TOCWOC – A Civil War Blog

CWi Releases a List of the Top 50 Civil War Books

Civil War Interactive recently released a list of the top 50 Civil War books as judged by their readers, and it is drawing some reactions from around the Civil War blogosphere.

Eric Wittenberg was elated when his book Plenty of Blame to Go Around: Jeb Stuart’s Controversial Ride to Gettysburg made the list at #50. Congratulations on the listing Eric and J.D. I haven’t had a chance to read your book just yet, but judging from the reactions it has been gettin, I’m sure it is top notch and I hope to get to it soon.

Kevin Levin offers up his usual lament:

We love our Civil War battles and leaders. Unfortunately, the price is a great deal of ignorance when it comes to the broader questions that those battles helped to settle.

I understand to some extent, but when looking at the population of people studying the war, especially the non-academics, battles are going to be far and away the most studied aspect of the war. Quite simply, for most people, the study of the Civil War is a hobby and they are simply going to read what interests them. While I am personally warming a bit to the subject of Civil War historiography, it just honestly isn’t going to be what draws most people into a study of the conflict. Look on the bright side Kevin. If people are drawn in by the battles, perhaps they’ll move on to your interests eventually as well. If they never start to study the subject at all, they’ll never discover the facets of the war you personally enjoy anyway.

Ethan Rafuse weighed in at Civil Warriors with some concerns and some good points, listing some of the authors he thought received short shrift. I absolutely agree both Albert Castel and T. Harry Williams have to each make an appearance on a truly definitive list. I too was encouraged to see Joe Harsh show up. His three books on the Maryland Campaign are must-reads.

My own take? I disagree with more than a few of the books on this list. The Priest book on Antietam and the inclusion of Jeff Shaara (are you SERIOUS??!!) are the largest negative eye openers to me. I also believe the Official Records absolutely have to come first. Without the ORs, where would we be today? IMHO, if you’ve got to take a Sears book, I would go with To the Gates of Richmond before Landscape Turned Red or Gettysburg. The thing I think we definitely have to recognize is the method and the population used to compile the list. I do not consider this list definitive in any way. I think the end purpose for the authors of CWi was to do something fun which would generate discussion on the war on their site via the CWi forums. As you can see by the various blog entries already out, they have accomplished their goals.

UPDATE: I missed Paul Taylor’s post covering the release of the list. He makes some good points concerning both the tendency to favor newer titles and the lack of first person accounts.






One response to “CWi Releases a List of the Top 50 Civil War Books”

  1. Jim Avatar

    Levin loves to attack the South and its history. We love our leaders, the same ones who decimated the Native Americans and didn’t give minorities equal rights until 100 years following the CW. We have no problem with the Union Jack, which flew while England transported 10 million slaves where the vast majority did not end up in America, but PLEASE don’t fly the Confederate flag. Oh no, the South and its heritage is divisive, says Levin. Kevin’s recent comments regarding the Museum of the Confederacy confirms that he’s seeking a progressive, revisionist view of history bent on villainizing the South. Levin underestimates the resolve of any people wanting to honor their ancestors without applying today’s standards to yesterday’s Constitutional realities.

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