The Best Books and Historians According to Pulitzer Prize Winner James M. McPherson

Recently, the New York Times published a brief interview with noted Civil War historian James McPherson, The George Henry Davis 1886 Professor of American History at Princeton University.  He is best known for his Pulitzer Prize winning book Battle Cry of Freedom.  In the interview McPherson identified who he believes are America’s top historians, the best book on  the Civil War, the best military history books, the best books about African American history, most overrated history book (it’s a biggie), and the book most responsible for shaping his career.

All of the historians and books cited by McPherson are outstanding, but they are representative of his generation.  Not surprisingly, this was pointed out by several younger scholars on twitter.  It is also not shocking his preferences were predominantly from historians of either his generation or books that he read during his career.  In many ways books are like music, people like the music of their formative years better than anything that came before it or after.  His choices are certainly understandable, but open to debate.

In the interview, McPherson often referred to an author, but failed to specify which books he preferred. In a number of cases, I have extrapolated which books he might specifically be recommending.  There are certainly other books from the authors he mentions that fit his descriptions.

Here were his answers:

Last Great Book He Read:

James Oakes, Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861-1865

Best Books on the Civil War:

Allan Nevins eight volume set on the Civil War –

1. Fruits of Manifest Destiny, 1847-1852

  1. A House Dividing, 1852-1857
  2. Douglas, Buchanan, and Party Chaos, 1857–1859

4. Prologue to Civil War, 1859–1861

5. The Improvised War, 1861–1862

  1. War Becomes Revolution, 1862–1863

7. The Organized War, 1863–1864

8.The Organized War to Victory, 1864–1865

 

Favorite Biography of Civil War figure:

Jean Edward Smith, Grant

Best Military Histories:

John Keegan, The Face of Battle

Craig Symonds, Lincoln and His Admirals: Abraham Lincoln, the U.S. Navy, and the Civil War

Craig Symonds, Neptune: The Allied Invasion of Europe and the D-Day Landings

Craig Symonds, Decision at Sea: Five Naval Battles That Shaped American History

Craig Symonds, The Civil War at Sea (Reflections on the Civil War Era)

Stephen W. Sears, Gettysburg

, Stephen W. Sears, Chancellorsville

Gordon C. Rhea, Cold Harbor: Grant and Lee, May 26-June 3, 1864

, Gordon C. Rhea, The Battle of the Wilderness May 5-6, 1864

Gary W. Gallagher, The Union War

, Gary W. Gallagher, The Confederate War

Joseph T. Glatthaar, Forged in Battle: The Civil War Alliance of Black Soldiers and White Officers

, Joseph T. Glatthaar, Partners in command : The relationships between leaders in the Civil War

Rick Atkinson, An Army at Dawn: The War in Africa, 1942-1943

Rick Atkinson, The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944

Rick Atkinson, The Guns Last Light: The War in Western Europe, 1944-1945

Best African American History Books:

John Hope Franklin, From Slavery to Freedom

Ira Berlin, Generations of Captivity : History of African-american Slaves (03 Edition)

Many Thousands Gone Ira Berlin, Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America

Edited by Ira Berlin, Freedom: Documentary History of Emancipation

Most Important for His Career:

C. Vann Woodward, Origins of the New South, 1877-1913

Book Every President Should Read:

Doris Kearns Goodwin, The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism

Most Overrated History Book:

Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Penguin Classics)

Books on His Nightstand:

Ron Chernow, Washington: A Life

Daniel James Brown, The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics

His Next Book:

Ron Chernow, Alexander Hamilton

 

Here is the link to McPherson’s interview – James M. McPherson: By the Book – NYTimes.com.

The Top Ten Starter Booklist for 19th Century United States History

Rise of American Democracy
The Rise of American Democracy by Sean Wilentz

These books each cover a specific aspect or period of the 19th Century.  This list is not meant to be comprehensive, but it is designed to give you an overview of the entire century.  Each of these books has an extremely wide scope and  broad ambitions.  They are also fairly conventional choices.  When you fill a booklist with conventional  safe picks, you leave off some of the good stuff.  Trust us, we will get to the good stuff.

