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Bookmarks Issue: 
29-July-Aug-2007
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Perspectives on the Civil War

A-This Mighty ScourgeIn This Mighty Scourge, James M. McPherson, retired professor of history at Princeton and a distinguished Civil War historian, collects 16 essays—some previously published, others unpublished—on the Civil War. He covers Abraham Lincoln’s Cooper Union Address, the myth of the South’s "Lost Cause," the role of newspapers on the battlefield, the reality of William Tecumseh Sherman’s infamous military campaign, and a study of Robert E. Lee at Gettysburg, among other topics. Harriet Tubman? Her narcolepsy, writes McPherson, may have affected her ability to lead slaves to freedom. John Brown? Terrorist or martyr, depending on where you sit. Jesse James? No Robin Hood, but a killer schooled in guerrilla warfare. McPherson humanizes characters and clarifies issues that have been obscured by time—and, on occasion, by agenda.
Oxford University Press. 272 pages. $28. ISBN: 0195313666

Boston Globe 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Let us now praise James McPherson, our premier living Civil War historian, for a bracing collection of essays … that covers a lot of military and political ground in 221 pages. It will seduce anyone, Civil War neophyte or fanatic, for its authority and judgments." Sam Allis

Seattle Times 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Perhaps more than any other contemporary historian, James M. McPherson has a talent for posing provocative questions, then answering them with impeccable logic. … All these essays are crisply written, thoughtful and stimulating, the work of a master historian at the top of his game." Steve Raymond

Baltimore Sun 4 of 5 Stars
"McPherson displays an admirable transparency, showing the historian at work. He doesn’t just recite the facts that readers are supposed to accept, he shows you how he arrived at his analyses, and how others went astray when they came to different conclusions." Michael Hill

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"One of the virtues of This Mighty Scourge, a collection of fugitive pieces … is that it gives us McPherson as a reader and critic of other historians’ work. … Over and over again, McPherson seeks to separate myth and fantasy from fact—to the extent, obviously, that fact can be known with certainty in an area so unclear as this one." Jonathan Yardley

Critical Summary

James M. McPherson has written and edited nearly 30 books, including the Pulitzer Prize–winning Battle Cry of Freedom. Turf battles aren’t uncommon in Civil War studies, and McPherson has a wide reputation as a thoughtful, fair, and readable historian whose insight brings fresh perspective to some often-scrutinized topics. Although McPherson intended some of the essays for an academic audience, each is accessible and worthwhile, and "displays an admirable transparency, showing the historian at work" (Baltimore Sun). All pieces have been updated and revised, and each bears the stamp of McPherson’s keen intellect applied to topics that continue to generate discussion among Civil War historians and buffs.

Also by the Author

Battle Cry of Freedom The Civil War Era (1988): Award Star Pulitzer Prize. Lauded as one of the best single-volume histories of the Civil War, Battle Cry analyzes the military, political, economic, and social forces driving the conflict.