Book takes a general view of the Civil War

This being the month that the Civil War began 150 years ago, publishers are rushing out plenty of new books on the war, and reissues as well. Among the best of the new crop is the New York Times' "The Complete Civil War," a massive volume of reporting from past and present.

The retreads include T. Harry Williams' " Lincoln and His Generals," which since its publication in 1952 has been one of the essential texts on how Lincoln more or less invented the job of Commander in Chief and led the Union to victory.

Many of the things you know about Abe's long search for the right general to win the war come from this book, or are reflected in it. George B. McClellan's vanities and failures as a leader; Lincoln's strategic genius and management style; and ultimately, his good luck in finding Ulysses S. Grant and allowing him and Sherman to shape the final year of the war, are all here.

Williams' prose style is more pop than scholarly. His dim view of McClellan comes through loud and clear, which raises some fairness questions for me. But his eye for detail, the richness of the storytelling and his command of the subject make this a fundamental contribution to our understanding of the war. (Published by Vintage Civil War Library, 363 pages, $16)

New and relatively new


"A History of Egypt: From Earliest Times to the Present," Jason Thompson:Released in 2009 (and waiting on my bookshelf for a review since then), this is a timely and well-planned outline of Egyptian history, from the earliest days through to Mubarak's last year. It's tough to cram thousands of years of civilization into less than 400 pages, and scholars might quibble with how he deals with great pharaohs in relatively short chapters.

For the rest of us, it's a quick, readable summary. The comments about Mubarak, in light of recent events, seem generous, but those are the hazards of writing contemporary history. (Published by Anchor Books, 382 pages, $21 paperback.)

"The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains," Nicholas Carr:OK, I read this one a while back also. "The Shallows" confirms everything we fear about what the Web and email are doing to our brains, which is turning them to mush. If you've afraid that you're losing your ability to focus, have late-blooming ADD and just aren't interested in anything that's not online, this is the book for you, though of course you've probably lost the ability to read books.

First published in shorter form in the Atlantic, it's seriously padded with digressions and barely related material, but the essential theory rings true, that if you spend too much time online, you're rewiring your brain. (Published by Norton, 276 pages, $26.95.)

"This is Not Florida: How Al Franken Won the Minnesota Senate Recount," Jay Weiner:Yet ANOTHER book that I intended to review long ago! I hope my boss isn't reading this. As instant political histories go, "This is Not Florida" is one of the more useful.

Weiner, a long-time Twin Cities journalist, covered the Franken-Coleman election and recount for the website MinnPost, and while some might say he wasn't the most impartial of observers, I'm not aware of key facts here being questioned.

The lessons of the Senate recount are still to be learned and turned into legislation, but it's not too late. Weiner's book makes the recount far more entertaining than it seemed from a distance. (Published by University of Minnesota Press, 249 pages, $24.95.)

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