Still, if you read each of these books you will gain a solid initial grasp of 19th Century America.  Are there unforgivable omissions?  Yes, there are ridiculously important books that have been left off the list, but you have to start somewhere.

If you disagree with this list, please leave a comment explaining why we are completely wrong.  Suggest a book and tell us which book should be removed from the list.  If you make a strong case and convince us, we will happily revise this list.  Remember this is a 19th Century United States STARTER  booklist.

 1.  Early Republic:  Joyce Oldham Appleby,  Inheriting the Revolution: The First Generation of Americans (Belknap Press of Harvard University, 2000)

 2.  Jacksonian America:  Charles Sellers,  The Market Revolution: Jacksonian America, 1815-1846 (Oxford University Press, 1991)

 3.  Politics of the Early Republic:  Sean Wilentz, The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2005)

 4.  Westward Expansion/Environmental History: William Cronon,  Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West  (New York: W.W. Norton, 1991)

 5.  Slavery:  Stephanie M. H. Camp,  Closer to Freedom:  Enslaved Women and Everyday Resistance in the Plantation South (UNC Press, 2004)

 6.  Pre-Civil War:  David M. Potter, The Impending Crisis, 1848-1861 (Harper Perennial, 1977)

 7.  American West:  Elliot West,  The Contested Plains:  Indians, Goldseekers, and the Rush to Colorado (University of Kansas Press, 1998)

 8.  Civil War:  James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford University Press, 2003)

 9.  Reconstruction:  Eric Foner,  Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 (Harper, 1989)

 10. Robert H. Wiebe, The Search for Order, 1877-1920 (Hill and Wang, 1966)

Check out our Bookshelf at Powell’s Books.

10 Books to Help You Celebrate Bourbon Heritage Month Like a Kentuckian

The University Press of Kentucky has published a Top Ten list of books that will help you celebrate Bourbon Heritage Month like a Kentuckian. Their suggested books are a mix of histories, cookbooks and travel guides.

Here are UK Press’s ten selections:

History Books:

Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey: An American Heritage by Michael Veach

The Social History of Bourbon by Gerald Carson

Kentucky Bourbon: The Early Years of Whiskeymaking by Henry G. Crowgey

Moonshiners and Prohibitionists: The Battle Over Alcohol in Southern Appalachia (New Directions in Southern History) by Bruce E. Stewart


Madam Belle: Sex, Money, and Influence in a Southern Brothel (Topics in Kentucky History) by Maryjean Wall

Cookbooks and Cocktail Recipes:

The Old Fashioned: An Essential Guide to the Original Whiskey Cocktail by Albert W.A. Schmid

The Kentucky Mint Julep by Joe Nickell

The Kentucky Bourbon Cookbook by Albert W.A. Schmid

Bourbon Desserts by Lynn Marie Hulsman

Travel Guide:

Kentucky Bourbon Country: The Essential Travel Guide by Susan Reigler

Check out the link to the University of Kentucky Press blog website.

Check out the DailyHistory.org Bookshelf at Powell’s Books.

Top Ten 19th-Century American Intellectual History Booklist

Intellectual history is an intriguing field because it is by its very nature cross-disciplinary.  While these books my be in arguably different fields (History of Sex, History of Religion, Legal History, History of Technology, Political History, etc.) they are all, at their core, deeply concerned with the history of ideas.  Intellectual history is not the history of old, white philosophers stroking their beards behind mahogany desks.

One of the books on this list, The Metaphysical Club, has already appeared on one of our lists in the past – .  It not only explored the philosophical concept of pragmatism, but it helped illuminate the history of the Gilded Age. Nathan Hatch’s book The Democratization of Christianity looks at the Second Great Awakening and is a preeminent book of American Religious History.  Still, the Second Great Awakening was not just a religious movement because contained important intellectual ideas that changed the course of American history.  Each of these books, in their own way, accomplish this delicate balancing act.

