Sunday, February 14, 2010

Book review - The Historical Atlas of the Civil War.

One of the books that I got for Christmas was The Historical Atlas of the Civil War by John Macdonald. The book is a 383 page coffee table volume that claims "Maps and photographs chronicle the fascinating and dramatic story of the Civil War." I was excited to get this book, maps are often small or poorly drawn in smaller books.

I was bound to be disappointed in Mr. Macdonald's work. The book was poorly laid out with each chapter covering a specific battle or series of events and the chapters not all falling in sequential order. The maps were not very detailed and did not show the progression of events well. Those were the high points.

The pictures were not as numerous as might be expected and quite a number were misidentified. Some simply had the wrong names as in the picture of General George Custer on page 198 that is identified as Kit Carson. Others are simply not what they are purported to be. On page 366 a part of the Gettysburg cyclorama painting is labeled as being from 1861 and showing a field hospital of the time. On page 110 a picture is labeled as showing the CS battle flag. There isn't a picture of any CS flag anywhere in the picture. Page 129 shows the damage to the USS Monitor following the battle with the CSS Virginia. The damage is attributed to "the guns of the Union craft." Pictures on page 138 of the US army supply depot on the Virgina peninsula are labeled as showing "the Union Army encamped near the Mississippi River." There are more examples than just these but they suffice to demonstrate the problem.

As bad as the photograph captions are, the text is even a bigger disappointment. Sometimes there are obvious typos, other times outright mistakes. On page 72 the author has the Seven Days ending with the Union forces driving the Confederates back into Richmond. On page 165 we are introduced to CS General "Kirkby" Smith. The name should be Kirby. In case this be mistaken for an isolated error, "Kirkby" is repeated several times on pages 166 and 167 as well. On page 248 General Ulysses S. Grant commits treason by laying "siege to Petersburg, Pennsylvania." There are many more examples but the above sample should give you a good idea.

While the concept for The Historical Atlas of the Civil War is an excellent one the execution falls short of the goal. The layout, picture captions, and text all combine to give this book one thumb down overall.