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Shelby Foote’s The Civil War: A Narrative is my choice for the letter C book that has had an enduring influence on me.

CThis is a comprehensive history of the American Civil War in three volumes—each volume is at least 900 pages in length. I have not finished this series (I’m almost finished with volume 2). These volumes will always have a place on my bookshelf. They are my go-to books for reference. Foote is very thorough and works diligently to get help the reader understand the battles, events and personalities.

This is more than a history of what happened. Foote, in exploring personalities gets to the motives involved. One comes away understanding why the people did what they did, why they acted and reacted. Foote may take some liberties there, but it does not detract from the histories.

The three volumes

The three volumes

Foote had southern sympathies and some say that this came out in his writing. I really did not notice that in his writing. What is evident is that Foote takes the Western Theater seriously. Too many Civil War historians all but ignore the Western Theater, concentrating instead on the Eastern Theater, especially Virginia.

Foote came to prominence when Ken Burns did his PBS series on the Civil War. He was interviewed several times and his folksy, story-telling and humor were hits. My understanding is that before Burns’ series that Foote’s Civil War was only moderately successful—sales increased after the series.

The Civil War defined us as what we are and it opened us to being what we became, good and bad things… It was the crossroads of our being, and it was a hell of a crossroads. —Shelby Foote

That quote is why these volumes are worth reading. Foote gets it. He understands the continuing important of the Civil War. People make a grievous error thinking that a list of facts is the truth. Facts are just the bare bones out of which truth is made—He values the truth and knows how to get at it.

Before the war it was always the United States ‘are’, after the war it was the United States is… it made us an is. —Shelby Foote

Foote gets it; he understands what the Civil War did to us as a nation and it’s continuing legacy in our lives.

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