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Patriotic Gore: Studies in the Literature of the American Civil War Paperback – September 17, 1994
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The period of the American Civil War was not one in which belles lettres flourished but it did produce a remarkable literature which mostly consists of speeches and pamphlets, private letters and diaries, personal memoirs and journalistic reports. Has there ever been another historical crisis of the magnitude of 1861-65 in which so many people were so articulate?
When Edmund Wilson wrote those words in the fall of 1961, the literature of the Vietnam War had yet to be written, but his point remains well taken. Patriotic Gore is a remarkable survey of Civil War literature, encompassing generals, society ladies, and novelists alike. The readings of these works are suffused throughout by Wilson's literary attentiveness and--occasionally--flashes of humor. Of Abraham Lincoln, for example, he writes, "There has undoubtedly been written about him more romantic and sentimental rubbish than about any other American figure, with the possible exception of Edgar Allan Poe; and there are moments when one is tempted to feel that the cruelest thing that has happened to Lincoln since he was shot by Booth has been to fall into the hands of Carl Sandburg."
Certainly one finds the books and personages that one would expect to find within these pages--Harriet Beecher Stowe, Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, Mary Chestnut--but there are plenty of revelations for those who are not already intimately familiar with the period, such as the possible debt the realism of The Red Badge of Courage owes to the novelist John De Forest, or the charming erudition of Confederate general Richard Taylor. The editorial board of the Modern Library determined Patriotic Gore to be one of the 100 best nonfiction works of the 20th century. Whatever one thinks of the list as a whole, nobody who reads this book can begrudge the board that decision. --Ron Hogan
Top Customer Reviews
"Patriotic Gore" is not only great literature, it's truly one of the best books I've ever read. It deserves a place on any serious civil war historian's bookshelf.
I found the introduction a little too ideological to my taste but otherwise the book is darned near perfect.
As Wilson states in the Introduction (a fascinating glimpse into Wilson's personality and politics), Patriotic Gore deals with about 30 individuals who left a lasting record of their experiences of or involvement in some aspect of the Civil War. Of course, he treats the memoirists, like Grant and Sherman, and the lesser known Mosby and Taylor. Notably, both Grant's and Sherman's memoirs recently have been re-issued by Library of America, both make excellent reading, and Wilson's comments on all are most insightful. Similarly, and partly due to the Ken Burns series, Mary Chesnut and her enormous diary have become reasonably well known to this generation, and Wilson's chapter on three southern woman diarists is equally strong.
In fact, Wilson's skills never flag. He has a wonderful chapter that more than does justice to Harriet Beecher Stowe and might even drive one to attempt Uncle Tom's Cabin.Read more ›
The book begins with a controversial 23-page introduction in which Wilson presents his own understanding of the Civil War--and of all modern wars--as well as of Abraham Lincoln. Even though he was born and raised in New Jersey, Wilson saw the Civil War as an imperialistic war of conquest on the part of the North, hypocritically justified by the "rabble-rousing moral issue" of slavery. In his view, Lincoln was an "uncompromising dictator" comparable to Lenin and Bismarck. Wilson's position is thought-provoking, to say the least; but it also helps prepare the reader for his dispassionate handling of all the writers he discusses. To him, they are not representatives of a noble cause and a despicable one but rather a group of perceptive men and women swept up in a catastrophic social crisis and trying to understand it as best they can. This perspective confers upon "Patriotic Gore" a rare compassion for and sympathy with the people of the era, regardless of their allegiance.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
As I write this, the Confederate flag is being lowered on South Carolina's state capital in the wake of the murders of 9 black churchgoers in Charleston by a true believer in the... Read morePublished 12 months ago by Marc Haefele
As important today as it was when published in the 1960s, this collection of Edmund Wilson's Civil War Era literary criticism makes the case against war. Read morePublished 17 months ago by FORGOT_PASSWORD
Recommended by the Society of Independent Southern Historians. For other Recommendations go to southernhistorians . orgPublished 19 months ago by Howard Ray White
Brilliant essays, among the best I have ever read on the period. The Introduction is cynical and jaundiced and has nothing to do with the essays, which are anything but cyncal. Read morePublished 19 months ago by Erwin Hargrove
This isn't a knock on the text itself, it's just that the publisher could've presented it in a more reader-friendly way. Read morePublished on June 5, 2014 by S. Henderson
Although a very lengthy book, it is highly recommended for Civil War buffs because it provides many little known details of major figures of that war and times. Read morePublished on May 12, 2014 by Ed Rosenblum