Something With Pages

Some thoughtful soul, not I, would perhaps have some positive words about the present volume, and not without some justification.  There is much to be said in praise of the Library of America and the quality of its volumes in various categories of presentation, and in the past I not only have acknowledged such manifest merits, but have even assigned them as textbooks in my classes.  Not this time.  There are too many problems with this book, and with the series it concludes, for me to be able to recommend the acquisition of this volume, or even its perusal.

I was surprised to find here the repeated insistence that the Confederacy fought for independence—this twice from Jefferson Davis himself.  And there are episodes or pages in this compendium that I am glad to have read, pages that surprised me or shook me, but not nearly enough of them.  Worse, the expanding accumulation of minicontexts was increasingly disorienting.  I have not before encountered a representation of military matters so lacking in a sense of geography.  And the maps are downright annoying.

Now that doesn’t mean that the last months of the War Between the States are not a worthy subject—quite the opposite.  We cannot learn enough, let alone too much, about “the watershed of American history,” and that is just the point.  But it may mean that the history of...

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