What 3 books do people need to read to understand the Civil War?

BillO

Captain
Joined
Feb 2, 2010
Location
Quinton, VA.
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.
I hope you didn't take that as anything personal, you seem to be a very nice person.
I enjoy historical fiction myself so I get what you're saying.
 

ForeverFree

Major
Joined
Feb 6, 2010
Location
District of Columbia
These three books worked for me:

1. What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848, by by Daniel Walker Howe. This a pre-Civil War book, but that's the point: it gives invaluable context and background about how the United States of 1860 came to be.

2. Battle Cry Of Freedom, by James M. McPherson.

3. Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation; Volume 1, Series 1: The Destruction of Slavery by Ira Berlin, Barbara J. Fields, Thavolia Glymph, Joseph P. Reidy. Included because most people don't understand that the military battle between the USA and CSA was coincident with a profound social transformation in the South; this book address that.

At the same time I recommend those books, I think the 4 volume series The Civil War Told by Those Who Lived It is a wonderful annotated documentary history of the war. I think it's so valuable for students of history to read what people were saying during their own time, and this series fits the bill. For people who have already have the 3 books mentioned, that's the next place to go.

- Alan
 

Joshism

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Apr 30, 2012
Location
Jupiter, FL
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.
 
Joined
Jul 30, 2016
Location
berlin
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.

yep - if it were the right ones - no.s 4 to 207 are obtained a lot easier
 

ForeverFree

Major
Joined
Feb 6, 2010
Location
District of Columbia
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.

- Alan
 
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Mdiesel

First Sergeant
Joined
Sep 28, 2010
Location
Maryland
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.

- Alan

In my case I just give one suggestion. By the time it takes me to get to the third suggestion they usually have that glassy eyed look that tells me they are dreaming of happier places... :unsure:
 

ForeverFree

Major
Joined
Feb 6, 2010
Location
District of Columbia
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.

- Alan
 

Mdiesel

First Sergeant
Joined
Sep 28, 2010
Location
Maryland
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!
 
Joined
Jul 30, 2016
Location
berlin
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.

- Alan

depends how you define easy - to me 800 pages got nothing to do with it :D

if easy means: in away that a total noob understands it - one who'd never read a scientific book and call 20 pages a day, i'd rather not want that book on the list handed to me

to me an easy book is heavily annotated but does not go too much into details (i don't need to know how often the 2nd new york (just a name) changed their uniform style in the spring of 1862. i want those first three books to provide a map on which my mind can start wandering and find hints where i can get maps with a higher resolution.

i admit my idea of an easy book might be a tad elitist
 

shermans_march

First Sergeant
Joined
Mar 11, 2017
Location
Colorado, Under A Pile of Snow
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!
It does read like a novel like many people say. It hardly is ever dry.
 
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