As with all of our lists, we hope that people will comment on our selections.  If someone makes a compelling argument why one of the books on this list should be replaced with another book, we will consider creating a new and hopefully better 19th-Century American Intellectual History Booklist 2.0.

  1.  Louis Menand,  The Metaphysical Club (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2002)

  1.  Irving H. Bartlett, The American Mind in the Mid-Nineteenth Century (Wiley-Blackwell, 1982)

  1.  Anne C. Rose, Voices of the Marketplace: American Thought and Culture, 1830-1860 (Rowman & Littlefield, 2004)
  2.  Kenneth Cmiel, Democratic Eloquence: The Fight over Popular Speech in Nineteenth-Century America (University of California Press, 1991)

  1.  Nancy Isenberg, Sex and Citizenship in Antebellum America (UNC Press, 1998)
  •  Lewis Perry, Boats Against the Current: American Culture Between Revolution and Modernity, 1820-1860 (Oxford University Press, 1993)

    1.  Rosalind Rosenberg, Beyond Separate Spheres: Intellectual Roots of Modern Feminism (Yale University Press, 1983)

    1.  Leo Marx, The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in America (Oxford University Press, 2000 – 35th Anniversary Edition)

    1.  Nathan O. Hatch, The Democratization of American Christianity (Yale University Press, 1989)

    1. Jeffrey Sklansky, The Soul’s Economy: Market Society and Selfhood in American Thought, 1820-1920 (UNC Press, 2002)

    Check out our Bookshelf at Powell’s Books.

    Top Ten Social History of American Medicine Booklist

    Some notes about this list:

    First, why did we leave Paul Starr’s The Social Transformation of American Medicine (Basic Books, 1984) off this Top Ten list?  It is perhaps the best known American medical history book, and it is an essential reference.  Pretty much anyone who has written about the history of American medicine has cited it.  Should you read it?  Yes.  Check it out or buy it and skim the parts that interest you.  It is probably the one book on the list that most historians are aware of and that is why we left it off.  We also left off William Rothstein’s American Physicians in the Nineteenth Century:  From Sects to Science (Johns Hopkins University Press, reprint edition 1992) and Judith Walzer Leavitt’s Brought to Bed:  Child-Rearing in America, 1750-1950 (Oxford University Press, 1986) for similar reasons.

    Second, we have only one book from Charles E. Rosenberg.  We could have easily picked several books from him, but we did not want his books to take up the entire list.  We picked The Cholera Years, because it is our favorite, but almost any of his other books could be on here.  

    Third, these books are in no particularly order.  We don’t think number 1 is more important or better than number 10.

    Finally, as is always the case, if you disagree with this list, please leave a comment explaining why we are wrong.  Suggest a book and tell us which book should be removed from the list.  If you make a strong case and convince us, we will happily revise this list.  

    Conduct Unbecoming a Woman

    1.  Regina Morantz-Sanchez, Conduct Unbecoming a Woman: Medicine on Trial in Turn-of-the-Century Brooklyn, Oxford University Press, 2000.

    Dangerous Preganancies 

    2.  Leslie Reagan, Dangerous Pregnancies: Mothers, Disabilities, and Abortion in Modern America, University of California Press, 2012.

    3.  Anderson, Warwick, Colonial Pathologies:  American Tropical Medicine, Race, and Hygiene in the Philippines, Duke University Press, 2006.

    4.  Allan Brandt, No Magic Bullet: A Social History of Venereal Disease in the United States Since 1880Oxford University Press, 1987.

     5.  Nayan Shah, Contagious Divides: Epidemics and Race in San Francisco’s Chinatown, University of California Press, 2001.

    6.  Martin Pernick,  A Calculus of Suffering: Pain, Professionalism and Anesthesia in Nineteenth-Century America, Columbia University, 1987.

    Dead on Arrival

    7.  Colin Gordon,  Dead on Arrival: The Politics of Health Care in Twentieth-Century AmericaPrinceton: Princeton University Press, 2004.

    8.  Charles E. Rosenberg, The Cholera Years: The United States in 1832, 1849, and 1866University of Chicago Press, 1987.

    Abortion in America

    9.  Mohr, James,   Abortion in America: The Origins and Evolution of a National PolicyNew York: Oxford University Press, 1979.

