October 19, 2008

The American Civil War: A Handbook of Literature and Research

I recently discovered this library-oriented reference book, which seems to be one of the newest and at 768 pages, one of largest devoted to the Civil War. It's titled The American Civil War: A Handbook of Literature and Research and is edited by Steven Woodworth. It first appeared twelve years ago from the Greenwood Press and seems to be still in print. The price however, is not for the faint of heart. It retails at $165 though copies can be had in the secondary market for as low as $125.

According to Booklist, "This is the third bibliography of Civil War books to be published this year [1996], and it is the most comprehensive. Woodworth is a history professor at Toccoa Falls College, Georgia, and the author of several books and articles on the war. This massive work has 47 contributors, all distinguished scholars on the period. Some of the well-known contributors are John Marszalek, Mark Grimsley, Mark Neely, and Stephen Wise. The 47 bibliographic essays are divided into 11 subject areas (e.g., "General Secondary Sources," "Illustrative Materials," "International Relations," "Leaders, Strategy and Tactics," "The Home Front"). There is good representation of both social and military issues. Most essays range from 10 to 20 pages in length, including a bibliography at the end of the essay with full bibliographic citations. This book is intended to guide both the neophyte and the experienced Civil War scholar. The essays show trends and changes in historical interpretations and sometimes even mention areas in need of further research. A random examination of several essays shows most of the items were published since 1970. The essays cite 3,960 books, articles, dissertations, and such media as videos, television, and recordings. For example, the essay on musical and narrative recordings surveys approximately 955 titles. A random comparison of the bibliographies of 10 essays found very little duplication of titles. A large appendix provides information on 516 publishers and dealers of Civil War literature, with address and telephone number and occasionally fax and toll-free telephone number and e-mail address. The volume concludes with author, title, and subject indexes."

James McPherson provides the introduction. In it, he writes: "The first guide to Civil War literature to appear in nearly 30 years, this book provides the most comprehensive, up-to-date, and informative survey and analysis of the vast body of Civil War literature. More than 40 essays, each by a specialist in a particular subfield of Civil War history, offer unmatched thoroughness and discerning assessments of each work's value. The essays cover every aspect of the war from strategy, tactics, and battles to logistics, intelligence, supply, and prisoner-of-war camps, from generals and admirals to the men in the ranks, from the Atlantic to the Far West, from fighting fronts to the home front. Some sections cover civilian leaders, the economy, and foreign policy, while others deal with the causes of war and aspects of Reconstruction, including the African-American experience during and after the war. Breadth of topics is matched by breadth of genres covered. Essays discuss surveys of the war, general reference works, published and unpublished papers, diaries and letters, as well as the vast body of monographic literature, including books, dissertations, and articles. Genealogical sources, historical fiction, and video and audio recordings also receive attention. Students of the American Civil War will find this work an indispensable gateway and guide to the enormous body of information on America's pivotal experience."

As I've written before, reference books and bibliographies are the core of any good library, whether assembled by a serious reader, reseracher, or author. Looks like this one should have a home on that Civil War library's reference shelf.

Portions of the book are available at Google Print.


Harry said...


I have the four volumes of Dornbusch. In what ways does this newer book appear different and/or superior?

Jim Schmidt said...


I want to thank you for featuring some annotated Civil War bibliographies on your blog. I had actually asked about it several weeks ago and...you delivered! So far, this Woodworth edited volume seems to be the best.

Keep up the great work,

Jim Schmidt

Paul Taylor said...

Harry -

This newer "handbook" features numerous bibliographic essays that Dornbusch does not have.

Jim -

Thanks for the kind words!