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Tuesday, September 15, 2015

A horse is a horse, of course...

One of the benefits of a semi-classical education is that you can find in the ancients metaphors for our times.

Anyway. My family is well and the books are still being indexed. A lot of Civil War-era reading of late, spurred by an excellent Teaching Company course on Lincoln's rhetoric. I finished an excellent biography of Grant, a solid-if-imperfect biography of Sheridan and a where-was-your-editor biography of Lincoln.

If you want to know about the run-up to the Civil War, you will never do better than this masterwork by the late David Potter. In addition to being a superb historian, he was also an excellent, sometimes even puckish, prose stylist. Discussing the horrific flare-up (and almost-as-rapid flame-out) of nativism in the mid-1850s, he describes the risible Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk as "the Uncle Tom's Cabin of nativism."

That might sound bad except that Potter forthrightly states that the titanic success of Uncle Tom's Cabin has nothing to do with that book's decidedly modest literary merits. I'm not quite done with The Impending Crisis yet, but it is utterly superb so far, quite worthy of the Pulitzer it won (sadly for Potter, posthumously).


  1. I've read Potter and I quite agree. When you get done with him, see if you can find a copy of Allan Nevins' Ordeal of the Union. It's out of print so you'll have to find one used. Approximately 4,000 words in 4 volumes but I've been through it several times. The first two volumes are the best antebellum American history that I've ever read.

  2. Chris:

    My greatest regret from book hunting: I could have had all 8 volumes of Nevins for a song, but I waited one day too long.

    I'm still kicking myself.

    1. Dude, you may still find a decent 4-vol. paperback edition out there. Try Amazon. Worse comes to worst, I might be talked out of mine. :-)