    10.  Alexandra Stern, Eugenic Nation: Faults and Frontiers of Better Breeding in Modern AmericaUniversity of California Press, 2005.

    Check out the DailyHistory.org Bookshelf at Powell’s Books.

    Top Ten History of Sex Books (American Version)

    These are our Top Ten History of Sex books (American Version).  As per usual, we included some caveats and and explanations for our selections. 

    First, this is a history of sex / history of sexuality list. We understand that there is a distinction but, for us, these two things blur together.  Unlike other people, we do not see them as entirely separate areas of inquiry. Whatever. They clearly overlap, and we’re not interested in trying to separate them for the purposes of our booklist (American Version). 

    Second, the so-obvious-they-don’t-need-a-place-on-the-list titles: Michel Foucault’s History of Sexuality Volume I and John D’Emilio and Estelle B. Freedman’s Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America.  Foucault’s book arguable does not belong on an American history of sex booklist, but his book is still the goliath in the field and we need to acknowledge it.  Basically, when people think  American sexual history they think of Intimate Matters.  Since you are already thinking of them, we are leaving them off. 

    Third, as per usual these books are not in any particular order.

    Finally, if you do not like our list, please make some suggestions.  If we like your ideas, we will create a version 2.0 History of Sex booklist (American Version). 

    Straight State

    1.  Margot Canaday, The Straight State: Sexuality and Citizenship in Twentieth-Century America (Princeton University Press, 2011).

    Gay New York

    2.  George Chauncey, Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World (Basic Books, 1995)

    3.  Carol Groneman, Nymphomania: A History (W.W. Norton & Company, 2001)

    Prescription for Heterosexuality

    4.  Carolyn Herbst-Lewis, Prescription for Heterosexuality: Sexual Citizenship in the Cold War Era (UNC Press, 2013)

    5.  Martha Hodes, White Women, Black Men: Illicit Sex in the Nineteenth-Century South (Yale University Press, 1999)

    6.  Janice Irvine, Disorders of Desire: Sex and Gender in Modern American Sexology (Temple University Press, 2005)

    Revolutionary conceptions

    7.  Susan E. Klepp, Revolutionary Conceptions: Women, Fertility, and Family Limitation in America, 1760-1820 (UNC Press, 2009) 

    8.  Mary Odem, Delinquent Daughters: Protecting and Policing Adolescent Female Sexuality in the United States, 1885-1920 (UNC Press, 1995)

    Bachelors and Bunnies

    9.  Carrie Pitzulo, Bachelors and Bunnies: The Sexual Politics of Playboy (University of Chicago Press, 2011)

    10.  Jennifer Terry, An American Obsession: Science, Medicine, and Homosexuality in Modern Society (University of Chicago, 1999)

    Check out the DailyHistory.org Bookshelf at Powell’s Books.

    Top Ten History of Voting Rights Booklist

    A few years ago, Charles Zelden, a legal scholar, author and expert on election law, created a booklist at Legal History Blog of the best books on the history of election law and voting rights.  Check out Zeldin’s blog post because he provides outstanding summaries for each of the books on the list. The first nine books on the list are his choices,  but we added one more book to round it out.

    We would love to hear any suggestions that you may have to improve this list.  Leave us a smart recommendation in the comment section and we will be happy to revise it.

    The Right to Vote

    1. Alexander Keyssar, The Right To Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States (Basic Books, 2000)

    2. Charles l. Zelden, Voting Rights on Trial (Hackett, 2004)

    3. Stephen F. Lawson, Black Ballots: Voting Rights in the South, 1944-1969 (Lexington Books, 1999)

    Defying Disfranchisement

    4. R. Volney Riser, Defying Disfranchisement: Black Voting Rights Activism in the Jim Crow South, 1890-1908 (LSU Press, 2010)

    5. Richard C. Cortner, The Apportionment Cases (W. W. Norton & Co., 1970) – Does not appear to be published anymore.  Check your library or look for a used copy.

