7. Allen C. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion (Knopf).

The Civil War, historian Allen Guelzo reminds us, was a war. Yes, it was a great turning point in American history and a transformative event that reshaped the nation. But, it was a war, after all, and wars are determined by battles. The battle of Gettysburg is not only the most famous of those battles, but perhaps the most determinative. In this magisterial new account of Gettysburg, Guelzo brings his vast knowledge of the Civil War to the story of this singular battle. The background to this crucial battle was both military and political. Had Robert E. Lee succeeded, an invasion of the North would have been difficult to stop and demands for a political settlement of the war would have gained massive momentum. Lincoln knew that  his political prospects and his conviction that the Union must be preserved were on the line.

In telling the story of Gettysburg, Guelzo considers the raft of controversies that remain even today. More importantly, he puts Gettysburg within the context of the larger war — a story he told so well in Fateful Lightning: A New History of the Civil War and Reconstruction. Readers will find Gettysburg: The Last Invasion to be a definitive account of the battle and its legacy. Guelzo, Henry  R. Luce Professor of the Civil War Era and Director of Civil War Studies at Gettysburg College, is uniquely qualified to write this ambitious and worthy volume. Guelzo ends the book with an elegant and moving chapter on Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.


And then came Gettysburg. It was not merely that Gettysburg finally delivered a victory, or that it administered a bloody reverse to Southern fortunes at the point and in the place where they might otherwise have scored their greatest triumph, or that it had come at such a stupendous cost in lives. It was that the monumental scale of the bloodletting was its own refutation to the old lie, that a democracy enervates the virtue of its people to then point where they are unwilling to do more than blinkingly look to their own personal self-interest.”

8. Dean King, The Feud: The Hatfields & McCoys, The True Story (Little, Brown).

Last summer, I recommended Blood Feud by Lisa Alther, a very interesting account of the famous feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys. Now, just a year later, I am recommending a second book on the same historical event. Why? Because the real story of the feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys deserves a second account — this one even more detailed and expansive than the last. Like Davy Crockett, the Hatfield-McCoy feud exists as a cartoon of sorts in the American mind. In reality, it was nothing of the sort. The feud was a representation of the feudal culture that existed on the border between Scotland and England, now transferred to the border between Kentucky and West Virginia. As Dean King notes, the bloody conflict has spawned a feud of arguments ever since.

King is an experienced writer. His previous works, Skeletons on the Zahara and Unbound were adventure tales, and The Feud is told in a similar style, but with a depth of research and detail that sets it apart from previous accounts of the feud. King’s research for the book involved extensive interviews with surviving members of both families. He traces the context of the Civil War, deep Appalachian poverty, and an honor culture that sounds more like something out of Afghanistan today. The Feud is filled with an unforgettable cast of historical characters, even as the story of their lives unfolds in such great tragedy.