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review 2014-05-21 10:37
The Civil War in 50 Objects
The Civil War in 50 Objects - Eric Foner,Harold Holzer,New-York Historical Society

I have to admit, I'm not as interested in the US Civil War as I ought to be, both as an American and as a "Southerner".  Perhaps it's too far removed from my reality.  I certainly haven't ever bought into the inanity that is "The South Shall Rise Again", so perhaps a measure of my apathy comes from living in a place that had its share of rednecked gits (multicultural insults anyone?).  

 

Doesn't really matter - I wanted to start filling in the gaps of my ignorance about this era and I thought this book might be the way to do it.  I found the British Museum's History of the World in 100 Objects to be brilliant, and I bought 50 Objects with enthusiasm.

 

Overall, my expectations were met; I learned a lot and I have a much better mind for the time frame and timeline of the Civil War.  Through the objects and their descriptions, I gained a bit more connection to this part of America's history.  I'm less apathetic than I was, although I'm safe from Civil War re-enactments for the foreseeable future.  The majority of the objects chosen were slavery and emancipation related, which makes sense given it was the defining issue of the Civil War, but I think the single entry I found most fascinating was the newspaper published on the back of wallpaper.  The story of paper and ink shortages, and how people 'made do' was compelling.

 

I found the writing a bit dry.  Mr. Holzer did his research and overall the text is very readable, but his passion for the times (if he has any) wasn't evident in his narratives.  What was very obvious was his passion for the New York Historical Society.  I will go so far as to say that at times he was downright boastful about the Society and it's collections - pointing out that the object was very rare, but the society had multiple copies.  I also noticed that every single object selected was in absolutely pristine condition.  I don't know if that's just a coincidence, or if objects were chosen based on both historical significance and condition, in order to make them more appealing to the reader.  It was a small thing, and makes no difference, but it did strike me as curious.

 

So, 4 stars with 1 star going by the wayside because the writing could have been - less dry?  Moister???  Overall, I'd recommend the book to anyone wanting to learn more about the Civil War in America but would prefer to do it in small, manageable portions and with a minimum of battle statistics.  I'm happy to have bought the hardcover edition and I imagine it's a book I'll pull of the shelves from time-to-time.

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review 2014-03-24 22:36
The Civil War in 50 Objects - Do you think they'd notice if I never take this back to the library?
The Civil War in 50 Objects - Eric Foner,Harold Holzer,New-York Historical Society

I loved studying history in college and nothing caused me more pleasure then learning from and about primary sources. There is something about reading a handwritten letter from someone long dead or holding (with gloves!) an item of importance that was owned and cared for that can not be described. You simply have to experience it for yourself.

 

However, most lay historians and popular history books focus on secondary sources, aka other history books. Other then autobiographies or diaries, there was no good way for the average person to connect to or even see these priceless artifacts...until some brilliant person came up with these History of ______ in X objects. I don't know for sure who that person is but bless them.

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text 2014-03-23 21:32
Reading progress update: I've read 380 out of 380 pages.
The Civil War in 50 Objects - Eric Foner,Harold Holzer,New-York Historical Society

Finished! I thoroughly enjoyed this book and learned a great deal. I believe even someone very knowledgeable concerning the Civil War would learn something new from this, as there are so many levels to the writing. The review is percolating and I hope to have it up later this evening. This is definitely going on my To Buy list! 

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text 2014-03-22 05:53
Reading progress update: I've read 228 out of 380 pages.
The Civil War in 50 Objects - Eric Foner,Harold Holzer,New-York Historical Society

OMG, this is amazing! The writing is superb, I'm going to have to look into reading Holzer's other work. He's very articulate here and yet says so much in few words and does it without being dry or boring at all.

 

The objects have been very well chosen and do manage to tell the larger narrative while the actual objects and stories come from New York. Of course, New York - both the city and the State - experienced some unique moments during the Civil War and those have been handled well.

 

Also, I don't normally build a soundtrack or anything while reading, but listening to the music from Ken Burn's The Civil War documentary has been a perfect pairing!

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text 2014-03-18 23:54
Reading progress update: I've read 95 out of 380 pages.
The Civil War in 50 Objects - Eric Foner,Harold Holzer,New-York Historical Society

I am really enjoying this. The objects are well chosen, well illustrated, and the discussions around them very well written. Each chapter is not long, but they are packed with information. I hope to finish this quicker then I thought I would.

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