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America's War: Talking About the Civil War and Emancipation on Their 150th Anniversaries Paperback – August 31, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Published under the dual auspices of the American Library Association and the National Endowment for
the Humanities, this Civil War anthology of about 30 writings is intended for use in the 'Let's Talk about
It' library discussion program sponsored by ALA's Public Programs Office. Editor Ayers, a reputable
scholar in Civil War studies, categorizes his selections into several topics for participants to debate:
reaction to the secession crisis of 1860-61; the experience of war as exemplified by the 1862 Battle of
Shiloh; and the end of slavery. Ayers aptly chooses to illustrate political polarization, including Henry
David Thoreau's apologia for John Brown as well as speakers for and against Virginia's secession. For
Shiloh, he picks a mixture of memoir (Ulysses Grant) and fiction (Shelby Foote and Bobbie Ann Mason).
And to illustrate the emergence of emancipation as a Northern war aim, Ayers embeds Lincoln texts
among excerpts that concern the enlistment of black troops. Also containing a selection of contemporary
drawings, the work can indeed become a Civil War conversation starter for participating libraries." --Booklist

About the Author

Edward L. Ayers is President of the University of Richmond and the author of the Bancroft Prize winning In the Presence of Mine Enemies: War in the Heart of America, 1859 1863.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 322 pages
  • Publisher: American Library Association (August 31, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0838985807
  • ISBN-13: 978-0838985809
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,029,479 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Smith's Rock on March 23, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition
America's War is a collection of essays, documents, journal entries, and communiques regarding the Civil War, selected by one of America's most eminent historians, Edward Ayers. By selecting his source materials (not quite exclusively) from the time period itself (a decade or so before the Civil War, and through the Civil War), Ayers gives the reader a view of what was going on in the minds of Americans, both north and south of the Mason-Dixon Line, with a shocking clarity that simply cannot be achieved by reading a contemporary scholar's well done analysis and subsequently published opinion. The difference between reading a well written book about the Civil War, and reading the original source documents provided by Ayers, though this may seem an unlikely stretch, is as profoundly different as the contrast between attending a lecture about travels in Antarctica, versus having been there yourself. Doubtful? Try it. Repeatedly, reading the thoughts of Abraham Lincoln (who tries to encourage the Negros to depart the U.S. for a South American colony), General McClellan (adored by his troops, ridiculed by his peers), Mark Twain (who was a Confederate soldier for a few weeks), Louisa May Alcott (a nurse in a civil war hospital, as well as the author of Little Women), Frederick Douglass (his phenomenally brilliant and deeply disturbing speech titled "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?"), the reader will think "Could this possibly be true? Why don't they teach this in our schools?" The answers, respectively, are "yes" and "I don't know, but they should".

My wife, a teacher of American history at the middle school level, moved away from textbooks toward primary sources some years back. I listened with about half an ear as she lauded this approach. I should have listened with both ears.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Clem G on September 26, 2012
Format: Paperback
I recently participated in a discussion of the Civil War at our local public library.

The book "America's War" was part of the material used in that discussion series. I found "America's War" edited by Dr. Edward Ayers to be an extremely interesting and useful part of the material used in that five session discussion. I have been interested in the Civil War for some time now, and have moved from an interest in the battles and generals, through the weapons technology, and into the political aspects and the impacts on the home fronts. It was in this latter phase that I found the information in "America's War" most informative.

Dr. Ayers' selections were contemporaneous to the Civil War era, for the most part. I am a fan of Dr. Gary Gallagher, a Civil War Professor from the University of Virginia who contributed to the essay. Dr. Gallagher's view, expressed in other writings, is that if you want to understand what people really thought at the time of an event, read what they wrote when the event was occurring. And read what they were reading. Dr. Ayers' selections gave me that opportunity. Not only did he include the famous speeches like the Gettysburg Address, Emancipation Proclamation, and Lincoln's First and Second Inaugural addresses, he included political speeches and personal diary entries that are nearly unknown to the non-academic reader.

The accounts of the Battle of Shiloh by the actual participants were extremely valuable in gaining an understanding of the battle from the viewpoint of the soldier to the top commanders.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By James C. Scott on September 25, 2012
Format: Paperback
I read this book as a facilitator for a Civil War program that was held at Sacramento Public Library's Central Library in June 2012. Prior to reading it, I can honestly say that I had minimal interest in the Civil War - my views were probably a bit too linear; what's more, I've always been more interested in European History. However, Ayers' effort in selecting choice readings, in addition to his meaningful narrative, transformed my entire perspective on the war. From Mark Twain's skirmish, to excerpts of Foote's "Shiloh," to thoughtful perspectives on the fate of John Brown, to the European significance of the North's efforts at Antietam, I was transfixed. In short, the readings provided me with a window into the myriad meanings of the war, why it matters to today, and why it will always matter to Americans.

James Scott
Librarian
Sacramento Public Library
Sacramento, California
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Format: Paperback
I was struck by something Ayers wrote in the introduction: "The American Civil War was not a single thing, a simple thing. It changed shape from the beginning to the end. The war's full significance, incomplete in 1865, continues to unfold all around us." Throughout the text Ayers provides insightful analysis and context for the many primary sources that reveal multiple perspectives on the war and its meaning to those who lived through it, and those who reflected back on the war's significance. I appreciated being able to read women's perspectives, as well as those from people not often heard (such as the 1865 petition from the "Colored Citizens of Nashville, TN"). Of course, the book also contains many traditional documents, such as Lincoln's speeches. I recommend this book for high school age and up, for people who love learning about this major event, and for people who may not realize how much they are intrigued by the Civil War until they read first-hand accounts of the war's intensity.
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