Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Recent Reading (Finishing Up a Few Things from 2018)

Keeping myself on any kind of a regular reading schedule is difficult due to the chaotic nature of my calendar. There never seems to be enough time to read everything I want to, but I finally knocked out a few things toward the end of 2018.

Steven Hahn, A Nation Without Borders: The United States and Its World in an Age of Civil War, 1830-1910
I started this book it seems like six months ago. It is a dense book, coming in at over 600 pages. I'll admit that I did not actually finish the book. I got about two-thirds of the way through it and just could not complete the journey. The author views the eight decades in question through the lens of imperial expansion and capitalist development. Populations negatively effected by such activities are spotlighted including the enslaved, American Indians, Mexicans, and others. While the book is very well-written and thoroughly enjoyable, by the time I got to the 1870s I was simply bogged down and ready to be done with it. I will betray my own bias here, as my interest in US history past Reconstruction is pretty feeble. Most of what I read tends to be focused on the period from 1740-1875.

Joan Cashin, War Stuff: The Struggle for Human and Environmental Resources in the American Civil War
This book was sent to me by the publisher back around October while I was in the midst of trying to get through the Hahn book. I started very slowly on this book, but was able to knock most of it out over my Christmas break, as it is only 171 pages. The book highlights the struggle between the armies and civilian populations for resources, particularly food, timber, shelter, etc. After setting the stage with the Introduction and a chapter on the Old South, the author launches into a series of what become very predictable chapters, each focused on a different resource. The story is the same: both armies pretty well ignored regulations and acquired what they needed by any means necessary. These four chapters (People, Sustenance, Timber, Habitat) cover the years 1861-63. The arc is the same for each. Early in the war there was some feeling of communalism, the armies tried not to impact civilians any more than necessary, but over time each got worse. The next chapter covers 1864 and basically everything got much worse. The final chapter on 1865 and the aftermath of the war basically details how the war devastated the southern landscape, scarred the southern populace in numerous ways, and led to an internalized hatred of northerners. Once you get into the pattern of these chapters the book ends up being a very quick read. The research is deep, and the examples given are numerous and varied. This is what made the book interesting to me. Even though the chapters were predictable, the first hand accounts and examples given were all very interesting. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the day-to-day logistics of the war, as it really does focus on resources, their acquisition, and use.

Keep an eye on my "What I'm Reading" sidebar to see what's next up on my reading list!

No comments: