October 23, 2010

Canada and the United States: The Civil War Years

I came across this book as part of the background reading for my current project and was completely taken in by its lively narrative, superb research, and interpretations. In fact, I’d say that over 95% of the work was written based solely off of primary sources. Canada and the United States: The Civil War Years was published fifty years ago in 1960 by the Johns Hopkins Press as a revised version of author Robin Winks’ (1930-2003) doctoral dissertation. The book is still in print and has seen four editions, though this finely nuanced work is now retitled as The Civil War Years: Canada and the United States. Go figure. Other works on the Civil War-era “cold war” between Canada (in other words, Great Britain) and the United States have appeared in the intervening years, however this one is still the standard work, in my opinion.

The Canadian Historical Review described it as “A searching examination of Canadian and American attitudes throughout the Civil War, and the effect of attitudes and incidents upon the continuing problems of British-American relations ... The great value of Professor Winks' book is not only in its detailed analysis of Canadian and American attitudes, but also in its conspicuous fairness ... Comprehensive and objective." If you’re a student of the international and diplomatic aspects of the war, then I heartily recommend this book. Winks’ analysis and detective work in illuminating the Confederate cloak-and-dagger operations that emanated from Canada is first rate as well. As a more recent review of the reissue also noted, “A number of the stories here--the Trent Affair of 1861, the St. Albans Raid of 1864--will be familiar to students of North American history. Among Winks's contributions in this study is his ability to place these familiar wartime highlights in a much subtler and more gradual political evolution so as to give us the impression that we are learning of them for the first time.”

The first edition is bound in green cloth with silver lettering on the spine and simply states "©1960 by The Johns Hopkins Press, Baltimore" on the copyright page. There is no statement of first edition status or number row. Like all university press books of this vintage, finding a first edition that’s not a library discard can be challenging. It’s doubly challenging if you want one in fine condition in like dust jacket, as this book’s white jacket is very easily soiled. I’ve yet to find one, so let me know if you do. I’ll make you a great offer!

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