January Readings

The Destructive War: William Tecumseh Sherman, Stonewall Jackson, and the Americans, Charles Royster

This was loaned to me by a friend with whom I share an interest in the American CIvil War. When he gave it to me my initial thought was, hmm, another Civil War book. I mean, there are so many, and so many of them are so... forgettable. I was pleasantly surprised. The Destructive War is a deep and thoughtful examination of Americans' perceptions of the war, contemporaneous and in the first generation afterwards. It draws on newspaper accounts, letters, speeches, diaries, and memoirs — lots and lots of them. It's density is almost a bit overwhelming. The result is something quite different than anything I've read on the subject before: a sort of psychological examination of the collective American mind; its desires for the prosecution of the war as well as its remembrances. If you're interested in the subject matter and don't mind ploughing through a very large volume of material, I highly recommend it.

Hornblower and the Atropos, C.S. Forester

I read this the September before last while I was in Boston for a conference. I got caught in the rain (more than once), and the book is now somewhat puffy from being soaked and dried. That's sad, but at least I remember Boston whenever I look at it. I've been reading the Hornblower books to my kids after dinner each night, and this is where we are. They're great books — light, rollicking adventures starring the incomparable Horatio Hornblower, a self-flagellating naval genius from the Age of Sail. If you don't mind ripping through giant stacks of books, you could do worse than to read these back to back with Patrick O'Brien's Master and Commander series. That's 32 books, but you'll get lost in them and regret it when it's over.