The last time I took a look at the Amazon.com top 10 Civil War bestsellers was in September of 2008. I’ve enjoyed keeping an eye on this list to see how books move over time, so look for the Amazon.com Top 10 Civil War Books to become a monthly feature here at TOCWOC. Readers looking for books many people are reading and commenting on can’t go wrong selecting books from this list.
As in each entry in the series, I’ve taken the liberty of removing non-Civil War related books from the list. The books below are in the Civil War top 10 as of January 24, 2009. Numbers in parentheses mark the book’s September 2008 rank in the top 10.
Note: Some of these are the Kindle edition. Kindle is Amazon’s handheld device for reading books electronically.
1. (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”. Since I started looking at this list of bestsellers, Team of Rivals has no rivals at the top of the Civil War book pile.
2. (9) 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. This book has been one of the most reviewed Civil War books I’ve seen over the past 3 or so years since I started blogging. Contrary to my belief in August that the book had fallen from the top ranks for good, it has instead shot back up near the top.
3. (8) Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief by James M. McPherson
Summary: Released in October 2008, Tried by War covers both a President and an author already entrenched here month to month. McPherson’s new book looks at Abraham Lincoln in his role as commander in chief. I will be especially interested to see how McPherson believes Lincoln handled the situation in the East in May-June 1862. As I thought might happen, this book is up near the top of the list. Unfortunately, many in the Civil War blogosphere do not think all that highly of this one, believing McPherson mailed this in. Read with a critical eye if you do decide to line McPherson’s pockets by buying this one!
4. (4) 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. Douglass’ book is the first on this list which focuses mainly on slavery and the life of slaves to remain near the top of the bestseller list. So much for harping on readers’ complete ignorance concerning the great racial elephant in the room, or what some corners of the Civil War blogosphere would call the ONLY reason to even study the conflict.
5. (-) Lincoln by David Herbert Donald
Summary: Donald’s biography of Lincoln is arguably the greatest ever written on our Sixteenth President.
6. (3) 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. Jacobs’ book has dropped a bit since last time, but still remains firmly in the Top 10 Civil War books.
7. (-) The Wit and Wisdom of Abraham Lincoln by Bill Adler
Summary: With the Bicentennial of Lincoln’s birthday rapidly approaching, I suspect we are going to see an influx of Lincoln books on this list for the foreseeable future.
8. (7) 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. McPherson’s book has been largely in the bottom half of the top 10. Given its widespread use and acclaim, I’m still a little surprised it isn’t consistently in the top 3.
9. (-) Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer by Fred Kaplan
Summary: Here’s another new appearance by a book dealing with Lincoln. If these get too numerous over the next month or two, I may have to do a separate “Top 10 Lincoln Bestsellers” list.
10. (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. Surprisingly, The Killer Angels has dropped almost all the way out of the top 10, something I didn’t initially think was possible. It’s interesting to see the month to month movement in this list. It isn’t nearly as static as I had originally thought.
Dropped Out This Month:
- (5) 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. Manhunt jumped quite a bit over last month. It will be interesting to see what all of the Lincoln books do as 2009, the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth, rapidly approaches.
- (6) Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times by Donald T. Phillips and Donald Phillips
Summary: Oddly enough one of my best friends, someone not at all interested in the Civil War, read this book for a business class he was taking in college. I have not read the book, but he gave it high marks. Others have commented on the good qualities of this one. Was anyone reading this underwhelmed? I’m just curious.
- (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. There has been some criticism from certain groups about Horwitz’ misrepresentation of typical reenactors, but I’m in no position to judge the validity of that argument. Horwitz’ book seems to be hanging around the back end of the top 10.
Brett’s Final Thoughts:
Lincoln books are on the rise, a trend which will surely continue with the Bicentennial celebration of the Great Emancipator’s birthday this year. As I mentioned above, I may need to split the Lincoln books out into their own separate list, at least for this year. Meanwhile, you have a large variety of other topics involved in the list. Absent, as they usually are, are detailed campaign and battle studies. In any event, whether you are new to the study of the Civil War or an experienced veteran, check out the Amazon.com Top 10 Civil War Books List and see if there is something there for you.
Previous Books in the Top 10 Prior to Last Month’s Top 10:
Southern Storm: Sherman’s March to the Sea by Noah Andre Trudeau
Summary: Trudeau’s large new book on Sherman’s March burst onto the scene of the Civil War Top 10…but didn’t stay for long. It will be interesting to see if this one ever makes a reappearance given its detailed day by day account of the March to the Sea. I have a copy of this one and hope to review it in the near future. Gerry Prokopowicz also recently interviewed author Andy Trudeau on Civil War Talk Radio.
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?
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