The Civil War: A Narrative (Three Volumes – 2968 pages) by Shelby Foote

This magnificently written trilogy of books on the American Civil War is not only a piece of first-rate history, but also an excellent work of literature. The late Shelby Foote brings an accomplished novelist’s descriptive power to this grand epic. This immense three volume set should be on the bookshelf of any Civil War buff. It is the definitive example of narrative history and creative non-fiction.

I started reading this 2,968-page trilogy on June 6, 2007 and have completed it this month (September 2008). This is not a reading assignment to tackle in a single season. I read 27 other books while reading through this great work. I will review each book of the trilogy separately.

The Civil War: A Narrative–Fort Sumter to Perryville, Volume One. The book covers the beginning of the war through December 1862. The late Shelby Foote writes with a down home, comfortable style that is like he is sitting beside you telling a story. Make no mistake, he is a southern and tells the story from a southern point of view. The book is a work of creative non-fiction. It is a first class narrative. It is the example of how to write history.

Many students of the Civil War are limited in their knowledge of the war to the major battles of Fort Sumter, Bull Run, Fort Henry and Fort Donelson, Shiloh, Corinth, Iuka, Antietam (Sharpsburg), etc. (battles in 1861 -1862) or the generals. Foote covers all the battles. And he covers what takes place in between the battles though with minor battles tend to be brushed over with the simple reference to their being fought.

I admit some parts of the book were a struggle for me to get through. The time between the campaigns and battles, the endless maneuvers and debates were challenging. Once he moved on to the next battle or fight, the action and pace of the book picked up. Foote shared enough strategy and tactics as well as some of the intellectual processes the key players used to help us understand what leadership on both sides will do under such situations. At times it was like reading the strategy behind a chess game. The back stories of the political considerations were actually enjoyable at times and problematic to boring at others.

I recommend The Civil War: A Narrative–Fort Sumter to Perryville, Volume One to any American or person with an interest in American history. Yes, the battles may seem to be repetitious. Yes, the politics and maneuvers do at times get somewhat dry. They must be included to tell the entire story. We need know the story well to know who we are as a people.

I wish the editor had placed better divisions in the book. Even knowing the history of the civil war well, I had trouble at times with where we were at what battle. Many of the battles are referred to by their southern name, usually the nearest town e.g. Sharpsburg instead of their northern name e.g., Antietam, usually the nearest body of water.

The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian covers from December 1862 and the Fredericksburg Battle to the Meridian , Mississippi campaign and the US Grant’s promotion to Lieutenant General. The late Shelby Foote continues writing in a down home, comfortable style that is like he is sitting beside you telling a story. Again, I point out as in the review of volume one, make no mistake; he is a southern and tells the story from a southern point of view. The book is a work of creative non-fiction. It is a first class narrative. It is the example of how to write history.

Foote covers all the battles. And he covers what takes place in between the battles though with minor battles tend to be brushed over with the simple reference to their being fought.

As in volume one I admit some parts of the book were a great struggle for me to get through. At times between the battles it was boring. The time from Fredericksburg to Vicksburg and Gettysburg took forever to cover. Foote occasionally repeated himself and would chase rabbits. The time between the campaigns and battles, the endless maneuvers and debates were challenging. Once he moved on to the next battle or fight, the action and pace of the book picked up. Foote shared enough strategy and tactics as well as some of the intellectual processes the key players used to help us understand what leadership on both sides will do under such situations. At times it was like reading the strategy behind a chess game. The back stories of the political considerations were actually enjoyable at times and problematic to boring at others.

I recommend this to any American or person with an interest in American history. Yes, the battles may seem to be repetitious. Yes, the politics and maneuvers do at times get somewhat dry. They must be included to tell the entire story. We need know the story well to know who we are as a people.

Again, I wish the editor had placed better divisions in the book.

The Civil War: A Narrative, Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox. Shelby Foote takes the Civil War and scrutinizes it in a writing style that feels as if you are hearing news from the front in an ongoing war. This book is not for the mildly curious, you will get bored and overwhelmed by the dates, names and places. This volume is longer than either of the first two volumes. But to military history, history, or civil war buffs, it is as detailed and factual as you could want. This is truly a definitive work on the War Between the States.

The book handles personalities of both individuals and cultures and their effects on the war. The reading can be slow going at times as armies march toward each other and the order of battle becomes established with the commanders’ names and stations, but the battle details seem incredibly well researched and the accounts of individual soldiers/officers bring home the reality of this conflict.

This book is well worth the effort to read, it imparts a sense of what the United States has survived and clarifies many historical perceptions of the era and the people involved in this massive conflict.

Once more I wish the editor had placed better divisions in the book.

A final thought – I have never read a better, more vivid, more understandable account of the savage battling between Grant’s and Lee’s armies. Shelby Foote stays with the human discord and distress, and unlike most Southern commentators, he does not take sides. In objectivity, in range, in mastery of detail in beauty of language and feeling for the people involved, this work surpasses anything else on the subject. It stands alongside the work of the best of them. Jimmie A. Kepler September 2008.

