Top 10 Civil War Bestsellers: September 2008

The past two months, July and August, I took a look at the top 10 Civil War bestsellers.  Although I’m barely squeaking this in prior to month’s end, and despite Dimitri’s hatred of lists, I’d like to revisit this a third time and see how (if?) this list has changed in the past 45 days since I last took a look.

As in the last two blog entries, 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 September 30, 2008.  Numbers in parentheses mark the book’s August 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”. For the third straight month, Team of Rivals has no rivals at the top of the Civil War heap.

2. (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. Like Goodwin’s book above, The Killer Angels seems entrenched in its spot on the list.

3. (4) 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 leapfrogged Frederick Douglass’ autobiography for the number three spot, remaining high on the list.

4. (3) 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 second on this list which focuses main 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. (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. 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. (7) 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.

7. (6) 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 a little surprised it isn’t consistently in the top 3.

8. (-) Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief by James M. McPherson

Summary: A newcomer to the list this month covers both a President and an author already entrenched here month to month. McPherson’s new book, scheduled out on October 7, 2008, 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. I will also be interested to see if this one shoots up the bestseller list. The star power of subject and author combined might mean this book stays here for a long time to come.

9. (10) 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. Although it has slipped a bit these last few months, I expect to see Faust’s book flirt with the middle to back end of the top 10 for quite awhile to come.

10. (8) 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.

Dropped Out This Month:

-. (5) 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.

Brett’s Final Thoughts:

Books focusing on slavery continue to have a strong presence on the Top 10 Civil War Bestsellers on The top 2 look like they will probably not change month to month, and if any book has the clout to topple one of these mainstays, it’ll probably mean the author is going to do well financially. The only debut in the top 10 is McPherson’s new Lincoln book. This is probably one I’ll pick up cheap from a used book site several years down the road, so for now you probably won’t hear much about it from me. Most of the rest of these books only saw minor shuffling. Lastly, I was a little surprised Trudeau’s book on Sherman’s March dropped out of the list so quickly. In any event, whether you are new to the study of the Civil War or an experienced veteran, check out the Top 10 Bestseller List and see if there is something there for you.

Previous Books in the Top 10 Prior to Last Month’s Top 10:

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?

Lincoln by David Herbert Donald

Summary: Donald’s biography of Lincoln is arguably the greatest ever written on our Sixteenth President.

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