I missed going over the Amazon.com top 10 Civil War bestsellers for February 2009, having last looked at them in January. I’ve enjoyed keeping an eye on this list to see how books move over time, and the Amazon.com Top 10 Civil War Books has become a monthly or every other monthly feature here at TOCWOC – A Civil War Blog. Readers who are looking for Civil War books many people are currently 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 March 4, 2009. Numbers in parentheses mark the book’s January 2009 rank in the top 10. The massive amount of Lincoln book debuts in this top 10 have led me to make the decision to have separate Lincoln and Civil War Top 10 lists the next time I put one of these together.
Note: Some of these are the Kindle edition. Kindle is Amazon’s handheld device for reading books electronically. Since last time, Amazon has come out with Kindle 2, a sleeker version which also allows you to upload many public domain books for minimal or no cost!
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. (-) A. Lincoln: A Biography by Ronald C. White, Jr.
Summary: Ronald White’s hefty 800+ page biography of Abraham Lincoln, released in January 2009 by Random House, makes a strong debut here at number 2. As I mentioned last time, Lincoln books will see a large spike in publicity due to the Bicentennial celebration of Lincoln’s birth in 2009. The early reviews at Amazon are universally positive, with all 12 of them giving the book five (out of five) stars. I’d love to hear comments from anyone who has read or knows more about the book.
3. (-) Abraham Lincoln by James M. McPherson
Summary: The third place book, another McPherson entry into the Lincoln sweepstakes, also makes its debut in this version of the Amazon.com top 10 Civil War bestsellers list. I hate to make any negative comments about a book prior to reading it, but I’m not sure how a book of only 96 pages has garnered 30 5-star reviews at Amazon. Most likely this book is similar to other recent McPherson efforts in that it is a repackaging of material he’s already essentially written in Battle Cry of Freedom. I have to believe this book will be useful only for those with almost no knowledge of our 16th President. If anyone can confirm or refute what I’ve said here, by all means let me know!
4. (5) Lincoln by David Herbert Donald
Summary: Donald’s biography of Lincoln is arguably the greatest ever written on our Sixteenth President. Is anyone sensing a “Lincoln pattern” here? This will be the last time the Civil War Top 10 Bestsellers list includes Lincoln books. I’ll be creating a special “Amazon.com Top 10 Lincoln Bestsellers list in the future to account for the special circumstances this year. Hey, everyone else seems to be cashing in on Lincoln! Why shouldn’t I? J
5. (2) 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. The book continues to rise and fall in the middle of the pack each time I take a look at these rankings. I suspect the massive influx of Lincoln volumes will prevent it from rising much higher during the coming year.
6. (3) 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. 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! The only reason this book is not higher is because other Lincoln books have taken its place.
7. (7) The Wit and Wisdom of Abraham Lincoln by Bill Adler
Summary: This book holds strong at 7 since the last time we looked at these rankings. With the Bicentennial of Lincoln’s birthday having just passed, we are definitely going to continue to see Lincoln books high on this list. Adler tries to collect the most interesting quotes attributed to Lincoln over the course of his life.
8. (8) 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. I’m pretty sure it will not be that high in the foreseeable future.
9. (-) In Lincoln’s Hand: His Original Manuscripts with Commentary by Distinguished Americans edited by Harold Holzer and Joshua Wolf Shenk
Summary: Another Lincoln title debuts this month. In this rather interesting approach to Lincoln, Lincoln scholars Harold Holzer and Joshua Wolf Shenk pair up reproductions of original Lincoln letters and reflections on the man by prominent Americans.
10. (-) Looking for Lincoln: The Making of an American Icon by Philip B. Kunhardt III, Peter W. Kunhardt, Peter W. Kunhardt Jr.
Summary: This debut, yet another Lincoln book, looks at how Lincoln’s legend came into being.
Dropped Out This Month:
-. (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.
-. (6) 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 out of the top 10 due to the influx of Lincoln titles.
-. (9) Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer by Fred Kaplan
Summary: Here’s another new appearance by a book dealing with Lincoln. Ironically, other new Lincoln titles bumped this one out of the top 10. A new “Lincoln Top 10″ is in the works for next month and Lincoln titles will continue to stay separate until the run on Lincoln books ends.
-. (10) 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 completely 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.
Brett’s Final Thoughts:
Lincoln books have completely taken over, so much so that I will be doing two separate top 10 lists next month, one specifically for Lincoln books and another for all non-Lincoln Civil War books. 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?
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 has been pushed aside in favor of newer Lincoln titles.
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.
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 seemed to be hanging around the back end of the top 10, but the Lincoln logjam has pushed it firmly out of the picture.
Look over past Top 10 Civil War Books lists to see how various books have done over time!
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Want to read some interesting Civil War content from amateurs and pros alike? Check out the Top 10 Civil War Blogs and Top 10 Civil War Blogs: 11-20.