Customer Reviews: Civil War Stories (Dover Thrift Editions)
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on September 22, 2002
You would never think of these stories as having been written in the 19th century, but they were. Ambrose Bierce was a Civil War veteran who seems almost to have tried to exorcise the horrors of the war he lived by writing about it. The result is gripping and utterly believable; the style is immediate, you-are-there, not-one-word-too-many. Not the flowery elaborate style you might have associated with Victorian prose.
The results convey the horrors of war as well as anything written in your lifetime. The story about the little boy who gets lost near his home when it is surrounded by a battle...I don't think I'll ever forget it. I won't spoil if for you but you've got to read it. If you think that 130+-year-old stories have nothing to say to you, give these a try, you will see otherwise.
Not to mention the Dover version is NOT EVEN TWO DOLLARS at the time of this writing. You spent more than the price of this book on your coffee this morning, I'll bet. What have you got to lose? Add it to a Supersaver order, there won't even be a shipping charge. Best pocket change you will ever have spent on a book.
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on May 4, 2001
I know fans of Poe, Hemmingway, Thurber, and others could argue with me on the above title and the review below. However, please keep in mind that these are simply my opinions and reflect my respect for this excellent writer.
Bierce's Civil War stories are simply the best in that genre, with "An Occurence at Owl Creek Bridge" possibly being the most famous American short story ever written. The "surprise ending" was often exercised by him in many of his stories and many first-time readers will undoubtedly be jolted by his prose.
This is a man who personally experienced the horror of the war he so vividly describes and the anguish of its inevitable aftermath. Bierce fought in some of the bloodiest, most ferocious campaigns of the Civil War, nearly losing his life in several of them. He was duly decorated for his heroism, but it certainly left an indelible scar in his mind which is reflected in his writing.
Bierce's stories are not war stories; they are indictments of war and its immense madness. None of them reflect any glamour or glory; they are coldly realistic. The protagonist in each case experiences some form tragedy and/or anguish resulting from the war's effects.
One of Bierce's final Civil War stories entitled, "A Bivouac for the Dead" is not fictitious, but a testimony to the soldiers who fought in the war and a tribute to their memories. It is a rare instance of a positive story coming from a writer who made his reputation as a solemn, sardonic, often negative-thinking person.
No matter what people think of Bierce, every story I've read by him is vivid in their contents: setting, character development, plot. His prose is very succinct and often extremely graphic (ie: the wounded soldiers from "Chiquaumaga"), but doubtless very attention-grabbing.
Bierce's other short stories (horror, tall tales) also carry his signature negativity and often brilliant and biting humor. However, I think his Civil War stories are the true reflection of his storytelling genius. This book highly recommended to Civil War buffs and anyone who wants to read and learn about the short story format.
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on October 17, 2005
Ambrose Bierce served during the American Civil War, serving as a cartographer and officer for the Union. In these 16 compelling tales, Bierce conveys the sights and sounds from a soldier's perspective of the war, ranging from being in the heart of battle in "What I Saw of Shiloh" to a young boy lost in the woods in "Chickamauga" to tales of the supernatural and of odd events, including "One of the Missing" -- a chilling tale of a soldier in an abandoned house -- and his famous "An Occurence at Owl Creek Bridge." Bierce's no-nonsense style puts the reader in the heart of the action, making the reader take an active part in the events. A great collection of stories from one of America's best writers.
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on June 5, 1997
No matter what it is called, be it the Civil War, the War Between the States or the War of Southern Secession, the time period 1861-65 was one of the most bloody, destructive and emotionally and ideologically charged periods in U.S. history. And no contemporary author had a better grasp of it than Union comabt veteran Ambrose Bierce, whose stories in this short but riveting collection are not dry historical abstractions nor a cold analysis of the decisions of senior leaders, but a graphic record of the everday sweat, endless terror and cruel, surreal absurdity of armed conflict.

From the eerie "Incident at the Owl Creek Bridge" to the gripping "Parker Adderson, Philosopher," Bierce honed the unique literary and expressive skills that served him well as a corrosive and controversial San Francisco newspaper columnist and astonishingly effective writer on horror and the occult. War to "Bitter Bierce" was the purest expression of the basic animal survival instinct; hardened and warped by endless fear, by the power of technological advances in weaponry and the stress and repeated brutality that turned ordinary human beings into ruthless killers--to the point where ideology and the color of the uniform no longer mattered.

Bierce's experiences and deep cynicism soon led him to believe that human beings, despite all of their apparent gifts, in reality could do little more than create brutal and meaningless tragedies. "War is a byproduct of the arts of peace," he was reported to have said, but these stories, a product of a bygone era, remain curiously contemporary because they tell us about everyday people--not unlike ourselves despite more than a century of difference--who fought a war, that, in light of the issues it raised and the multiple cultural forces it unleashed or redirected, has never really ended.
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on November 5, 2005
Ambrose Bierce was not a likeable individual; he was often acerbic, sarcastic, and even mean spirited. Nonetheless, he created remarkably good short stories. This collection shares a common theme, the Civil War, but the individual stories belong to many different genre and will appeal to a wide audience. There is no need to be a Civil War enthusiast to enjoy this collection.

