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That Anvil of Our Souls: A Novel of the Monitor and the Merrimack Hardcover – June 28, 2005

3.7 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews
Book 3 of 3 in the Civil War at Sea Series

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The veteran of 25 sea novels, Poyer (Fire on the Waters) extends his Civil War at Sea saga with this third installment, which begins with Catherine Claiborne burying her infant daughter, while learning that her husband, Kyd Claiborne, faces hanging as a pirate. Enter Union naval engineer Theodorus Hubbard to work on the Monitor and fire-eater Lomax Minter to search for spies working on the rival Merrimack, with the climactic March 1862 battle of the two ironclads (off Hampton Roads, Va.) looming. Poyer mixes fictional characters with the likes of Monitor builder John Ericson and Commodore Franklin Buchanan (whose wounding in the first day's battle is described in grisly detail) to nice effect. Escaped slave Calpurnius Hanks sticks to his guns, literally, in spite of a shorthanded U.S. Navy that can't shake off racism and his ship, the Cumberland, sinking under him. A larger cast than Poyer's naval Dan Lenson novels makes for occasional choppiness, but otherwise this book is every bit as good; Poyer makes readers see and feel the blockade and the men who tried to maintain it. (July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

The 1862 battle between the Monitor and the merrimack ended inconclusively and had virtually no effect on the outcome of the Civil War. However, it was of symbolic importance, heralding the age of steam-powered, iron warships. In this superbly researched and well-written novel, Poyer deftly intersperses historical and fictional characters to re-create an era while presenting an exciting narrative of the building of both ships and their climactic confrontation. Poyer provides compelling characterizations of John Ericsson, the Swedish-born mercurial genius who designed the Monitor; Theo Hubbard, his assistant engineer; Catherine Claiborne, a tortured Virginia aristocrat whose husband is a prominent Confederate naval officer; and Calpurnius Hanks, an escaped slave and Union sailor. Through these characters' eyes, readers observe the social structure and tensions within North and South. Writing fiction, Poyer feels free to indulge in speculation as he suggests Machiavellian plotting on both sides; but his speculations have the ring of credibility. This is an exciting work of historical fiction that will appeal to general readers as well as Civil War buffs. Jay Freeman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (June 28, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684871351
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684871356
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.3 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,991,276 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Louis L. Guy on August 16, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Don't miss this book. Once more Poyer weaves his tale masterfully, but this time he's telling a story about an internationally famous and widely studied event. Many pitfalls no matter how he presents it. So he has taken us inside the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia, and shows us how it was to those on the scene. They have no clue to the outcome, and they know how many times in the battle a close call could go either way. Tragedy or victory, ending the war, seems within fingertips througout the epoch shaking confrontation. Technology makes a difference and individual personalities makes a difference, but no one could have predicted the end result of a standoff, the most tenuous of all possibilities. Rarely has historical fiction portrayed so well the context surrounding a famous event, showing that "nothing had to happen the way it happened when it happened", as David McCullough reminds us.
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Format: Paperback
David Poyer is a naval writer of some distinction. Some years ago, I read one of his books and wasn't impressed with it. I returned to him to try again when I bought Fire on the Water, and then its two sequels, A Country of Our Own and the current book, The Anvil of Our Souls. Frankly, I think I'm glad I gave him another try, and I'm considering going back and trying his other stuff again.

The three books mentioned above are part of a series of novels that deal with the American Civil War, focusing on the naval aspects of the campaign. The first book recounts the experiences of the crew of a United States warship, most of the officers of which are Southerners. The second book follows the executive officer of that ship as he becomes a Confederate raider on the high seas. This third book instead focuses on most of the rest of the characters from the first book, following the black escaped slave who was a gunner, the doctor (a Southerner), an engineer who understands steam engines, and so forth. One of the main characters of this third volume is the ardent Southerner from the second book, Minter, who's portrayed rather negatively in spite of the fact he's a rebel.

The central portion of the plot of this book surrounds the battle between the Monitor and the Merrimac. The author is obviously a sailor himself, and he's apparently done a prodigious amount of research, so everything is very authentic, right down to Worden's Elmer-Fudd-like accent and the method of pointing the guns in the Monitor's turret away from the enemy when reloading. The battle is recounted in considerable detail, and occupies what must be the middle 200 pages of the book. Even though you know how things come out, it's still suspenseful and interesting.

I enjoyed this book a great deal, and I'm looking forward to the next book in the series.
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Format: Paperback
I enjoyed the technical detail of the CSS Virginia and the USS Monitor, as well as the somewhat similar and yet very different personalities associated with each. One reviewer stated he thought Poyer had a bias toward one side or the other - I don't think so. I think the book is mostly agnostic and presents the well known arguments for and against both sides as part of the story, without being preachy in either case. It is really more a book about naval technology, strategy, and how the best laid plans can go awry. Poyer is a naval adventure writer who produces literature and not just pulp. He creates the sights, sounds, and smells of the battle. the only thing I did not like about this book was that it was a bit constrained by the conceit of showing the same event from the perspective of perhaps a few too many people. But each of the key characters is well-developed and engaging, even when they might be repulsive or admirable.
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Format: Paperback
This book displays the author's fantastic knowledge of everything "civil war". However, if you know the history then there is nothing new. I got very bored reading about medical, food, poor attempts at human drama, and mechanics of the era. It seemed like this book was a tedious display of the author's knowledge via the eyes of mediocre characters than a good story. I already know what happened between the two ships, so the plot is non-existent and nothing about the characters adds to it.
As a series I found it left some of the main characters hanging. For example, the doctor is one of the only characters to appear in all three. I feel he is only there as a vehicle to display medical knowledge of the era. Another is the engineer who is a shallow character present to describe in tedious detail the engines. The best character in the series is not even present in this book. Perhaps future volumes would have picked them up, but I suspect the series is dead in the water (pun intended). Where else can they go except to the river battles. If more books are written, I would not follow this series.
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