Thursday, May 6, 2010

Casual Readers Need Not Apply

I must admit that I was somewhat bemused by the review of West Pointers and the Civil War in the Charleston Post and Courier that used the headline, "Military book not a casual read." Richard W. Hatcher III described my book as "interesting," and "not for the casual reader, but for one who is interested in and has a working knowledge of the subject." Of course, outside of students, does anyone read a history book they aren't interested in?

That being said, while I really did make an attempt to avoid military jargon and make the book accessible to someone without a substantial background in nineteenth-century military practice, it's also true that I aspire to a prose style this both spare and unadorned. People expecting the People Magazine version of Civil War military institutions will thus be disappointed.


  1. Hi Wayne,

    The same newspaper and perhaps same author drew the same conclusion about Aaron Sheehan-Dean's collection of essays, "The View From the Ground" which included a chapter I wrote on the Crater and historical memory.

    I think it must be understood as self-reflective.

    Kevin at Civil War Memory

  2. Kevin,

    Thanks for the comment! One of the great things about Civil War history is the amount of cross-pollination you can see between popular and academic history, but I guess there are limits at the end of the day to everything.


  3. I wouldn't try to read too much into it. It is the typical snippet "review" found in newspapers and pop history magazines, the type that get so caught up in summarizing the subject matter and sorting through the target audience that the merits of the book itself almost remains a mystery to the reader. Surely, Hatcher, an NPS historian and co-author of a wonderful social and military history of the Wilson's Creek campaign, knows how to write a proper review of a Civil War related subject. I would guess he probably just submitted what the newspaper editor asked for.

  4. Oh, I should clarify--I didn't see the review as negative. I was just sorta bemused, especially with the headline, which, of course, was probably written by someone else. And for the reasons you've stated, the review did what it was supposed to do. And I've actually used Hatcher's Wilson's Creek battle study with much profit.