    6. Charles L. Zelden, Bush v. Gore: Exposing the Hidden Crisis in American Democracy (U. Press of Kansas, 2008 [HB]; abridged and updated, 2010)

    The Voting Wars

    7. Richard L. Hasen, The Voting Wars: From Florida 2000 to the Next Election Meltdown (Yale Univ. Press, 2012)

    Between Freedom and Bondage

    8. Christopher Malone, Between Freedom and Bondage: Race, Party and Voting Rights in the Antebellum North (Routledge, 2008)

    9. Charles L. Zelden, The Battle for the Black Ballot: Smith v. Allwright and the Defeat of the Texas All-White Primary (U. Press of Kansas, 2005)

    Our Addition:

    New Women of the New South

    1.  Marjorie Spruill Wheeler,  New Women of the New South: The Leaders of the Woman Suffrage Movement in Southern States (Oxford University Press, 1993)

    Check out our Bookshelf at Powell’s Books.

    Top Ten Best Books on War Powers

    Mary L. Dudziak recently published a post to her blog War Time about teaching a seminar on the history of war powers.  As part of the post, she provided a book list for teaching this type of seminar.  Her list is outstanding.

    1. Drew Gilpin Faust, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War (Vintage Civil War Library)
    2. Sahr Conway-Lanz, Collateral Damage: Americans, NoncombatantImmunity, and Atrocity after World War II

    1. John Tirman, The Deaths of Others: The Fate of Civilians in America’s Wars

    1. Steven Casey, When Soldiers Fall: How Americans Have Confronted Combat Losses from World War I to Afghanistan


    5. Robert M. Neer, Napalm: An American Biography

    1. Yuki Tanaka and Marilyn B. Young, eds., Bombing Civilians: A Twentieth-Century History

    1. Paul W. Kahn, Sacred Violence: Torture, Terror, and Sovereignty (Law, Meaning, and Violence)

    1. Andrew Bacevich, Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country

    9. Nick Turse, Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam (American Empire Project)

    1. Mary Dudziak, War Time: An Idea, Its History, Its Consequences

    Click to the link on her website below.

    Dead People and the War Powers

    Check out the DailyHistory.org Bookshelf at Powell’s Books.

    Top Ten Media History Books

    We would like to thank Alex Sayf Cummings for this fantastic Top Ten booklist on Media History.  Alex Sayf Cummings is an assistant professor of History at Georgia State University and author of the book Democracy of Sound: Music Piracy and the Remaking of American Copyright in the Twentieth Century (Oxford, 2013). His work has appeared in the Journal of American History, Southern Cultures, and Salon, among other publications, and he is the co-editor of the blog Tropics of Meta.

    Before your reading the introduction to his booklist, you should check out his interview with us about his book, Democracy of Sound.  

    Historians have always had a tough time writing about media. The danger of technological determinism tends to loom over any discussion of technologies such as television or the Internet—the risk of arguing that a particular medium or device causes people to behave or think a certain way. That fear has been present since the earliest days of media studies, when the War of the Worlds and the pioneering audience research of Paul Lazarsfeld and the Bureau of Applied Social Research in the 1930s raised questions about the “effects” that mass media had on people, both as individuals and groups. Meanwhile, the power of Hitler’s megaphone implied that people as a mass were pliant, susceptible to a sort of top-down manipulation that sits uneasily with most historians, with their concern for contingency, complexity, and agency in the past.

    Media have often been something that happened behind or adjacent to the serious stuff in history, technologies that only occasionally impinge on the course of history itself (think of the Kennedy-Nixon debate, or the yellow journalism of the Spanish-American war). However, this hardly means that historians have entirely neglected media. Following the pioneering work of Raymond Williams and Elizabeth Eisenstein in the 1970s, several waves of fascinating historiography have grappled with the complex meaning of print, radio, and other technologies. Alain Corbin even offered his provocative entry into the little-known canon of campanarian history, considering how bells resonated across the “auditory landscape” of rural France. (Anyone who remembers The Semaphore Version of Wuthering Heights can take relish in his work.)

