Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Five outstanding novels about the Civil War era

David W. Blight is Class of 1954 Professor of American History at Yale University. His books include American Oracle: The Civil War in the Civil Rights Era.

For the Wall Street Journal, he named a five best list of novels about the Civil War era. One title on the list:
All the King's Men
by Robert Penn Warren (1946)

Widely considered a book about the dark arts of politics, this work is at heart a Civil War novel. Jack Burden, the chief of staff for the governor of a Southern state in the 1930s, wears in his tortured soul the South's and a nation's crushing memory and guilt for slavery, the Confederacy's doomed cause, and its aftermath of unrealized racial and class peace. The past becomes Robert Penn Warren's "spider web" that one dares not touch, even inadvertently. Jack, the historian who can never finish his dissertation on a Confederate ancestor named Cass Mastern, amasses research that paralyzes him with its sinister secrets and unbearable truths. What results is an unforgettable encounter with authentic tragedy (like the Civil War itself) rare in American fiction. Cass's sin and the country's original sin crash into one another. The past, once opened to the air, infests the present.
Read about the other entries on the list.

All the King's Men appears on Heather Brooke's top five list of books on holding power to account, Melanie Kirkpatrick's list of her five favorite novels of political intrigue, and H.W. Brands's five best list of books on truth or just in print; Robert McCrum called it a book to inspire busy public figures.

Also see: Ten best novels about the American Civil War.

--Marshal Zeringue