Thursday, March 6, 2008

Top 50 books final tally

Yesterday I noticed that Civil War Interactive published the results of their top 50 books poll. Faithful readers know that I did a post a few weeks ago on this poll. I thought it'd be fun to now go through the poll results and see what books I missed.

Right off the bat at #1 was Shelby Foote's trilogy. I didn't even mention this set but it was a good read. I like it, I would never have rated it as the best book all-time but that's the fun part of these polls.

My next big miss was Sam Watkins' Co. Aytch. Its a classic. I think its ranking, #7, is justified. There is a new edition out that has changes Watkins intended to make for a second edition that never was published. I'm interested in reading that one, I've heard good things about it.

I missed Wiley Sword's Embrance an Angry Wind at #9 but that miss doesn't bother me. With all the great books out there I think its ranked a bit high. I do think its the best book on Franklin and Nashville but not a top 10 of all time book.

At number 10 was E. Porter Alexander's Fighting for the Confederacy. I completely left this one off my list. Its good, not sure I'd rank it this highly but that probably my Western bias. Along those same lines at #13 was American Brutus by Michael W Kauffman. I've never read this book on Booth but that is because the assassination has never drawn much interest for me.

Pfanz's Gettysburg Day 2 also ranked highly, higher than I'd place it. But I understand that Gettysburg dominates readership and so a very good book on the battle is going to get a lot of votes. Two slots below it is Gettysburg: A Journey in Time by William A. Frassanito. Again I think its ranking is based primarily on it being a Gettysburg book. Don't get me wrong both books are fantastic, I just think #14 and #16 are due to it being Gettysburg. How come Frassanito's work on Antietam or the Overland Campaign were not ranked? Both are also very good books that I'm glad are on my shelves.

A few new books then came on the list, Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin and A Little Short Of Boats: The Fights at Ball's Bluff and Edward's Ferry by James A. Morgan. I enjoyed both books. One thing that surprised me is that very few of the books were books I'd never read. One such book was #20, Harvard's Civil War: The History of the Twentieth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry by Richard Miller. Guess I'll have to go looking for it at the library to see what the fuss is about.

Outside the top 20 I started missing a ton of books. Most I'd read and while I enjoyed them I did not consider them among the top books all time. I think nearly everything outside the top 20 was not on my earlier post. I was surprised at the number of novels on the list. I was also surprised that Warner's Generals in Blue and Generals in Gray ranked so far apart (15th and 43rd respectively). The West was under represented among the campaign/battle histories but it was good to see that a trans-Mississippi battle; Pea Ridge: Civil War Campaign in the West by William L. Shea and Earl J. Hess, was ranked at all, plus in that group I don't think #37 was a bad ranking.

I had listed six books instead of three like the poll makers wanted as my top books. They were:
Service with the 6th Wisconsin by Rufus Dawes
Lincoln and His Generals by T Harry Williams
Gettysburg Campaign: Study in Command by Edwin Coddington
Controversies and Commanders by Stephen Sears
Champion Hill by Tim Smith
Maps of Gettysburg by Bradley Gottfried

Only Coddington's made the big list, but it came in at 6th which I think is a pretty fair ranking. I liked the poll and think maybe something like this should be done every year, but limit it to books published that year. Maybe someone already does something like that.


Anonymous said...


Like you , I am a Western/Trans-Mississippi Theater student. Not to take away from the Eastern battles and significance of those battles, but IMHO, the West and Trans-Mississippi areas have not received credit for the substantial impact they had on the war's outcome. BTW, I am currently reading the Pea Ridge book by Shea and Hess prior to my visit to the battlefield. A great read...easy to follow with outstanding maps.


Theodore P. Savas said...

Hello Nick,

I know I speak for both authors when I say we are honored and humbled to have two of the six titles on your list.

Thank you.

Best Regards,

Theodore P. Savas
Savas Beatie LLC

Nick said...

That is a good book. I still can't believe I left it out of my original post.