    Today, a new generation of historians are considering the rich and complicated place of media within cultural, political, and economic history. Works such as Elena Razlogova’s The Listener’s Voice (on radio), Fred Turner’s The Democratic Surround (on avant-garde multimedia), and Nicole Hemmer’s forthcoming Messengers of the Right (on conservative media) promise to tell us much about the manifold ways that technologies of communication intersect with the politics of art, class, gender, race, and other dimensions of the human experience.

    Raymond Williams, Television: Technology and Cultural Form (Routledge Classics, 1974)

    Elizabeth Eisenstein, The Printing Press as an Agent of Change: Communications and Cultural Transformations in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge University Press, 1979)

    Paul Edwards, The Closed World: Computers and the Politics of Discourse in Cold War America (The MIT Press, 1996)

    Lynn Spigel, Make Room for TV: Television and the Family Ideal in Postwar America (University of Chicago Press, 1992)

    Alain Corbin, Village Bells: Sound and Meaning in the Nineteenth Century French Countryside (Columbia University Press, 1998)

    Susan J. Douglas, Listening In: Radio and the American Imagination (University of Minnesota Press, 1999)

    Paul Starr, The Creation of the Media: Political Origins of Modern Communication (Basic Books, 2004)

    Brian Larkin, Signal and Noise: Media, Infrastructure, and Urban Culture in Nigeria (Duke University Press, 2008)

    Elena Razlogova, The Listener’s Voice: Early Radio and the American Public (University of Penn Press, 2011)

    Fred Turner, The Democratic Surround: Multimedia and American Liberalism from World War II to the Psychedelic Sixties (University of Chicago Press, 2013)

    Check out our Bookshelf at Powell’s Books.

    Top Ten Books of the Gilded Age/Progressive Era

    Creating a Top Ten List for the Gilded Age/Progressive Era is challenging. There are an extraordinary number of outstanding books on this period. These books are a selection of our favorites. Most of these books are focused on trying to define this era as whole, instead of focusing on a single issue. In other words, several of these books are seeking to create a grand narrative of the era to help their readers understand it.

    Admittedly, the border between the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era is somewhat murky. There are not any of the easy starting and stopping points that can be pointed to for defining eras such as Colonial America, the American Civil War, Reconstruction or the Cold War. Arguably, even the term Gilded Age is somewhat archaic and perhaps the era should be renamed.

    In a way, this listed is focused on the last thirty years of the Nineteenth Century and the implications of those decades on the start of the Twentieth Century. Many people have pointed to similarity of the issues between the Gilded Age/Progressive Era and our present America (technology, income inequality, immigration, expansion of government, big business, extreme wealth, etc.)

    As with all of our lists, we are open to suggestions. If you think we left a book off (we left off a number of books that deserve to be on the list) please leave us a comment. We will happily republish a new and revised list based on your comments.

    1. Richard Hofstader, The Age of Reform (Vintage Books, 1955)

    2. Nell Painter, Standing at Armageddon: The United States, 1877-1919 (W.W. Norton & Company, 1989)


    3. Charles Postel, The Populist Vision (Oxford University Press, 2009 – paperback)


    4. Michael McGerr, A Fierce Discontent: The Rise and Fall of the Progressive Movement in America, 1870-1920 (Oxford University Press, 2005)


    5. W. H. Brands, American Colossus: The Triumph of Capitalism, 1865-1900 (Random House, 2010)


    6. Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore, Gender and Jim Crow : Women and the Politics of White Supremacy in North Carolina, 1896-1920 (96 Edition), (UNC Press, 1996)

    7. Edward L. Ayers, The Promise of the New South: Life After Reconstruction (Oxford University Press, 2007 – 15th Anniversary edition)


    8. Louis Menand, The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2002)


    9. Daniel T. Rodgers, Atlantic Crossings: Social Politics in a Progressive Age (Belknap Press, 2000 )


    10. Robert H. Wiebe, The Search for Order, 1877-1920 (Hill and Wang, 1966)

    Check out the our Bookshelf at Powell’s Books.