The Civil War: A Narrative (Vol. 1) by Shelby Foote

The Civil War is not my favorite conflict to read about. I save WWI for that honor, and horror. Nor does the Civil War contain my favorite battle to study. The Battle of the Atlantic from WWII interests me most, although I admit Shiloh is a solid #2.

Therefore, though this war is not my favorite to study or read about, I must admit the sheer beauty of Shelby Foote’s writing, and his mastery of language and narrative, brought this war alive to me in ways I never thought possible.

Foote is probably best known for his contribution to Ken Burns’s Civil War documentary which aired a couple of decades ago on PBS. Fewer people know he penned (literally — he used a dip pen on the philosophy he didn’t want anything mechanical between him and the paper) a three volume, one million-word, narrative about the Civil War and its battles.

Good writing always carries me forward through any book, no matter what the subject or genre. There’s a lot of good writing in this first volume. Foote makes the men and women of that time real. He helps us understand the thought processes and political decisions behind the principals not by viewing their lives through the lens of modern times, but by viewing their lives and challenges they faced through the philosophies and beliefs that governed populations at the time. This is a history that lives up to the breadth and scope of a national tragedy, showing it as a life-changing event for everyone who was involved in any capacity. It simply is one of the best history books I’ve ever read on any subject, ever.

Now that I’ve finished Volume 1 I am eager to begin the second. I have a few other things I have to finish reading first, but then I will start with unrestrained eagerness.

I think you should give this a peek. It is very well written and one of the best things I have read all year, aside from Sacajawea by Anna Lee Waldo.

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