Books

Gettysburg: The Last Invasion by Allen Guelzo

Gettysburg: The Last Invasion (2013) by Allen Guelzo charts the Gettysburg Campaign, June 3 to July 24, 1863, Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s second invasion of the North during the American Civil War. The campaign culminated in the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1-3, in which approximately 48,000 Americans became casualties. In the end, the two armies settled into camps in roughly the same place they started.

The book is divided into four parts. Part 1 covers the march to Gettysburg, and the others cover each subsequent day of the battle. It’s a linear history from beginning to end, and focuses on the big picture. There’s nothing new to read about the fighting, but Guelzo draws from extensive sources to explore how the battle was fought and the politics of both armies.

Guelzo compares the Battle of Gettysburg with battles from mid-nineteenth century European conflicts to argue that the American Civil War was a decidedly pre-modern war. The high casualty rolls were not the result of outdated tactics facing modern weapons, but the result of inexperienced, amateur soldiers and officers. Instead of driving their opponents away with bayonets, they stood and blasted away at each other at close range. This poor training erased any advantage the rifle might have offered, with some estimating that only one in 500 shots actually hit their target.

Politics also played a role in how the armies fought. The Union Army was roughly divided into two camps: pro-McClellan and anti-McClellan, or moderate pro-war Democrats and radical abolitionist Republicans. Guelzo makes an interesting case that George G. Meade, who took command of the Army of the Potomac days prior to the battle, was a McClellanite who promoted his fellow partisans over their ideological opponents. Meade is usually described as non-political, so this is a fresh perspective.

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Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage by Noah Andre Trudeau

The Battle of Gettysburg, July 1-3, 1863, is the most well-researched battle of the American Civil War. In the 1990s, Noah Andre Trudeau began synthesizing decades of research to produce the first comprehensive book on that battle since The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command (1968). Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage (2002) is the result of his effort. It is a sweeping narrative of that three day struggle, which resulted in approximately 48,000 American casualties.

Although Trudeau summarizes the entire campaign from beginning to end, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage is primarily about the battle. It is also not strictly a military history. Like his book The Last Citadel: Petersburg, the author weaves the civilian experience, including townsfolk and journalists, into his narrative. It strikes just the right balance between anecdote and explanation, and never gets bogged down in minutiae.

The book is organized chronologically, which is helpful for keeping track of events across such a large battlefield. Unfortunately, it isn’t consistent. Events on July 3 are broken down practically hour by hour, whereas the entire attack on July 2 is given one section, from 4:10 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. I understand it’s difficult to determine when events occurred with one hundred percent accuracy, but breaking up that six hour period into smaller bits would have been helpful.

Trudeau is unique in arguing Richard S. Ewell, not Henry Heth, was responsible for initiating the Battle of Gettysburg. By mid-afternoon on July 2, Heth had withdrawn his division out of enemy contact in conformity with General Lee’s order. It was Ewell who decided to “come to Heth’s rescue” and bring on a general engagement. I see the merits of this unconventional argument. Trudeau continues to focus on Ewell’s actions, and the bizarre sideshow around Culp’s Hill, an often neglected aspect of the battle.

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Gettysburg: The Second Day by Harry W. Pfanz

In Gettysburg: The Second Day (1987), Harry W. Pfanz charts the events of the Battle of Gettysburg’s second day, July 2, 1863. July 2 was the Confederacy’s last, best hope for winning a decisive victory on Northern soil. Like the previous day, it started badly for the Union Army of the Potomac, yet ubiquitous action by generals George G. Meade and Winfield Scott Hancock staved off disaster and won what became the most famous Union victory of the American Civil War.

This book is far superior to Pfanz’s later works on Gettysburg, but it only focuses on the action on the Union left flank and not on Culp’s Hill or Cemetery Hill. That received its own book-length treatment. The omission was a relief to this reader, since its grueling 624-page length already pushed the limits of my attention span.

As a micro history, Gettysburg: The Second Day almost entirely focuses on the tactical, rather than strategic, aspects of the battle. It would be unfair to say the author never engages in higher level thinking about the events, but he devotes the lion’s share of text to describing what happened and not how or why.

The maps were helpful because in addition to giving readers a visual representation of the verbosely detailed text, they featured a chronological summary of events. That helped put everything into context.

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Marley Parker – A Compelling Mystery for Young Adults

“There’s simply no way of putting this delicately, Marley. I believe that you are in eminent danger.”

Marley Parker, a stunning young woman with a passion for uncovering the truth, is a journalism student at Greenbriar University. Her mother mysteriously disappeared when she was a young girl, leaving her sister and her to be raised by their father, Sheriff Tony Parker. As the novella opens, Marley is about to receive an award for Excellence in Journalism for a video report on a local girl’s disappearance. At the award banquet, wealthy financier Dean Cummings drops dead—the victim of poisoning. Suspects are many, but Marley Parker is on the case.

Marley Parker was Maria Sigle’s first young adult novel. Released in July 2014, the book is 208 pages, is available in print and digital formats, and retails for $9.89. It is a mystery with some supernatural elements. The second book in the series, A Rumor of Ghosts, promises to delve deeper into that theme. “I just love the idea of a series centered around a young, strong, beautiful female who seemingly has it all,” she told MysteriousHeartland. “Then once you dig deeper, you discover that what you see on the surface is a completely different story than what that girl actually consists of.”

