I hope you didn't take that as anything personal, you seem to be a very nice person.It's the old discussion about the value of historical fiction. To me it's the difference between learning and loving. I can learn the facts from a textbook, but I will start to love the subject while reading a novel about it. That's just me, of course.
To be honest with you, I Haven't read vol 3 yet so I can't speak for it...but I really enjoyed both vol. 1 and Vol. 2. Both are must reads for anyone interested in the Army of Tennessee and Army of the Cumberland.If it had to be one of the three, would it be Volume 2?
The issue here is the 3 book limit.
Person A and B both say "I'm interested in learning about the American Civil War. What are some books I should read?"
A is told the war is so vast and complex in can not be understood from just a few books. A few dozen titles are rattled off. The prospective reader decides this is entirely more trouble than it's worth and walks away.
B is given three books providing overviews of the war or major aspects thereof. This seems manageable and the books are read. B might be curious about more specific subjects related to the war and continues to dig deeper based on personal interest, becoming an avid Civil War reader. Otherwise B has their curiosity satisfied and, while not having a deep or vast understanding of the war at least has general knowledge of the subject above and beyond their average peer. Either way we are all better off for it.
That's why the three book limit is a good thing.
To understand the war, people need to read a lot more than three books.
Of course you are right. On the other hand, I do often get asked for book suggestions, and most people don't want a list of a hundred books. Often people are looking for a few books to get them started. So a list of 3 books is cool. Some combos of books will put people at the 70th percentile, or 75th, or greater, in terms of what there is to know. Some some choices are better than others, if the goal is as much comprehensive knowledge as possible.
The OP wants us to indicate 3 books that would provide the best understanding of the war, and I gave my suggestions in that spirit. But when asked for book suggestions, I will often recommend 2 or 3 "easy" books to get people started. What Hath God Wrought and Battle Cry of Freedom are both on my list, but those books are 800 pages long. I would not start off recommending those to people unless I knew they were really dedicated to learning the subject matter.Which is why some one could start with something easy like the West Point History of the Civil War. It would be an easy way to expand one's database.
The OP wants us to indicate 3 books that would provide the best understanding of the war, and I gave my suggestions in that spirit. But when asked for book suggestions, I will often recommend 2 or 3 "easy" books to get people started. What Hath God Wrought and Battle Cry of Freedom are both on my list, but those books are 800 pages long. I would not start off recommending those to people unless I knew they were really dedicated to learning the subject matter.
It does read like a novel like many people say. It hardly is ever dry.Shelby Footes 3 volume Civil War. I choose this simply because sooo many have seen the Ken Burns "Civil War". They already know Mr. Foote & he is certainly not a dry read. I know there are some inaccuracies but he was a good story teller who I believe can keep the novice interested in the topic. If they choose to delve in deeper they will ask for more suggestions.
Sue me, I still like Shelby Foote!