Fateful Lightning: A New History of the Civil War and Reconstruction by Allen C. Guelzo
As with any subject that has been so widely covered as the Civil War, one wonders what else is left to be said, but Guelzo covers not only the major personalities and battles, but also the politics, religion, gender, race, diplomacy, and technology. He also covers the Reconstruction in a way that clarified a number of issues for me. There are also some enlightening updates on current thinking on emancipation, presidential war powers, the blockade and international law, and the role of intellectuals on both sides.
River of Dark Dreams: Slavery and Empire in the Cotton Kingdom, by Walter Johnson
This book could almost serve as a companion to the Guelzo book, but it is not concerned so much with the Civil War as with the cotton and slavery culture that was built and developed in the Mississippi River watershed in the half century leading up to the war. There are in-depth explanations of the steamboat industry, for example, and its importance to the economy, as well as the integration of capital, cotton, and the doctrine of free trade that brought together the western farmer, the southern planter, and the English manufacturer in a common bond of interest. It can be dark at times, particularly in its coverage of slave life, but it’s a unique take on the story.
Theodore Roosevelt and the American Political Tradition, by Jean M. Yarbrough
The Teddy Roosevelt that most of us grew up knowing was the man of action in the arena–trust busting, rough riding, big game hunting, President, Bull Moose Party candidate. Here you will learn about TR as the political philosopher and will have an opportunity to understand what his political thought has meant to American notions of self-government. Yarbrough is quite critical of the progressive policies he came to embrace and, in hindsight, how they helped to undermine our founding principles that he found so necessary in our civic life. Very interesting analysis.
Things That Matter: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes, and Politics, by Charles Krauthammer
This book is everything I thought it would be–intellectual, concise, insightful, erudite, and funny in places. And the range of “things that matter” is impressive. I skipped over some of the essays, the ones on chess, for example, but substantially all of the 80+ essays are worth the time and are still timely. The closing Three Essays on America and the World, which are longer than the others, are alone worth the price of the book.