At Civil War Bookshelf there’s an interesting item about a short list of Civil War titles recommended by Barnes & Noble. The blogger in question is rather cynical of this endeavor, and in this case I’d have to agree.
One of the five–five, mind you–titles that made the cut is Confederates in the Attic, a journalist’s account of elbow-rubbing with hardcore reenactors and unreconstructed political wackos. What person in his right mind would select this as one of only five Civil War books to recommend? Sure, it’s lively and entertaining, but the Civil War is such a fertile field of scholarship, and this book isn’t exactly the most enlightening fare.
Furthermore, Confederates in the Attic represents the kind of personalized journalism that presents a writer’s subjective and idiosyncratic experiences as some kind of representation of truth. This guy wants to understand America’s relationship with the Civil War, so he runs around with people who soak their clothes in urine, he hangs out in biker bars out in the middle of nowhere, and then he writes it all up for readers who will then conflate this freakshow with all history enthusiasts or with the entire South or whatever. Nice work, Clark Kent.
MacKinlay Kantor’s novel Andersonville also made the list. That, too, seems like an odd choice. If you’re going for novels, wouldn’t The Killer Angels make more sense? Why, for that matter, include any novels at all?
A fictional work about a prison camp and an informal account of the neo-Confederate fringe both seem like weird essentials to me, especially alongside the likes of tried-and-true standards like Battle Cry of Freedom and Foote’s trilogy.