(December 30, 2017) H. W. (Bill) Brands is one of the most prolific authors of American History. I get the impression that he hopes to replicate in narrative form an accounting of our country’s history that resembles Gore Vidal’s seven volume American Chronicles series of novels. In fact he all-but-admits that Vidal’s work is a major influence. Moreover, one of his YouTube lectures describes how a ninth grade history class that relied entirely upon historical fiction for reading assignments ever after influenced his attitude toward teaching.
I also like well crafted and authoritatively researched Civil War fiction for two reasons.
First, it can provide insight into the daily lives of the participants. The characters are not merely names but instead stand up from the page and cast a shadow. Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind, for example, benefitted from the author’s personal links to people whose parents, grandparents and other relatives lived through the era. More recent successful novels rely upon memoirs, letters, and diaries. As Yale professor and boyhood refugee from Castor’s Cuba, Carlos Eire, puts it, “Show me history untouched by memories and you show me lies. Show me lies not based on memories and you show me the worst lies of all.”
Second, successful fiction requires originality, which is too often absent among American historians. Many academic historians, for example, have long been compelled to conform to politically correct interpretations in order to earn their PhDs. They are like the supercilious graduate student in the bar scene from Good Will Hunting who tries to humiliate Chuckie Sullivan (Ben Affleck) only to be put in his place by Will Hunting (Matt Damon) for merely reciting assigned history readings. The smug student retorts by commenting that Hunting will likely be working in a burger stand years later while he (the student) will probably be a prosperous Harvard graduate. Hunting replies, ” Yeah, may-bee, but at least I’ll be original.”
Provided below are my five favorite Civil War novels.
- Confederates by Thomas Keneally
- Lincoln by Gore Vidal
- Rifles for Waite by Harold Keith
- Woe to Live On (aka Ride With the Devil) by Daniel Woodrell
- The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara
Presently Amazon and Barnes & Noble Online are out-of-stock of my latest book, Southern Reconstruction. Although my publisher has ordered a second printing, the production run will not be completed until next month.
Meanwhile, some physical Barnes & Noble stores do have them in stock. Go to this link, and click on the “Want it today? Check Store Availability,” which is in small print to the right of the picture cover. The link will prompt you to enter your zip code and afterward display a list of stores nearby and will also indicate which ones have Southern Reconstruction in stock. Some other independent physical stores may also have the title in stock.
Finally, both Amazon and Barnes & Noble have eBook versions available.