A Short History of the United States by Robert V. Remini

This wonderful little volume contains the rudimentary facts concerning the discovery, settlement, expansion, and development of the American nation and its organizations. Robert V. Remini surveys and paints a brilliant picture as he takes us back for a look at how the western hemisphere was populated.

We journey through the Native American and see how sophisticated their and truly advanced some of their cultures and governments were. We join in on the discovery of this new world by the Spanish, English, French and Dutch. The journey takes us through the causes of the American Revolution, the founding of the the country with the declaration of independence, articles of confederation and the constitution. We continue with the Louisiana Purchase, War of 1812 and the way it made people view themselves as Americans. The trip continues through the Jacksonian period, Mexican War and Manifest Destiny, the antebellum period, and the civil war and reconstruction.

I enjoyed the side bars along the way as the influence of the arts and literature were included each step of the way. It was nice to see which authors and their writings helped change history. We were there to experience the rise of big business and the emergence of the United States as a world power. We learned of the Spanish American and World War One. The descent into the Great Depression and World War Two, Korea, Viet-Nam, and The Persian Gulf Wars were viewed as well. We learned of the rise of conservatism. We confronted the eruption of terrorism here and abroad.

The book is well written in a narrative style. I was disappointed with the last chapter on the conservative revolution especially comments like “The Bush administration, just itching to start a war with Iraq, chose to believe ….” and “Frustrated and still determined to take action …” In my opinion the author moved from reporting and giving commentary on history, to injecting his personal beliefs and points of view on contemporary issues and events.

While I still think this is a wonderful little volume, the last chapter caused me to change my view on the book. I was viewing this as a book that would be great for a high school or college American history survey course. But, after reading the last chapter, I would not want it as a primary text because of the opinionated coverage of the current president and events in Iraq. This chapter alone will exclude it from consideration in evangelical Christian schools and colleges.

I did a review of the galley proof for HarperCollinsPublishers. The book will be published in October 2008.

Never Surrender: A Soldier’s Journey to the Crossroads of Faith and Freedom by LTG (Ret.) William G. Boykin and Lynn Vincent

Few people have been involved in as many significant US military operations over the past three decades as has LTG (ret.) William G. “Jerry” Boykin. From being a founding member of the Delta Force to commanding all US Army Special Forces he shows that a person can be a committed Christian and a soldier.

Co-written by New York Times best-selling author Lynn Vincent, Never Surrender: A Soldier’s Journey to the Crossroads of Faith and Freedom gets your interest on page one and keeps it through the entire book. The book’s structure helps with the presentation. It is has thirteen sections. Each part covers one of the stages of Jerry Boykin’s life or a major US operation where he had involvement. Each section is divided into short, action-packed chapters.

The book tells story after story of how important military operations went down. The Iran Hostage Crisis, Sudan, Grenada, Panama, Waco and the Branch Davidians, Columbia, Somalia, the Balkans and more give great insight into contemporary US military history.

Jerry Boykin is a born-again Christian. The role of his faith is very tastefully woven into each story. You will not feel preached at, but rather have an appreciation of how his belief in God sustained and directed him through the years.

One of my favorite stories in the book involved Panama, the playing of loud, rock music and Manuel Noriega. The media thought the US Army was using the loud music as a psychological weapon against Noriega. The original intent of the music was to keep the media from being able to eavesdrop on the conversations between Boykin and the Vatican embassy where Noriega was hold-up.

The most insightful section was in Mogadishu, Somalia. It gives the real story that the movie Blackhawk Down omits. Boykin was the leader of the mission. He had to make the tough decision of leaving a man down to save others. He said that was the worst thing he has ever experienced.

Boykin has never been afraid to admit he is a Christian. Some things he said during the most recent war in Iraq upset people. He stated that he believed God put George Bush in the White House. The news media quoted that statement. What the media didn’t quote was that he continued by saying God put Bill Clinton and every other American leader in their positions. Boykin was beaten up in the press over this. He was completely exonerated by internal military investigations.

I highly recommend the book. It provides some fascinating insight into military tactics and life behind the scenes of Delta Force.

The Long Road Home: A Story of War and Family by Martha Raddatz

Thousands of miles apart, the American soldiers serving in Baghdad and their families in Fort Hood, Texas awoke to what promised to be an ordinary Sunday: patrols or guard duty for some of the troops, and church services or brunch for some of the families, with the hope of emails or phone calls from overseas later in the evening.

By the end of that agonizing day, the distance between them would never feel greater.

Sadr City is a densely populated area of downtown Baghdad. In the eleven months following the invasion, it had seen comparatively little violence. However, on April 4th, 2004, a patrol from the 1st Squadron, 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment was drawn into a violent ambush by followers of the influential Shi’a cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, and extraction attempts met with even stronger resistance. According to the ground commander, Gen. Pete Chiarelli, it was the day the war shifted “from a peacekeeping mission to a full-fledged fight against an insurgency.”

