Runner, Commuter, Dietitian with a passion for U.S. History.
The second superb volume of Shelby Foote's trilogy comprehensively describes events that receive short shrift in the history books, media and popular imagination - the Western Theater of the Civil War. While Gettysburg and Chancellorsville are presented in detail, it was fascinating to learn about the ironclads, tinclads and gunboats lumbering up the bayous and moss strewn tributaries of the Mississippi River, searching in vain for a route around the murderous batteries at Vicksburg; Grant's bender during the boredom, futility and frustration of the struggle for the Mississippi; the heroism of both the Union's Black regiments and the Confederate general at Port Hudson, Louisiana; and how hapless, frustrated blue-blood Philadelphia native and CSA general Pemberton begs in vain for assistance from the Confederate leadership in breaking Grant's unrelenting siege of Vicksburg.
As with the other volumes, basic understanding of Civil War battle chronology, geography, tactics, and the political as well as cultural landscape is a prerequisite to add necessary depth and context to the volumes. Unless you have an extensive background in Civil War history, these aren't stand-alone volumes. The level of detail can easily become overwhelming. Part of the enrichment is exploring other Civil War history resources - websites, documentaries, battlefields, museums, and other published materials - that enable the reader to place Foote's magnificent writing into context.
The finest praise I have for a book is that I'm not the same person I was after having read it. I discovered this standing in front of the public library in Erie, PA. To my surprise, as I had no idea where he was from, there stood a statue of Strong Vincent, defender of the Union Flank at Little Round Top. Having died of his wounds five days after the battle, he's one of the soldiers that you don't hear much about. His is a sad story; tears welled up as I offered a prayer of thanksgiving that his country had deep enough meaning for him to sacrifice his life. There are numerous examples like his on both Union and Confederate sides. The war was bloody and the tactics were brutal, delivering a tragic, almost unimaginable and horrific loss of life. Perhaps most frustrating was the lack of progress for the rights of African Americans, coming to halt after passage of the 15th amendment. However, when you tour the battlefields, the long and almost forgotten dead seem to speak to you from an era when Americans acted upon deeply felt ideals. The ideals were often flawed, but the sentiment and the actions that resulted were profound and resonate to the present day.
Foote's prose is simply elegant. Perhaps a shame that he himself did not do the reading although his doing so would merely been an enhancement to an otherwise fine job.
This book is a must read for any true student of the American Civil War. It will take you places you've never heard of that yet are integral to understanding how this immensely complex story unfolds.
Well, I'm very focused on certain books. You have all the Asimov books I want, but by some unbelievable oversight, no Robots and Empire!
Reviewing Shelby Foote's narrative is almost as complicated as the material it proposes to explain. Brining the Civil War to the average reader (listener) is difficult in itself; it is grim history, and that is the only thing everyone agrees on. Limited to facts, it's dry and short, because every piece of information comes from the writing of those intimately involved in a radical clash of viewpoints, so facts come in the form of dates, names, and sometimes, numbers. Foote endeavored, therefore, to put a narrative forward, not a history, and as such, this is a masterwork. But even Foote had his point of view, as a Mississippian in the late 1950's to early 1960's, and so it is good to know as much history as there is before diving into the nearly six full days of solid narration. Foote's bias is, not surprisingly, toward the south, and is very subtle, so if you know the history as well as the average student, you will find yourself filling in the blanks without thought. Blanks are the primary vehicle of bias for Foote, along with some understatement, a little overstatement, and conclusions that are not wrong, but not provable either. The bias also tends to highlight the deeds of armies, which are not the main focus of the narrative, which makes itself indispensable by tying the economy, politics, interpersonal military relationships, even the weather, into a story that the reader will not put down after the first chapter of dusty names and numbers. In this way it has not only become shorthand for historians, but appeals to academicians and casual readers alike. As I said, it is complicated, but less that 5 stars of 5 is not a credible score.
The performance is almost flawless. This may sound like hyperbole, but I've listened to it backward and forward, and it doesn't get old; Gardner's reading is both businesslike and interesting, and aside for a problem pronouncing Spanish town names in New Mexico, hits names, dates, intonation, inflection, structure and cadence despite the quaint turn of phrase from the 1860's, the complicated sentences that Foote enjoyed, and the rapid change from dry humor to dark descriptions that litter the text. It is completely enjoyable.
The weakness of this package is the overall quality. I was disappointed to find that the recording is noticeably uneven, making editing breaks so obvious as to be distracting at times. Even so, the Gardner and Foote make this, warts notwithstanding, something that anyone interested in our country's first major course correction.
If you are interested in the graceful and compelling use of the language, seek out Shelby Foote. If you couldn't care less about the Civil War but love a well turned phrase, buy this book. If you are interested in the Civil War and value a well turned phrase, this is manna from the gods. Don't pass it by. Grover Gardner is fine but I couldn't help wishing ole Shel' was still around to add his laconic and often bemused, voice to the whole thing. Sorry I missed that.
Shelby Foote's Civil War narrative is one of the best records of American history that I have come across. He does an amazing job of walking the reader/listener through the "story" of the civil war. His descriptions of major players and their person histories help to give context and appreciation to all sorts moments in the war, big and small. He manages to describe the war in great detail without coming across as just listing facts, but as one who is intimately aware of how it all fit together and and loves to tell the story.
The audio set is narrated by Grover Gardner, who does a solid job of reading. It took me a bit to adjust to his voice, as it wasn't quite what I had envisioned in my head prior to beginning, but by the time you are a few hours in, it sounds and feels natural and right.
Picking up any of the volumes is a LARGE commitment, with each volume has a play time of around 40 hours, and the total for all three parts coming in at about 130 hours. With this in mind, it is likely that most will not jump in and run straight through all three, and probably not a single volume either.
The second volume is the longest of three, but also deals with the "busiest" mid-section of the war, including the battle of Gettysburg and fall of Vicksburg. I noticed that there were a number of recording level inconsistencies in this volume that I had not noticed in the first. Often there would be sections at a significantly lower or louder volume. Most of these were only for a few sentences, which makes me believe they were re-reads edited in much later, but there are a few longer sections as well.
In any case, if you want to learn what happened in the American Civil War, get this book and listen/read it.
This is the best history I've ever read. Foote has a real talent as a story teller.
The Narration is also top notch.
I'm not a professional historian, so I cannot judge the quality of this work from that viewpoint. But if you are a casual reader who wants to know more about the Civil War, this is probably as good as it gets.
I couldn't follow the time line because there were no dates, or states mentioned. Battles were blurred by politics and I lost focus. DISAPPOINTED.
Don't know, lost interest.
A very ponderous book that is too difficult to follow for those of us not born in the USA.