- Hardcover: 272 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (January 29, 2007)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0195313666
- ISBN-13: 978-0195313666
- Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 1.1 x 6.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 58 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #703,430 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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This Mighty Scourge: Perspectives on the Civil War 1st Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
Prolific and much-honored historian McPherson (Battle Cry of Freedom, etc.) weighs in on the Civil War in this compilation of 16 essays, most of which have appeared in print before—seven of them in The New York Review of Books. Revised and edited for this collection, the essays read like chapters in a smooth narrative that addresses some of the biggest questions of the Civil War: why did it start? why did the South lose? what motivated the men who fought on both sides? how do we evaluate the top leaders—including Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and Ulysses G. Grant? McPherson goes about answering these and other questions in his usual graceful style, underscored by a thorough grasp of myriad primary and secondary sources on virtually every aspect of the conflict. He forthrightly expresses his opinions while backing them up with well-reasoned arguments, whether challenging the "Lost Cause" argument about why the South lost, or supporting the proposition that it was slavery—and not states' rights—that was the main cause of the war. This strong addition to the massive Civil War canon will appeal to all readers. (Feb.)
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From Bookmarks Magazine
James M. McPherson has written and edited nearly 30 books, including the Pulitzer Prize?winning Battle Cry of Freedom. Turf battles aren't uncommon in Civil War studies, and McPherson has a wide reputation as a thoughtful, fair, and readable historian whose insight brings fresh perspective to some often-scrutinized topics. Although McPherson intended some of the essays for an academic audience, each is accessible and worthwhile, and "displays an admirable transparency, showing the historian at work" (Baltimore Sun). All pieces have been updated and revised, and each bears the stamp of McPherson's keen intellect applied to topics that continue to generate discussion among Civil War historians and buffs.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.
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Top customer reviews
7 of these articles originally appeared as review essays in the New York Review of Books; 6 have previously been published in anthologies or professional journals; and 3 were developed from McPherson's lectures and appear in print for the first time. The essays are grouped into 5 thematic chapters: slavery and other causes of the war; a reexamination of the "Lost Cause" mentality; the Federal architects of military victory, primarily Grant and Sherman; life at home and on the battlefront; and a reappraisal of Abraham Lincoln. Several of these articles are likely to provoke heated discussion, particularly in the states of the former Confederacy. Three of the essays reflect McPherson's celebrated skirmishes with members of Southern heritage groups, particularly the "neo-Confederate partisans" of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV). McPherson supports historian Mark Grimsley's contention that Sherman's army did not engage in total warfare (by modern standards) against the Southern populace, but rather demonstrated remarkable restraint as it applied a "hard war" of "directed severity."
In one of the collection's strongest essays, the opening salvo, titled "And the War Came," McPherson reviews the evolution of the historiography regarding the preeminence of slavery in the sectional disagreements that led to war. He convincingly argues that the denial of direct causation of the war was a post-bellum construct of the defeated Rebels, principally the former president and vice-president of the Confederate States. These former Confederates realized that history would not look favorably upon any cause, lost or otherwise, that expended 620 thousand lives in the vain attempt to keep four million people enslaved. In the early decades of the 20th century, historians rooted around for other causes, such as class conflicts and disparate interest groups, but McPherson concludes that few still subscribe to any of these theories, which still remain popular among Southern heritage groups.
The quality of essays in "This Mighty Scourge" is somewhat uneven, however. Taken as a set, the articles that were originally published as review essays are the weakest in this collection. It is not always readily apparent just what books McPherson is reviewing, as the standard subheadings in the NYRB that give the pertinent publication information have been omitted. Two of these essays—one reviewing recent biographies of John Brown and Harriet Tubman, and the other a new study of Jesse James—relate only marginally to the Civil War and pale in comparison to the other pieces that take on much larger issues.
Nevertheless, with this small anthology, McPherson reaffirms his position of eminence among scholars of the American Civil War. There is much here to inform, to entertain, and to stimulate further research and discussion.
McPherson's best trait is best summed up in comments in the Washington Post in its review of his Drawn with a Sword. "McPherson is uniformly interesting and, to the general reader's eternal relief, both lucid and uncondescending." A Professor Emeritus from Princeton, McPherson's best known work and likely his best historical narrative work, is Battle Cry of Freedom. It is not an overstatement to say that it is the finest work on the Civil War, a topic that along with Lincoln has had no shortage of research or publications. Interestingly, in the book's penultimate essay, McPherson writes about the challenges faced by historians in deciding what Lincoln said, did not say, or even might have said. It is also in this essay that he refers to David Herbert Donald's relatively recent biography, "Lincoln", as majestic. I would agree with his assessment, as have many, and put that book along side the professor's own works on even a limited shelf of works on this period.
While I had had read many of these essays in a previous and somewhat different form in the New York Review of Books, they are still well worth a second read. It is telling that the NYRB almost always uses the services of McPherson to review any new titles of the Civil War period. He is a treasure as both an historian and, to no small degree, as a writer. A marvelous combination.
The chapter on Lincoln himself brought new understanding to the attempts in writing his story after his death, by those who knew him, namely William Herndon. Fantastic book!