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Notable Books

Notable Books | Four books on the Civil War

Issue: "School choice," Aug. 25, 2012

1861: The Civil War Awakening

Adam Goodheart's account of the war's first year is a captivating introduction to the conflict that began 150 years ago. Goodheart takes us from Charleston Harbor and the war's first shots to the Nevada Territory, where some settlers said they didn't "care a straw" for the nation's disunion, while others headed back East to fight. Each chapter of 1861 has its own distinct drama that introduces readers to the famous, the soon-to-be-famous, and the never-to-be-famous. For example, 24-year-old Elmer Ellsworth emerged from obscurity to lead a group of rowdy New York firefighters on a night raid that brought Ellsworth death and national fame as the first Union officer to die in the war.

Abraham Lincoln and Treason in the Civil War

Since some 15,000 books have been written about Abraham Lincoln, some think nothing new can be added, but White's book about how Lincoln battled the internal threat of traitors dispels that notion. White recreates the trials of John Merryman, a Baltimore farmer arrested on treason charges as Maryland tottered toward secession. When authorities held Merryman without granting him his right to see a judge, a legal clash erupted that pitted the chief justice of the Supreme Court against Lincoln. Jonathan White's work deftly explores how Lincoln used the courts as another front to fight the war, and also shows how the controversy still has ramifications today in the current debate over terrorist detainees.

Freedom's Cap

With the coming of civil war, no place faced a more uncertain future than the city of Washington. A developing city often sneered at by foreign visitors for its "spacious avenues that begin in nothing and lead nowhere," Washington's fancy hotels stood near clapboard sheds and ramshackle shanties. The Washington Monument sat unfinished and surrounded by cows during the war, but officials kept going on the project to expand the United States Capitol and cap it with a 9-million-pound cast-iron dome. Guy Gugliotta chronicles the engineering feat required to construct one of the world's most famous symbols of freedom in the midst of one of history's bloodiest wars. He introduces us to a colorful cast of men who persisted through rivalries and clashes to finish a building that stood for the nation others were fighting to preserve.

Midnight Rising

Tony Horwitz describes John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry, a prelude to the Civil War, with details as vivid as those found in novels. In arguing that the raid served as a dress rehearsal for the sea of blood that soon followed, Horwitz claims that history should treat the deadly incident as more than a mere "speed bump" on the road to Gettysburg. He shows us how Brown went from a boy who wore buckskins, rambled in the woods, and tamed bobtail squirrels, to a man at "eternal war with slavery." We also learn about the widening chasm between North and South, how the nation braced for conflict after Brown's raid, and how Brown's raid, thanks to the telegraph, became one of America's first breaking news stories.


Ways to avoid a different kind of civil war: In Different by Design: God's Blueprint for Men and Women (Christian Focus, 2012), London women's ministry leader Carrie Sandom brings a warm, biblical sensibility to her discussion of male and female roles, especially in the church and home. She's unapologetically complementarian, skillfully showing how God designed differences as part of a beautiful plan for His creation. Sandom makes her case by working through large chunks of Scripture, rather than pulling out of context an occasional verse. For example, when dealing with submission in Ephesians 5 she reminds her readers of context: The letter's first half deals with blessings the Ephesians have as Christians ("chosen, adopted, redeemed, and included in Christ") and its second half focuses on the practical outworking of these blessings, including marriage. -Susan Olasky

Edward Lee Pitts
Edward Lee Pitts

Lee teaches journalism at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa, and is the associate dean of the World Journalism Institute.


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