Disunion is a collection of articles originally published on the New York Times' excellent blog of the same name between 2011 and 2012. For editors who are unfamiliar with the blog, it publishes lively articles on the American Civil War, most of which are written by young academics and historians.
While its normal for the quality of articles in books like this to vary, the standard is very high in this volume. The articles tackling discrete elements of the war such as biographies of individual soldiers and aspects of a major figure's personality, or clearly defined thematic topics such as the early expectations that the war would involve little fighting, or the role of horses, are particularly successful. Most of the articles on unusual topics such as the underwear worn by soldiers (seriously) are fascinating, and those by Amanda Foreman on the war's international context are outstanding. Almost all of the articles are engagingly written, and provide a good overview of their topic in a form accessible to layman readers.
My main criticism of the book relates to the selection of articles from the blog which have been rerepublished here. While the blog typically publishes several articles on each of the war's major battles, only a single article per battle has been included in this compilation. I found that this reduced the overall impact of the volume - its fine coverage of the social history of the war is undermined by a lack of detail on the "sharp end" of the conflict. I was also frustrated by the handful of articles which take a nit-picking approach to their topics and get bogged down in minor details. In addition, I was surprised by the decision to not include the lists of references which conclude most of the blog posts, and this greatly reduces the book's value to readers looking for an introduction to the topics it covers.
Overall, this engaging book will be of wide interest and provides a useful reference on the social history of the war. However, it's a shame that some of the best features of the blog haven't been carried over into this compilation.
Publishing detailsRisen, edited by Ted Widmer with Clay; Kalogerakis, George (2013). Disunion : Modern Historians Revisit and Reconsider the Civil War from Lincoln's Election to the Emancipation Proclamation. New York: Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers. ISBN1579129285.Cite uses deprecated parameter |coauthors= (help)
Recent external reviews
Farmelo, Graham (2013). Churchill's Bomb: A Hidden History of Science, War and Politics. London: Faber & Faber. ISBN0571249787.