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Archive for September, 2011

Studying the Civil War

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

We mark the continuing commemoration of the Civil War Sesquicentennial with two more special programs this fall. The first, on Monday, September 26, rings UGA Professor John Inscoe to the Tucker Library to discuss his new book, “The Civil War in Georgia,” a collection of materials drawn from the online New Georgia Encyclopedia. And on Monday, October 10, we’ll host a pair of noted historians, John Fowler and David Parker, at the Decatur Library as they discuss their new collection of essays, “Breaking the Heartland: The Civil War in Georgia.”

The release of many books about the Civil War in connection with the 150th anniversary is hardly unexpected. The centennial observance of the war in 1961 generated thousands of volumes over the next four years. This time around, however, what we seem to be getting are books that attempt to look well beyond the battlefields, to examine the war’s impact and legacy on all segments of society — from women to slaves to immigrants to children — while exploring a much wider range of issues, from the effect of deaths and suffering on morale to expectations about emancipation. The results have been, for the most part, serious and welcome. The flag-waving that accompanied so much of the 1961-65 observance — so intertwined with the nation’s racial strife — has subsided.

In occasionally trying to keep tabs on the flood of new Civil War-related book, I’m eager to pass along reports of worthy entries. One such is “The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Civil War” prepared by William L. Barney, a vetreran historian at the University of North Carolina. The book is a concisely written paperback and lists for only $18.95, putting in within reach of most interested persons, I suspect. It has the virtue of being surprisingly comprehensive given its length (less than 400 pages) as well as being infused with an overview of the war years — from medicine to prisons, from social reform to weaponry — that appears more inclusive than earlier, somewhat similar projects.

Readers, regardless of their level of interest, should find it useful. Each entry is followed by a brief listing of  books/articles for further reading. The entries themselves cover the basics well, though the book’s concision perhaps can make it difficult to track down certain specifics. For instance, there is an entry for Sherman’s March to the Sea across Georgia in late 1864, but it’s almost impossible to find an account of Sherman’s 1865 destructive movements across South Carolina (when the city of Columbia was burned). There is no listing for Columbia or South Carolina in the abbreviated index, and it is only by discovering the section headed “Bentonville” that the war’s final days are covered including South Carolina’s experience.  

Cavils aside, there is much to learn from this book, and picking it up and reading at almost any point will likely provide new information. It is a welcome addition to those groaning shelves of Civil War books.

Remembering 9/11

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011

Over the last decade, since the tragic events of September 11, 2001, publishers have released hundreds of books commemorating that date in one way or another. Some of the books have been inspiring or given us valuable insights; some have offered a bit less. One of the best, however, remains “102 Minutes,” a riveting account of what happened inside the World Trade Center Towers when they were struck by plans on that unforgettable September morning.

The book by Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn, a pair of New York Times writers, is the almost unbearably compelling story of the people in those towers and what they did to survive — or not — in the 102 minutes between the time the first plane crashed into the North Tower and the time it took for both it and the soon-to-be-stricken South Tower to collapse. “102 Minutes” appeared to critical acclaim in 2005; it has now been reissued in a  paperback and e-book with a new postscript by the authors. Its story is hardly any less gripping, nor are the lessons it imparts any less meaningful.

The book presents readers with heart-wrenching glimpses of the men and women who died when the plane hit, or who leapt to their deaths from 100 stories above the ground, or who found their escape routes blocked and endured the realization of imminent, inescapable death. The authors have made them more than names; they have given them a humanity. But the book may also surprise you, as it did me, with the true accounts of how people survived unthinkable situations, and in what heroic ways so many ordinary people — untrained for emergencies much less the chaos that engulfed them in the towers — responded to the circumstances. Their stories need to be heard and never forgotten. All praise to Dwyrer and Flynn for ensuring that legacy.

The authors also set some other matters straight. While, for instance, there can never be any doubting the courage of the first responders into those doomed structures,  there was little rescue work done by them in comparison with what people in the towers did for themselves. It is a valuable point for all of us to remember. Likewise, the authors’ survey of how the buildings were constructed and how their management was able to dodge fire safety requirements in so many instances may leave you angry and frustrated — and perhaps even a little concerned about safety issues in high-rises. 

Whatever your reasons for picking up this book, I can assure you it will be very difficult to put it down until the end.

And, As I mentioned, it is but one of dozens of books currently available focusing on events leading up to 9/11 or following in its aftermath. Other titles I have read and found particularly important are “The Looming Tower” by Lawrence Wright,  “What We Saw” by the staff of CBS News (the book comes with a DVD) and “The 9/11 Commission Report.” You can find all of these at your local library and bookstore.

Finally, this personal note: My son-in-law was at work that morning in Building 7 at the World Trade Center. He evacuated safely, though he saw things that no one should ever have to see as he escaped. I am grateful to God that he survived (his building collaped at 5 p.m. that day) and in prayerful remembrance of all those who suffered or died in the worst day in our collective history.