The Long Road Home: A Story of War and Family recounts every moment of that day on both sides of the world. Eight soldiers would lose their lives, along with 57 wounded. Martha Raddatz has traveled to Iraq sixteen times in the last five years, and her vivid, precise descriptions of the dense urban terrain – and the experiences of the soldiers within it – place the maelstrom of that day firmly within the realm of imagination. She also explores what it means to have a husband, wife, or child deployed in Iraq, as long-married couples and newlyweds alike endure the pain of absence, the small comforts of the Internet, and the knowledge that the worst possible news could arrive with a knock on the door.

Martha Raddatz is the chief White House correspondent for ABC News and is the network’s former national security correspondent. She has won three Emmy awards for her coverage of national security and foreign policy issues, and appears regularly on “World News with Charles Gibson,” “Nightline,” and “Good Morning America”. In addition to her work for ABC News, she is a frequent guest on PBS’s “Washington Week”, “Charlie Rose”, and “Larry King Live”.

http://www.pritzkermilitarylibrary.org/events/2008-06-24-martha_raddatz.jsp

Twice Armed: An American Soldier’s Battle For Hearts & Minds In Iraq by Lt. Col. R. Alan King

While serving as a senior civil-military advisor in Baghdad, U.S. Army Lt. Col. R. Alan King disarmed several potentially dangerous situations with a weapon few members of the Coalition Provisional Authority possessed: quotations from the Qur’ran.

Twice Armed: An American Soldier’s Battle for Hearts and Minds in Iraq begins as the first American forces in Iraq in April 2003. King’s civil affairs unit acted as liaison between the military, civil authorities, and the local population. It was a job with extraordinary challenges – in the early days of the occupation, various Iraqi exiles returned to Baghdad to declare themselves mayor or sheriff, and tempers flared during the endless summer power outages. But King found success through bringing faith to the battlefield. He estimates that he met with over 3,000 sheiks, praying with them and asking for their help to rebuild Iraq. And those relationships earned him a reputation for fairness and respect for Islam that led several people on the “most-wanted” list to seek him out and surrender to him personally; he even met with Muhammad Saeed al-Sahaf, a.k.a. “Baghdad Bob”, the former Iraqi Minister of Information.

But King also writes with pain at the memory of close friends who were killed in combat, both from his battalion and the Iraqis who worked with them, and he reflects with frustration on dealings with military bureaucracy and critical blunders that cost him some of that hard-earned trust.

R. Alan King was awarded two Bronze Stars for Valor, two Bronze Stars for achievement, and the Combat Action Badge. He is currently an active reserve member of the U.S. Army, and returned from his most recent service in Iraq in October 2007. He has appeared on NBC, CNN, Fox News, and other networks as a military commentator.

Twice Armed won the 2008 Colby Award, which recognizes a first work of fiction or non-fiction that has made a significant contribution to the public’s understanding of intelligence operations, military history or international affairs. Named for the late Ambassador and former CIA Director William E. Colby, the Colby Award has been presented annually by the William E. Colby Military Writers’ Symposium at Norwich University, the nation’s oldest private military college, since 1999.

My Father’s Secret War: A Memoir by Lucinda Franks

My Father’s Secret War: A Memoir is the best book I’ve read in a long time. This is no surprise being written by Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Lucinda Franks. It reads more like a novel, than a memoir.

The book is both an intellectual search for an understanding of her father’s secret past as a spy in World War II as well as a heart-wrenching story of the complexities of the author’s relationship with him. What makes this book so very compelling is the honesty and poetic telling of naked truths in a truly real family drama. Everything is here: burning hatred and welcome forgiveness, love’s disappointments, parent’s failings, alcoholism, psychological torture, adultery, rebellion, revelation and resolution.

We care deeply as the author so desperately searches to understand why her relationship with her father had changed from childhood adoration to hatred, because of his alcoholic withdrawal. This is a universal story of every daughter’s struggle to know and forgive her father as he ages and declines. This author’s telling is unbelievably poignant. A must read!

Love My Rifle More Than You by Kayla Williams

Love My Rifle More Than You by Kayla Williams is about being a young female in the US Army and her deployment to Iraq for a year with the 101st Airborne. Kayla Williams was an Arabic linguist. Thirty years ago, I came off active duty as a US Army officer. Ms. Williams’s book made me reflect back to all the women soldiers I worked with, lead, and knew. This is a good military memoir. While grit and rough language are on almost every page, what shines through is an intelligent young woman serving her country and putting up with all a woman experiences in the military. It appears little has change since back in my day. We learn of her role as an Arabic linguist. She tells us how she feels her skills could have been used better with direct contact with the population as oppose to routine intelligence gathering. Particularly interesting are her experiences with leadership while in Iraq as well as her questioning the war in Iraq’s day to day conduct without looking at the logic and underlying rationale. Her tale of the birth control glasses is funny, but true. Put those black framed Drew Carey or Woody Allen glasses on any man or woman and instantly they are effective birth control. Why? They make people unattractive thus scaring off members of the opposite sex. It is worth reading. Read in April 2006 by Jimmie A. Kepler.