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.