I wrote yesterday about my visit to Gettysburg over the weekend. While browsing the gift shop at the Visitor’s center, I stopped to check out their extensive selection of Civil War inspired nonfiction and novels. Between visiting Gettysburg and seeing Margaret Mitchell’s house in May, I’ve spent a lot of time this year thinking about the Civil War and its impact.
This prompted me to pick up Team of Rivals (information below). I practically devoured it yesterday and today–it’s that good. I knew it would be, but I sometimes have a hard time getting into a biography instead of listening to a podcast or history. I should really work on this habit, I know I’m missing out on some great American history biographies because of it.
Here are my five recommendations for books to read on your vacation to Gettysburg (or inspire you to take one).
- Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin
New York magazine hails Doris Kearns Goodwin as America’s historian-in-chief, and her 2006 biography of Abraham Lincoln is the standard Lincoln biography of the 21st century. Detailing Lincoln’s political rise and tenure as president, it focuses on the way he built relationships to forge the team that would lead the Union to win the war.
2. The Complete Gettysburg Guide: walking and Driving Tours of the Battlefield, Town, Cemeteries, field Hospital Sites, and other Topics of Historical Interest by J. David Peruzzi and Steven Stanley
You can buy a copy of an auto tour cd at the Visitor’s center, but for the same price, you can get this version that includes the cemeteries, hospitals, and the town. The battle spread across a very large area, and the official tour contains 16 stops. This version is much more extensive.
3. The War that Forged a Nation by James McPherson
James McPherson is a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, and this book tackles how to understand the legacy of the Civil War in the 21st century. Examining many of the issues at the heart of the war (racial inequality, state sovereignty, competing geographic interests, etc.), McPherson chronicles how these issues still affect society today.
4. The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara
This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel was the basis for the movie Gettysburg and had a significant influence on Ken Burns’ making of his PBS Civil War documentary. The novel covers the intense days of the battle, centering on real historical figures from both sides of the war.
After a few hours on the tour, I found my head spinning trying to keep track of troop movements, advances, and hilltops. If you’re not a complete military history fanatic, you might enjoy this look at the war through the eyes of women, African Americans, and immigrant soldiers covers the battle as experienced by those typically overlooked in the traditional telling of the war.
Those are my five. What would you add to the list? Any biographies you would recommend for me?