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There are few more essential books for Civil War buffs and professional historians alike. A welcome, valuable addition to...

Firsthand accounts of the bloodletting whose 150th anniversary we are about to commemorate, some of which might have saved later historians embarrassment.

In 1883, only 20 years after Gettysburg, the editors of The Century magazine commissioned a comprehensive series of articles from senior officers on both sides of the conflict, documenting great events and more modest episodes alike. For the next four years, contributions poured in, and The Century experienced a huge bump in circulation. Here, political historian Holzer (Lincoln: President-Elect, 2008, etc.) serves up a comparatively compact selection, whittling the original down to a quarter and enlisting leading historians—James McPherson, Joan Waugh, Craig Symonds and others—to provide contextual introductions and notes. The result is a model of scholarship and historical editing—though, as is proper, its greatest value is in presenting those original views. Confederate Gen. Stephen D. Lee writes of the war’s stage-setting process. At the first Confederate Congress in Montgomery, Ala., many believed first that there would be no war; writes Lee, “The expectation of ‘peaceable secession’ was the delusion that precipitated matters in the South.” One of Lee’s counterparts, Jacob D. Cox, writes that the North was scarcely better prepared, though rumors of war had long been rumbling: “There had for many years been no money appropriated to buy military material or even to protect the little the State had.” After the disaster at Bull Run—ably recounted by victorious Confederate generals Beauregard and Johnston—the North was better equipped and would forever remain so. Every page here is fascinating, but historians should note the firsthand accounts of Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg, which has been second-guessed ever since, but which seems all but inevitable from a you-are-there perspective. The answer to why Robert E. Lee appeared at Appomattox in a brand-new uniform, which has puzzled some historians, is also revealed. Many of the Confederate writers are sharply critical of the political conduct of the South, condemning Jefferson Davis for, in the words of one, “drift[ing], from the beginning to the end of the war.” Some Union writers, for their parts, are scarcely more complimentary of their leadership.

There are few more essential books for Civil War buffs and professional historians alike. A welcome, valuable addition to the vast library devoted to the conflict.

Pub Date: April 5, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-679-64364-7

Page Count: 1280

Publisher: Modern Library

Review Posted Online: Dec. 29, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2011

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A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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