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Mini-Review: Winston Groom's "Shiloh, 1862"
Posted by: Scott McMahan | more..
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Winston Groom's new "Shiloh, 1862" sees the fledgling Civil War author honing his style and producing a great read. Groom is masterful in combining the military action with personal reactions to show the overall human struggle of the war. This book covers action in the western theater, which to my mind was the decisive theater in the war, and which doesn't get the same attention as the famous battles of the east. The combination of eyewitness accounts with a narrative recounting the military action gives modern readers an insight into the the life and times of those who participated.

The only real drawback to this book is that the publisher took a 250-page book and extended it to 400 pages by adding huge margins and double-spacing the text. (If they're going to do that, why not use a bigger font, too?) With a $30 cover price, this book is an awfully quick read.

The Battle of Shiloh lasted a day and a half, so even the most meticulous reconstruction won't be long. Groom compensates for the lack of material by rehearsing the war in the west up to that point. If you're unfamiliar with the war in the west, this material will help you get oriented, and hopefully encourage you to find other sources with more details. If you are already familiar with this history, the Shiloh part doesn't start until around halfway through the book. Groom's previous book, "Vicksburg, 1863", covers a lot of the same ground, since it rehearses the western war up to 1863. (So, if you've read the previous book, you'll get to read a lot of it again.)

Unlike "Vicksburg", which to my reader's eye looked like a rough draft someone published by mistake instead of the final manuscript, the new "Shiloh" volume is well written. In my review of "Vicksburg", I pointed out the gargantuan run-on sentence describing General Grant, so I couldn't help but notice the new "Shiloh" text has cleaned up the description of Grant and make it easy to read. The new "Shiloh" doesn't have the quirky, difficult-to-parse writing I found in its predecessor. Obviously, National Geographic found a good editor who gave the new book a careful editing to iron out the quirks. (I almost didn't read this new book because "Vicksburg" was a slog, but "Shiloh" is a vast improvement and was enjoyable to read. Better editing brings out Groom's style, and allows readers to notice the little touches like "no birds sang" which I wonder if anyone will even notice.)

If you're already someone who likes reading about the Civil War, I would expect you to enjoy Groom's new "Shiloh". If you're new to the Civil War, this book is a great introduction. The only thing that might stop you is the high cover price for the small amount of text.

Category:  Books and Media

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