Friday, November 30, 2012

This Week at the Library (30 November)

This past week I read A South Divided, by David Downing, which covers  the same ground  in part as David Williams' Bitterly Divided, in that it examines the importance of southerners who worked against the confederacy. But whereas Williams argued that the Confederacy's loss in the American Civil War was primarily one of popular support, not of combat operations, Downing's history is less pointed: he doesn't cut to the quick like Williams, but chooses individual cases in different categories (a southerner who became a leading Union officer, a slave who ran away and took a steamship with him, a given band of anti-confederates fighting from a particular swamp, a county which refused to secede from the Union) to explore the different reasons southerners had for resisting or fighting against the Confederacy.  Although his narrative is missing the teeth of Williams', Downing is an English professor, not an historian, and what he delivers is admirable: a book which tells another side of the Civil War, one rich in human interest. His work is superb for illustrating Bitterly Divided, expanding on the untold towards of the southern fight against the confederacy, but by itself it lacks the critical substance.

I also finished Charles C. Mann's 1493, which enthralled me for the most part. It seemed to lose vigor after the first four hundred pages, but I'll be giving full comments in a few days.  I hadn't intended to read it so soon, but The Humans Who Went Extinct has gone missing on me. I have far too many cases and piles of books that a given work might disappear into when I absent-mindedly set it down...

I'll be trying to find that, and in the meantime I'm doing my annual Christmastime Harry Potter re-read. On the serious side, I've got Cattle: An Informal Social History, by Laurie Winn Carlson.

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