Five Star review, originally posted here on April 6, 2016.
I am still surprised that I not only bothered reading this book, but liked it, and liked it enough to give it 5 stars. I used to visit battlefields with my family when I was a kid, and I learned about the Civil War, but I never really got into it until a couple years ago. It seemed boring to me. The way it was taught was very sterile, with lots of maps with blue and gray arrows on them explaining troop movements that all looked alike to me. Then a couple years ago I got back into it again, and I realized that the Civil War is insanely fascinating. I’ve wondered why we teach our history in this way sometimes- how and why do we take concepts and events that are soooooo interesting and strip them of all their flavor and leave them as boring lists of dates and names to memorize? Relearning about the Civil War now in adulthood has added depth and nuance to a time period that earlier I, somehow, managed to gloss right over.
For the first several chapters of this book, I was convinced that this book would be another example of this old, boring way of explaining history. Is somehow managed to both sterilize and humanize the war at the same time- meaning we got to climb right into the heads and hearts of some of these historic figures who earlier never really spoke to me, which was good, but we still glossed over most of the gruesome horror of war by starting each chapter with a map and having characters drone on about good ground and then just kinda hopping over the bloody mess that must have been the earlier battles. I thought I was going to be disappointed.
But then the real fighting started. And I realized that we were right there in the thick of the action, and thousands of people were dying, and the men in charge were crying, and all hell was breaking loose and in the end, as one character wonders, What the hell was this crap for??? My level of engulfment escalated right there along with the battle itself, and next thing I knew, BOOM, five stars. This books’ great. It’s well written. It captures emotion and action and tragedy and humor. It takes those boring maps and lists of generals and makes them come alive and surround you. Did I ever think I would love it? Nope. But it’s just plain good, and when something’s this good, it’s tough not to like.