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New York Times: Disunion: Modern Historians Revisit and Reconsider the Civil War from Lincoln's Election to the Emancipation Proclamation Hardcover – May 14, 2013

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

In November 2010, the New York Times opened a website, Disunion, in which Civil War scholars, journalists, and amateur historians have continued to contribute hundreds of essays, biographical sketches, and general commentary about our greatest national trial. Widmer, a historian at Brown University, has selected 106 of these articles, which proceed chronologically from the election of Lincoln to the Emancipation Proclamation. In the first grouping of essays, various aspects of the secession crisis are examined, including a searing portrait of President Buchanan and an often neglected view of antisecession Southerners. In another grouping, a particularly intriguing essay explores Lincoln’s “audacious plan” to use government bonds to eliminate slavery in the border states. As a whole, the essays are well written, wide ranging and very informative, even for many Civil War specialists. This work will be an ideal addition to Civil War collections for both public and academic libraries. --Jay Freeman

Review

From the annals of the New York Times Opinionator column and timed to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, Brown University historian Widmer has pieced together a selection for readers both mildly and deeply interested in the Civil War. Did you know that four slave-holding states remained in the Union after the Civil War began? That President Lincoln was elected without a single electoral vote from the South? Or that West Virginia came into existence when the western part of Virginia "seceded from secession"? Tidbits like these populate pages culled from brief essays in the paper's online column, and the book's format allows for smaller, captivating stories to be told?the kind that are often over-looked in epic histories?like Lincoln's last visit with his step-mother or how Nick Biddle, an African-American servant to a captain in the Union Army, might have been the first to shed blood in hostility during the war. Well-known historians such as Ken Burns, Stephanie McCurry and Adam Goodheart are all represented in this absorbing and important series. B&W photos.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Black Dog & Leventhal (May 14, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1579129285
  • ISBN-13: 978-1579129286
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.4 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #349,231 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Clay Risen is the author, most recently, of "The Bill of the Century: The Epic Battle for the Civil Rights Act," which was published in April 2014 by Bloomsbury, and "American Whiskey, Bourbon and Rye: A Guide to the Nation's Favorite Spirit," which was published in November 2013 by Sterling Epicure.

Risen is a staff editor at The New York Times; previously he worked as an assistant editor at The New Republic and the managing editor of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas. He has written for numerous national magazines and newspapers, including Fortune, The Atlantic, Smithsonian and The New York Times Magazine. Risen is also the author of "A Nation on Fire: America in the Wake of the King Assassination" and a co-editor of "The New York Times' Disunion: Modern Historians Revisit and Reconsider the Civil War from Lincoln's Election to the Emancipation Proclamation."

Clay Risen lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two children.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Alfred Loomis on June 12, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Late in 2010 *The New York Times* started publishing essays pertinent to events that led to the American Civil War 150 years earlier. As a means of commemorating the War's Sesquicentennial the newspaper continued with about four-to-five articles weekly at their "Disunion" blog. Topics typically correspond to events of 150 years prior to the applicable article's publication date. For example, the story of "The Great Locomotive Chase" was published on April 13, 2012. Although some of us may remember the Disney movie staring Fess Parker, the description which is included in this book explains not only the drama of the chase, but also the strategic objectives of the raid. Specifically, it was an attempt to capture Chattanooga, Tennessee 18-months before the town was eventually conquered following three bloody battles.

*The New York Times* is continuing the Disunion Series presumably until around the summer of 2015. This book contains articles pertinent to the first two years of the War including the secession crisis following Lincoln's election in November 1860. *The Times* selected a mix of academic historians, professional writers, novelists, and a even a few expert laypersons as authors. Their editor selected topics providing engaging narratives. The approach animates historical characters in a manner that enables them to stand up off the page and cast a shadow.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Nick on October 25, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
While its normal for the quality of articles in books like this to vary, the standard is very high in this volume. The articles tackling discrete elements of the war, or clearly defined thematic topics are particularly successful. Most of the articles on unusual topics such as the underwear worn by soldiers (seriously) are fascinating, and those by Amanda Foreman on the war's international context are outstanding. Almost all of the articles are engagingly written, and provide a good overview of their topic in a form accessible to layman readers.

My main criticism of the book relates to the selection of articles from the blog which have been rerepublished here. While the blog typically publishes several articles on each of the war's major battles, only a single article per battle has been included in this compilation. I found that this reduced the overall impact of the volume - its excellent coverage of the social history of the war is undermined by a lack of detail on the "sharp end" of the conflict. I was also frustrated by the handful of articles which take a nit-picking approach to their topics and get bogged down in minor details. In addition, I was surprised by the decision to not include the lists of references which conclude most of the blog posts, and this greatly reduces the book's value to readers looking for an introduction to the topics it covers.

Overall, this engaging book provides a useful introduction to the social history of the war, and has some interesting takes on its military history. However, it's a shame that some of the best features of the blog haven't been carried over into this compilation.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By W. Cadbury on January 28, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The Disunion project is absolutely amazing--I've read every word, and continue to do so as the contributions come out. It's nice to have a selection of them in print like this, though I must say I was disappointed that it's only a selection. The other disappointment is that the time-line and other graphic features aren't printed. I would have thought there would be a way to turn them into print, and I would have used them for reference because the way I read the installments in the electronic paper is on an iPad, and Apple for some probably well-known reason (I think it involves bandwidth) refuses to include the helper program necessary to view the graphic features. But for a newcomer who doesn't want to go to the trouble of tracking down the previous installments of Disunion before continuing on, this book will give more than a flavor of those episodes. I'm sure there will be subsequent volumes (which I will also buy) since there is still a year of the war to undergo--that's the way it feels, that we are in the Disunion presentation just experiencing the war day by day. Painful, but improving.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By robert r. blinn on March 18, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
very professional. love the short essay format by historians and fine writters. consider myself an amateur expert on the civil war and many things I wondered about were thoroughly covered in these essays.
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Format: Hardcover
This very interesting compilation of expertly written articles that attempts to cover every conceivable topic associated with the CW. It covers everything from bullets to balloons, trains, underwear and camels. There's literature, humor and music. There are poignant anecdotes of boys and women and medical practice, both doctoring and nursing. It covers military operations and, of course, Lincoln's relations with his generals. There's interest in Southern business and political relationships with foreign powers as they strove for recognition. The article about the Confederate flag fails to count the stars. It's a very light treatment of each topic, but enough to evoke interest in further study.

Thematically, it's very good on Lincoln's changing emphasis from union to freeing slaves, culminating in the E.P. and the thirteenth amendment. It's not so good on reasons for secession. Stopping halfway through the war would seem to indicate that a sequel is coming.
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