Chasing the Norm

Australian academic and blogger on politics, international relations, and culture

Tried by War

Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief
by James M. McPherson

A great writer on a fascinating subject, and at a good length too. McPherson is a fantastic writer (his Battle Cry of Freedom is still the best single volume history of the civil war), and he knows his subject intimately. If you’re interested in what the justification for saying Lincoln ‘won the war’ is, and how he dealt with his generals and thought about the war, or even you just want a short (under 300 pages) very well written read about the civil war, I strongly recommend this.

I had hoped that McPherson would have however gone deeper into the literature on strategy when preparing for this book. He alludes to Lincoln reading ‘strategic volumes’, but never says what he was reading (other than to say it wasn’t Clausewitz). He also spends a fair bit of time talking about Lincoln’s strategy, without linking it to larger strategic themes. While beyond the scope of the book, reading it has helped make me aware of several pieces of conventional wisdom about the civil war, such as McClellend’s fear/lethargy that I’d like to see someone try and challenge at least once, and to know more about how the south’s military strategy was devised.

Anyway, a great read, even if having now read Haynes’s literary biography of Jefferson, I’m keen to know much more about what the great figures of history read.

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