I thought it might be fun to take a monthly look at the Amazon.com top 10 Civil War bestsellers and see how (if?) this list changes much over time. The first thing I noticed was the strange inclusion of several titles which have either little or no real connection to the Civil War. I’ve taken the liberty of removing these books from my list below, and my decision-making process was arbitrary. I excluded Alexander Hamilton, for instance, and that was an easy choice to make. Something like A Terrible Glory, which covers Custer at the Little Bighorn, was a tougher decision. In the end I cut it too. The books below are in the Civil War top 10 as of the second week of July 2008.
Note: Some of these are the Kindle edition. Kindle is Amazon’s handheld device for reading books electronically. Click on the link in the left sidebar for more information.
1. Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Summary: Goodwin covers the “team” Abraham Lincoln put together to form his cabinet. Dimitri would dispute the validity of the term “team”.
2. The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara
Summary: Although obscure when initially written in the 1970s, Michael Shaara’s fictional account of Gettysburg has been a bestseller pretty much since the movie GETTYSBURG was released in 1993.
3. The Lincolns: Portrait of a Marriage by Daniel Mark Epstein
Summary: I don’t know too much about this one other than that it covers Abe and Mary’s marriage, obviously. Would any readers care to share?
4. Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era by James M. McPherson
Summary: This has been the standard one volume history of the Civil War since its release.
5. This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War by Drew Gilpin Faust
Summary: Faust argues that 1860s America’s familiarity with death led to massive casualty rates, acceptable by those standards but appalling when looked at through today’s lens.
6. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave by Frederick Douglass
Summary: The autobiography of one of the most famous Abolitionists ever. I have not yet had the pleasure of reading this one.
7. Lincoln by David Herbert Donald
Summary: Donald’s biography of Lincoln is arguably the greatest ever written on our Sixteenth President.
8. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs
Summary: Jacobs was a slave, and she chronicled her experiences in this book, released in 1861. Her attacks on slavery served to further educate the public as to the evils of the peculiar institution.
9. Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer by James L. Swanson
Summary: Swanson’s book covers the hunt for John Wilkes Booth in the days immediately following Lincoln’s assassination.
10. Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War by Tony Horwitz
Summary: This is one book I’m genuinely sorry I haven’t yet had the chance to read. Horwitz, winner of a Pulitzer Prize for his foreign war correspondence work, here details Civil War re-enactors and the continuing hold the Civil War has on the American public.
You may have noticed a glaring absence in this top 10 list. There are no campaign or battle studies. Lincoln and slavery appear to be two of the more popular topics. Dimitri Rotov has commented on these lists and the types of books which show up in the past at Civil War Bookshelf. I wish there was a way to separate those who consider themselves Civil War “buffs” to see how (and even if) their top 10 list would be very different. I will continue to monitor the Amazon.com Civil War top 10 each month and I will very likely have more to say about the topics which appear here most frequently.
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