Ambrose Bierce fought in several bloody battles in the west in the Civil War including Shiloh and Chickamauga, is credited with rescuing wounded comrades under fire, and was badly wounded at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain. The first story - What I Saw of Shiloh - is a 17-page fascinating, occasionally critical, first person account of his participation.

The next story - Four Days in Dixie - is another first person account, but I simply do not know whether Bierce was being truthful or not. Whether the truth, an exaggeration, or perhaps a fabrication, Four Days in Dixie is entertaining reading.

The remaining fourteen stories are clearly fiction and are characterized by unusual perspectives and unexpected endings. The tales of Ambrose Bierce not only make exciting, entertaining reading, but they are often thought provoking. The endings often come as a surprise, and leave the reader pondering the unusual outcome.

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge is a good example. This story spans several genre, is not easily classified, and has an unexpected ending. This remarkable story has been recreated as a screen play and may be familiar to many readers from black and white television reruns of the Twilight Zone series.

This collection is uniformly good and warrants more than one reading. This Dover Thrift Edition is definitely a bargain.
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on January 23, 2014
Ambrose Bierce was an acerbic, conceited, misfit of a man often in conflict with those around him but his distance from people allowed him to observe them with a laser focus. These are not your standard war stories of bravery, cowardice and conflict although all these elements are here in abundance, no, these stories are about the Twilight Zone ending, the Rod Serling irony, the fickle twist of fate, the opposite being true of the obvious. No wonder "An Occurance At Owl Creek Bridge" was the only Twilight Zone not produced by Serling. Ambrose Bierce had already produced it as though he had The Zone in mind as he was writing it. All of these stories will stay with you long after you have closed the pages.
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on September 28, 2008
Today, if known at all, Ambrose Bierce is recalled as that guy who wrote that funny book The Devil's Dictionary. He was seen, and still is seen, as a sort of poor man's Mark Twain. This is quite unfair, as he was a marvelous writer in his own right, although not with the depth nor wit that Twain possessed. Part of the problem is that his personal life, strong opinions, and bitter biases (he loathed Oscar Wilde, for example), have led to his marginalization. Yet, Bierce was a master of the short story form- every bit the equal or superior of more lauded contemporaries like Guy de Maupassant, or O. Henry. Mostly, it is in the horror or thriller vein that his tales fall, but his best work, in my opinion, can be found in his marvelous tales of the Civil War....These are simply riveting tales, far more modern than his contemporaries work, and most of this is due to Bierce's journalistic background (he worked for William Randolph Hearst at the San Francisco Examiner). About the only thing that keeps the tales from a full claim on modernity is Bierce's penchant for twist endings, rather than the more naturalistic zero endings that Anton Chekhov pioneered, and others ran with. Still, the description that Bierce paints- of lives, deaths, moments, and battles, are rich, horrific, and vivid. His characters are usually merely servants to the overall narrative- another `throwback' trait of pre-modern fiction, but ask yourself- is there a character in all of Donald Barthelme's or Rick Moody's writing that is not cardboard? Bierce was simply not attempting great character portraits, in general, so to hold him up to that standard is not tenable. By every other measure, though, his tales could have been penned by a modern writer covering Vietnam or the two Iraq wars....The stories are first rate, and mustr reading fore anyone enamored of short stories, or those just interested in American history, or the Civil War. As for the man himself? In 1913, after a series of personal setbacks- deaths of sons and a divorce, he set out for Mexico to cover Pancho Villa and the Mexican Revolution. His last written words were: `Goodbye, if you hear of my being stood up against a Mexican stone wall and shot to rags, please know that I think it a pretty good way to depart this life. It beats old age, disease, or falling down the cellar stairs. To be a Gringo in Mexico- ah, that is euthanasia!' It is fitting that such an enigmatic man and writer would leave such an epitaph, but that is not his legacy. These great stories are- read, learn, but most of all enjoy.
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on December 8, 2014
A DARK book. This work explores just some of the heartbreak of a civil war. Brother aganist brother. Families divided. Brutality, the order of the day. But, it does put the whole matter of warring into its real perspective. Dehumanizing the enemy to cover any feelings or regrets brought on by slaughtering other human beings, even if they are family.
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on September 1, 2015
Have always enjoyed Ambrose Bierce's writing. It's clear, concise, ironic, witty, and the prose is modern, not dated like some other 19th century writing. Think he and Mark Twain could be writing today. The stories are interesting, some heartbreaking, well worth reading if you want to read a finely crafted story.
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on April 29, 2016
Amazing dark stories written by a Civil War veteran who also happens to be a great writer. Brings up comparisons with Mark Twain for me. A must for any fan of the Civil War or America in the 19th century.
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