The most complete and wide-ranging of recent biographies of Sherman, of interest to all students of the Civil War.

THE SCOURGE OF WAR

THE LIFE OF WILLIAM TECUMSEH SHERMAN

A thoroughgoing biography of William Tecumseh Sherman (1820-1891), the steely, intellectually gifted Civil War general.

Did Sherman really say “War is hell”? His son said that his father’s true statement, made to the mayor of a devastated Atlanta in 1864, was “War is cruelty and you cannot refine it.” Either way, Sherman knew whereof he spoke. Graduating from West Point near the top of his class academically but knocked down by demerits—“He dressed carelessly,” writes noted Civil War historian Reid, “saluted slovenly or not at all, and used his disregard of the rules as a means of winning laddish approbation from his peers”—Sherman entered the service as an artilleryman but was pushed into the commissary corps. There he learned to dig deep into every logistical consideration of how a war should be executed: what supplies were needed and where, how many wagons it would take to get them there, how many bullets would be fired, and so forth. That mastery served him well as an officer who suffered several depressing defeats during the Civil War, including a near disaster in the siege of Vicksburg. Nonetheless, he became one of Ulysses S. Grant’s favored officers, succeeding him after the war as chief general of the U.S. Army. Reid looks closely at Sherman’s analytical skills while taking issue with certain popular depictions of him. For example, Sherman has been accounted a heartlessly cruel avenger in Southern depictions of his March to the Sea, where in truth “the absence of violence…needs to be underlined,” at least as far as civilians were concerned. Reid also acquits his subject of the razing of South Carolina’s capital, which he holds was the result of an accidental fire that “overwhelmed Columbia’s small firefighting capacity.” Despite occasionally dry prose, the author’s capable blending of biographical facts with larger issues makes his study particularly valuable.

The most complete and wide-ranging of recent biographies of Sherman, of interest to all students of the Civil War.

Pub Date: June 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-19-539273-9

Page Count: 632

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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A concise personal and scholarly history that avoids academic jargon as it illuminates emotional truths.

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ON JUNETEENTH

The Harvard historian and Texas native demonstrates what the holiday means to her and to the rest of the nation.

Initially celebrated primarily by Black Texans, Juneteenth refers to June 19, 1865, when a Union general arrived in Galveston to proclaim the end of slavery with the defeat of the Confederacy. If only history were that simple. In her latest, Gordon-Reed, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, and numerous other honors, describes how Whites raged and committed violence against celebratory Blacks as racism in Texas and across the country continued to spread through segregation, Jim Crow laws, and separate-but-equal rationalizations. As Gordon-Reed amply shows in this smooth combination of memoir, essay, and history, such racism is by no means a thing of the past, even as Juneteenth has come to be celebrated by all of Texas and throughout the U.S. The Galveston announcement, notes the author, came well after the Emancipation Proclamation but before the ratification of the 13th Amendment. Though Gordon-Reed writes fondly of her native state, especially the strong familial ties and sense of community, she acknowledges her challenges as a woman of color in a state where “the image of Texas has a gender and a race: “Texas is a White man.” The author astutely explores “what that means for everyone who lives in Texas and is not a White man.” With all of its diversity and geographic expanse, Texas also has a singular history—as part of Mexico, as its own republic from 1836 to 1846, and as a place that “has connections to people of African descent that go back centuries.” All of this provides context for the uniqueness of this historical moment, which Gordon-Reed explores with her characteristic rigor and insight.

A concise personal and scholarly history that avoids academic jargon as it illuminates emotional truths.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-63149-883-1

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: Feb. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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