American Civil War Biographies Top Ten Booklist


On April 9, 1865, Robert E. Lee surrender his Army of Northern Virginia to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse, effectively ending the American Civil War. The four years of bloody carnage forever altered the course of the nation. Perhaps the pivotal period in American History, the Civil War was led by some of the most renowned figures in American History.

The library of texts pertaining to the Civil War Era ranges from scholarly research to pure fiction. Some of the most informative works come in the biography genre. The countless memoirs and autobiographies are essential to professional researchers and historians and have proved indispensable to the modern biographer. Cohesively combining letters, memoirs, reports, and oral histories is a monumental task for the biographer; yet when successfully completed, a Civil War biography brings the 19th century legends to life. Below is our list of the biographies essential to library of any student of the Civil War.

Read the entire list at

Best Books of 2014

Tales from the Reading Room has a brief post on some of the Best Books of 2014. The list includes Alice McDermott’s Someone and Heather O’Neill’s The Girl who was Saturday Night.

Tales from the Reading Room

I thought I’d read quite a few books this year, and a lot of newly-published ones, too, and yet the best-of lists remain full of titles I haven’t got around to, or have never even heard of. So while my wish list takes a battering, here’s my chance to return the favour. I know I ought to wait until the end of the month but something about this time of year just provokes the urge to tot up the balance sheet. It’s been an excellent reading year, as what follows will show.

mrs hemmingwayBest literary fiction of 2014

Alice McDermott – Someone

Jill Dawson – The Tell-Tale Heart

Naomi Wood – Mrs Hemingway

Jane Smiley – Some Luck

Heather O’Neill – The Girl who was Saturday Night

sisterlandBest literary fiction of 2013 I only got around to reading in 2014

Eleanor Catton – The Luminaries

Curtis Sittenfeld – Sisterland

Best fiction…

View original post 193 more words’s Top Ten Books for November 2014 has named their Top Ten books for November.  These books are picked by librarians across the country.

David Nicholls, Us (Harper)

Sarah MacLean, Rule of Scoundrels #4: Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover: The Fourth Rule of Scoundrels (Avon)

Marilyn Johnson, Lives in Ruins: Archaeologists and the Seductive Lure of Human Rubble (Harper)

Michael Connelly, The Burning Room (Harry Bosch Novel) (Little, Brown and Company)

Robin LaFevers, His Fair Assassin Trilogy #3: Mortal Heart (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books)

Jojo Moyes, The Shop of Brides: A Novel (Penguin)

Bradford Morrow, The Forgers (Mysterious Press)

Ed. Leslie S. Klinger and Laurie R. King, In the Company of Sherlock Holmes: Stories Inspired by the Holmes Canon (Pegasus)

Stephanie Barron, Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas: Being a Jane Austen Mystery (Being a Jane Austen Mysteries) (Soho Crime)

Lydia Millet, Mermaids in Paradise (W.W. Norton & Company)



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 –

Finalists for the Kirkus Prize

The Kirkus Prize awards $50,000 to winners of the fiction, nonfiction, and young reader’s categories.  The Kirkus Reviews is an 81 year old magazine that reviews over 7,000 books a year.  It has been an integral part of the publishing since its founding. is a fabulous source of reviews on brand news books in numerous genres.  Here are this years finalists:


The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt

Euphoria by Lily King

All Our Names by Dinaw Mengestu

Florence Gordon by Brian Morton

The Remedy for Love by Bill Roorbach

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters


Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant?: A Memoir by Roz Chast

Jonathan Swift: His Life and His World by Leo Damrosch

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert

The Lagoon: How Aristotle Invented Science by Armand Marie Leroi

Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty, translated by Arthur Goldhammer

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

Young Readers’ Literature:

El Deafo written and illustrated by Cece Bell

The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jen Byrant and illustrated by Melissa Sweet

The Key That Swallowed Joey Pigza (Joey Pigza Books) Joey Pigza by Jack Gantos

The Story of Owen

The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim by E.K. Johnson

The Freedom Summer Murders by Don Mitchell

Aviary Wonders Inc. Spring Catalog and Instruction Manual written and illustrated by  Kate Samworth


