June 19, 2012

What Are the All-Time Best Selling Civil War Books?

I was wondering about the answer to this question and came across the following bit of info at eHow:


  • No Civil War book has sold more copies than Margaret Mitchell's 1935 romance Gone With the Wind. A stunning success by the time the movie was released in 1939, it has sold more than 30 million copies. Though fiction, it draws heavily from the life of Mary Chestnut, whose published diary revealed life among the Confederate aristocracy. Other leading novels include 1997's Cold Mountain by Charles Frazer, which has sold more than four million copies, and Gods and Generals by Jeff Shaara, which has passed the two million mark since 1996. Also among bestsellers is Stephen Crane's classic The Red Badge of Courage, which earned him instant fame in 1895.


  • Nonfiction Civil War books frequently focus on specific topics or battles, but among those covering the entire war, 1960's The American Heritage New History of the Civil War, written by Bruce Catton and edited by James McPherson, has been a perennial bestseller. Last updated in 2001, it remains extremely accessible to both young and adult readers. Catton's 1953 work A Stillness at Appomattox, his first successful book and the last of his trilogy concerning the Army of the Potomac, remains in wide circulation, as does McPherson's 1988 Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. Ken Burns's 1990  The Civil War documentary popularized this book as source material, pushing sales past 600,000. The landmark film did the same for Shelby Foote's 1958 The Civil War: A Narrative. Between September 1990 and mid-1991, the book sold 400,000 copies and is now well past the half-million mark.
    Ordeal by Fire, written by Fletcher Pratt, sold poorly when released in 1935, but as the retitled A Short History of the Civil War in paperback, it became an immediate bestseller. Updated versions provide a brief but popular overview of the war.


  • Doris Kearn Goodwin's Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln was a "New York Times" and "Publishers Weekly" bestseller in 2005 and remains among Amazon's top-selling Civil War books in 2009. Other biographies of note include the Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant. Publisher Mark Twain hoped to sell 25,000 copies; he sold 350,000. The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, originally titled  Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave sold 30,000 copies between 1845 and 1850 and has become a classic work of American literature. Both books made Amazon's list of Civil War bestsellers in 2009, even though Douglass's account of life as a slave predates the war itself by two decades.

Of Note

  • Though not strictly about the Civil War, Uncle Tom's Cabin, or, Life Among the Lowly, was a precursor of it. President Lincoln called author Harriet Beecher Stowe "the little lady who started the big war." Published in 1852, the antislavery novel was the second bestselling book of the 19th century and sold more than 500,000 copies in its first year. Not widely regarded as good literature, it nonetheless should be read by any serious student of the Civil War.
Other than perhaps Gods and Generals, all or at least most of these titles are highly collectible in the first edition. In the case of Team of Rivals, the Easton Press signed, leatherbound edition is pricey and desirable however the trade edition is quite common,

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