In the beginning, Marley Parker seems to have overcome her childhood trauma and has it all—good looks, an influential father, a home on the lake, a promising future career, and a wealthy love interest. Over the course of the book, all these things will be tested, and Marley will have to fight for her life to hold onto everything she has, all while unraveling a mystery with connections to her past.

The author relied heavily on her own experiences to craft this tale. “Much like Marley, when I was 19 years old, I wanted to be an investigative reporter. When I was at Sophomore in college, I began working for a local FOX Television affiliate full time, as the sole on-air talent. It was difficult at the time, juggling full time school and a full time job but it was well worth it.”

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The Great Cat Massacre and other Episodes in French Cultural History

In The Great Cat Massacre: and other Episodes in French Cultural History (1984), historian Robert Darton attempted to reconstruct and understand the mental world of early modern French peasants through their folktales. He began with the story of “Little Red Riding Hood” as told around firesides in peasant cottages during long winter evenings in eighteenth-century France. It’s a little different than the version you may have been told. The story went as follows:

A young girl was instructed to bring some milk and bread to her grandmother’s house. While walking down a path through the woods, a wolf stopped her and asked her where she was going. She told him, and the wolf took off down a second path. The wolf, “arrived first at the house. He killed grandmother, poured her blood into a bottle, and sliced her flesh onto a platter. Then he got into her nightclothes and waited in bed…”

When the young girl arrived, the wolf (disguised as her grandmother) offered her meat and wine from the pantry. “So the little girl ate what she was offered; and as she did, a little cat said, ‘Slut! To eat the flesh and drink the blood of your grandmother!’ Then the wolf said, ‘Undress and get into bed with me.’”

After a prolonged scene in which the young girl is instructed to undress and toss her clothes into the fire, the conclusion proceeds in the now familiar manner until, at the very end, the wolf eats the girl. No hunter comes to her rescue in the original version.

The version as we know it today, according to Darton, was taken by the Grimm brothers from Charles Perrault, a popular writer at the turn of the seventeenth century, who changed the stories to suit the tastes of the Paris elites. The ending we are familiar with, in which the hunter rescues Little Red and kills the wolf, was added by Jeannette Hassenpflug, the Grimm’s neighbor, from a popular German story “The Wolf and the Kids.”

Through an examination of folktales like “Little Red Riding Hood”, Darton hoped to unlock the mentalité of the French peasant during that time period. “Folktales are historical documents,” he argued. “They have evolved over many centuries and have taken different turns in different cultural traditions… they suggest that mentalités themselves have changed. We can appreciate the distance between our mental world and that of our ancestors if we imagine lulling a child of our own to sleep with the primitive peasant version of ‘Little Red Riding Hood.’”

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The Road to Whatever

road-to-whateverIn The Road to Whatever: Middle-Class Culture and the Crisis of Adolescence, Elliot Currie diagnoses a growing crisis of youth in the American mainstream. Statistically and anecdotally, it seems that alienation, desperation, and violence have slowly crept into the one demographic that has always appeared safe. Currie argues that zero-tolerance policies, pressure to succeed, and lack of social services has exacerbated this crisis. In the decade since publication, however, the U.S. has seen a marked decrease in teen pregnancy, drug use (including alcohol and tobacco), and violence.

Anecdotal evidence is not enough to indicate a trend, let alone a crisis, but according to Currie, white youth are at measurably high levels of risk for suicide, traffic accidents, drug abuse, and binge drinking compared to youth in other racial and ethnic categories. “It is increasingly clear that being middle class and white does not provide reliable protection against even the worst perils of adolescence,” he argues. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), however, homicide rates among African-American males 10-24 years of age far exceed those of white males in the same age group (51.5 vs 2.9 per 100,000 in 2010).

Currie argues that denial, incomprehension, or demonization has characterized our response to this crisis. As evidenced by the media’s handling of the Columbine shootings, at-risk suburban youth are portrayed as “other-than”—somehow fundamentally different and separate from their peers. Parents, politicians, and pundits often blame factors like the erosion of discipline, growing leniency and indulgence, and weakened authority of parents and schools for this violence.

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Freaks, Geeks, and Cool Kids

freaks-geeks-and-cool-kidsIn Freaks, Geeks, and Cool Kids: American Teenagers, Schools, and the Culture of Consumption, Murray Milner, Jr. examines the relationships that lead to the formation of school cliques while, at the same time, attempting to tackle the problems of caste-like divisions and the increase in alcohol and drug use and casual sex among teens. Milner argues that traditional explanations for teenage behavior, such as hormones, psychological development, parenting styles, and social background, are less important than the way adults have used schools to “organize young people’s daily activities” and the systems that teens have constructed in response to that organization. Milner also explores the role of consumerism in teen identity formation.

Generally, the formation of school cliques boils down to one concern: status. Why are teens in the United States so concerned with status? “It is because they have so little real economic or political power,” Milner explains. Teens have very little say over what happens in school or the subjects they study, so they concentrate on the one area where they do have power: the power to create their own status systems.

In order to maintain status, “insiders” must make it difficult to gain that status, so they frequently change and complicate the norms. That is, according to Milner, the source of teenage concern over possessing the latest fashions, music, and lingo. Businesses have spun this concern into a multi-billion dollar industry.

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