that comparisons would be apples to oranges.  I think the way to approach these books would be to start reading Wortman, then read the two in tandem when they synch up time-wise.

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SCWH Newsletter

9 10 2009

I received the Fall 2009 Society of Civil War Historians newsletter today.  Mostly it lists the Civil War related sessions at the upcoming Southern Historical Association‘s conference in Louisville, KY in November.

By far the best thing in this issue of the newsletter is Mark Grimsley’s review of Battle: the Nature and Consequences of Civil War Combat, a collection of essays edited by Kent Gramm.  I reviewed the collection in brief for America’s Civil War last year, and there’s only so much one can do with the “in brief” format.  Prof. Grimsley gave the essays by GNMP historian Scott Hartwig and Dr. Bruce Evans high marks, but skewered the remaining four with considerable flair.  Check it out – it should be in your mailbox today, unless you’re not a member.  You can fix that by going here.

Review Policy

7 10 2009

In light of the recent FTC ruling concerning requirements for product reviews, I’ve posted a Review Policy.  I realize that perhaps this ruling doesn’t apply to book reviews, but I’d rather not take the chance.  Check it out and let me know what you think.  Any suggestions are appreciated.

Breaking News – FTC Ruling Affects Bloggers

5 10 2009

OK, have to break a rule here: I don’t typically regurgitate a news item here that originates elsewhere on the web – I just provide a link.  But this is pretty big news for us Civil War bloggers, many of who review books regularly.

FTC: Bloggers must disclose payments for reviews

PHILADELPHIA — The Federal Trade Commission will require bloggers to clearly disclose any freebies or payments they get from companies for reviewing their products.

It is the first time since 1980 that the commission has revised its guidelines on endorsements and testimonials, and the first time the rules have covered bloggers.

But the commission stopped short Monday of specifying how bloggers must disclose any conflicts of interest.

The FTC said its commissioners voted 4-0 to approve the final guidelines, which had been expected. Penalties include up to $11,000 in fines per violation.

The rules take effect Dec. 1.

See here.

Up until recently, most of my reviews have concerned books that I’ve purchased.  Lately I’ve been receiving more unsolicited, free books for review.  I’m not sure that I’ve been clear when those are reviews of books I’ve received in this manner.  When I say I received a book for review, that means I didn’t buy it.  But I guess I need to come up with some sort of stock comment that states the case more clearly – I don’t want a “free” book to end up costing me $11,000.

See NYT article here.

Books and More Books

25 09 2009

41YejDu4b9L__SL500_AA240_Today’s mail brought seven, count ’em, seven new books for review.  One is for a full review in Civil War Times; five are for my regular Six-Pack column in America’s Civil War (in a departure, I’ll review five new books and only one older, but that one is among my all time favorite biographies); and one for this blog, fellow blogger John Hoptak’s own Our Boys Did Nobly, pictured at left.  As the subtitle says, this 345 page paperback is the story of Schuylkill County, PA Soldiers at the battles of South Mountain and Antietam.  I just flipped through it, and see that Mannie Gentile has put art back into maps!  I’m gonna move John’s book up to second on my list, right after Suzy Barile’s Undaunted Hearts.  Thanks for the nice inscription, John!

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Recent Arrivals

14 09 2009

Publishers don’t send a ton of books for review here, but when they do they seem to do it in bunches.  Over the past few weeks I’ve received three, and since I’m not sure exactly when I’ll get to them I think it’s fair to give you a little information on them in the meantime.  I’ll discuss them here in order of receipt.

A-Separate-CountryA Separate Country  is by Robert Hicks, author of the bestseller The Widow of the South.  The novel centers around the life of John Bell Hood in post-war New Orleans.  But skimming through the book I get the idea that this is something other than a simple imagination of Hood’s life, as it seems to be told from several perspectives and is maybe something of a mystery.  Forty reviewers on Amazon average to a little over three out of five stars.

The-Mule-ShoeThe Mule Shoe  has the potential to be really interesting in a good way, or really interesting in a train-wreck way.  It’s a novel by Perry Trouche, a Charleston, SC shrink.  It appears to be an examination of a fictional rebel soldier as he descends into, well, I want to say psychosis but will probably wind up being lashed for my imprecision.  The bulk of the book is set against the fighting at Spotsylvania, where the voices in the protagonist Conner’s head and his visions force a resolution. 

Undaunted-HeartLast is Undaunted Heart, by Suzy Barile, an English and journalism instructor in North Carolina and the great-great-granddaughter of Ella Swain Atkins and General Smith Dykins Atkins, the subjects of her non-fiction study.  Atkins was in command of a brigade of William Sherman’s cavalry that occupied Chapel Hill, NC after the surrender of Joseph Johnston’s army at Bennett Place; Ella was the daughter of the president of the University of North Carolina.  They did some courtin’ & sparkin’ and were married, much to the chagrin of many.  I have heard some of the basics of their courtship and marriage before, but Undaunted Heart promises to tell the rest of the story.

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America’s Civil War – November 2009

1 09 2009

ACW-Nov-2009Inside the November 2009 issue of America’s Civil War magazine:Ron Soodalter’s Fury in Vermont, the cover story on the 1864 Confederate raid on St. Albans;  Gordon Berg takes a look at Ambrose Bierce’s series of stories on Chickamauga, and tries to separate fact from fiction; Tamela Baker’s article is on Sweet Subversive Scribes, three female journalists in Virginia who published the pro-Union Waterford News; John Stauffer contributes an adaptation of their new and controversial book , The State of Jones (see here for some spirited discussion ofthe book); and Jonathan A. Noyalas writes of the return of  “Sheridan’s Veterans’ Association” to the Shenandoah Valley in 1883.

My Six-Pack column this time technically featured five new books and one old, though one of the new books is really a new paperback release of an eleven-year-old work.  No Holier Spot of Ground: Confederate Monuments & Cemeteries of South Carolina is paired with Testament to Union: Civil War Monuments in Washington, D.C.The Maps of First Bull Run with Gettysburg Day Two: A Study in Maps; and in a departure from the usual format, two new releases are reviewed together, General George H. Thomas: A Biography of the Union’s “Rock of Chickamauga” and Master of War: The Life of General George H. Thomas.

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