Ranking Haruki Murakami’s Books

Haruki Murakami’s new book Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage  was recently released to wide acclaim.  Murakami is not only recognized as one of the greatest writers of his generation, but also one of the most unique.  To the dismay of Japanese literary critics, Murakami has been strongly influenced by several Western writers including Raymond Carver, J.D. Salinger, Franz Kafka, and Kurt Vonnegut.  Despite his Western influences, Murakami’s books are still strongly influenced by his Japanese heritage.  Matthew Carl Strecher argues that while Murakami is a Japanese author, “he is also a global one” whose works should be seen as “as examinations of questions that concern all humanity.”

Ranking Murakami’s books is a foolhardy task.  Even the worst Murakami book (if there is such a thing) is better than most authors’ best book.  In other words, it is almost impossible to go wrong when you pick up one of his books.

Here’s our rankings:

 1.  A Wild Sheep Chase

 2.  Norwegian Wood (Vintage International)

 3.  After the Quake: Stories

 4.  The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

 5.  Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World

 6.  Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman (Vintage International)

 7.  1Q84

 8.  Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

 9.  Kafka on the Shore

 10.  Hear the Wind Sing

 11.  Pinball, 1973

 12.  Dance Dance Dance

 13.  What I Talk about When I Talk about Running

 14.  After Dark (Vintage International)

 15.  South of the Border, West of the Sun: A Novel

 16.  The Elephant Vanishes: Stories

 17.  Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche

Here’s the link to the Publishers Weekly Rankings of Murakami’s books by Matthew Carl Strecher who has written several books on Murakami, Dances with Sheep: The Quest for Identity in the Fiction of Haruki Murakami, Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: A Reader’s Guide, and the upcoming The Forbidden Worlds of Haruki Murakami. Slate also has an article where they recommend the five Murakami books you should read first.

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 Bookshelf at Powell’s Books.

The Man Booker Prize for 2014 Shortlist

On September 9th, the Man Booker Prizes announced their shortlist this years award.

The Nominees include American authors for the very first time.  This year’s nominees are:

Joshua Ferris (US), To Rise Again at a Decent Hour (Viking)

Richard Flanagan (Australian), The Narrow Road to the Deep North (Chatto & Windus)

Karen Joy Fowler (US), We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (Serpent’s Tail)

Howard Jacobson (British), J (Jonathan Cape)

Neel Mukherjee (British), Lives of Others (Chatto & Windus)

How to be Both

Ali Smith (British), How To Be Both (Hamish Hamilton)


The Man Booker Prize Shortlist

Which American Novels Should Have Won the Booker Prize?

2014 is the first year that American novels will be eligible to win the Man Booker Prize.  The Guardian has published a list of books that various writers and critics, such as Martin Amis, Julian Barnes, Curtis Sittenfield, Edna O’Brien and Joshua Ferris, believe should have won if they had been eligible.  No, Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections did not make the list.

John Mullen – Humboldt’s Gift (Penguin Great Books of the 20th Century) by Saul Bellow (1975)

Julian Barnes – The Easter Parade by Richard Yates (1976)

Colm Toibin – The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer (1979)

Elaine Showalter – The Ghost Writer by Philip Roth

Jane Smiley – Love Medicine (P.S.) by Louise Erdrich (1984)

Martin Amis – White Noise (Penguin Classics Deluxe Editions) by Don Delillo (1985)

Claire Messud – Beloved by Toni Morrison (1987)

Philip Hensher – Rum Punch by Elmore Leonard (1992)

Laura Miller – Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace (1996)

Joshua Ferris – Mason and Dixon by Thomas Pynchon (1997)

Peter Carey – Plainsong by Kent Haruf (1999)

Sarah Churchwell – Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (2004)

Edna O’Brien – Train Dreams by Denis Johnson (2012)

John Banville – Canada by Richard Ford (2012)

Curtis Sittenfeld – Cartwheel by Jennifer DuBois (2013)



Check the Guardian article to read why these authors picked these books.