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  • Author's agenda

    The latest thread on Jackson's best battle makes me wonder.Does an author or historian enter a work with a preconceived notion and then try to find facts to support that belief? Would a publisher allow this? I am sure that it is done all the time because people do it everyday. Thomas Connaly's Marble Man comes to mind. I guess I am asking how prevalent this is. I for one enjoy Steven Sears work but did not know he wrote Chancellorsville with the intent of defending Hooker. I just reread that book last month and never picked up on that theme. Either That is the sign of a good author or I am a little slow or naive.
    Just a little curious as to what ya'll think and if you can give some other examples of this happening.
    I realize that Chase is talking about the Lost Causers in other threads and that is a prime example of this practice, but it seems to me that most modern historians do not take that approach. Hopefully someone can shed some light on this for me. I really don't want to start an argument but I a hoping to learn a little something.
    Is she crying? There's no crying in baseball.

  • #2
    We had a thread not too long ago about this same subject regarding Shelby Foote. I think the old adage perception is reality could come into play here. If a reader has a preconceived notion the book would already have a slant.

    Obviously, there are probably some authors who have an agenda, or they would not be writing the book, sometimes you get a version you might not agree with, it's what makes it interesting to me. If every book I read agreed with every notion I have it would be quite boring after a while.

    (Please, do not bombard me with Shelby Foote takes....I loved the man, and have enjoyed his books for years.)
    "Beer if proof, that God wants us to be happy!" - Thomas Jefferson

    Comment


    • #3
      Mike,

      Most of Steve's books have a theme:

      1. Antietam: McClellan bad. Lee good.

      2. Seven Days: McClellan bad.

      3. Chancellorsville: Hooker good. Jackson and Lee good. Stoneman really, really bad.

      4. Gettysburg: Longstreet and Stuart bad.

      Read them, these themes will become obvious.

      We all have our own personal biases, and it's very, very difficult to keep them out. I usually allow my personal opinions to come into play, but I always try to say that these are my opinions on the subject.

      Some books are written with a clear agenda. The Connelly book you mention is a great example, as is Alan Nolan's Lee Considered. Nolan's book was the inspiration for my book Little Phil, which, like Lee Considered, was written like a lawyer's brief that took an advocacy standpoint. That's the only book I've written that is flagrantly slanted, and it was done intentionally.

      The rest of the time, it's difficult to keep your personal beliefs/opinions out of the equation. We are all human, after all.
      "If you want to have some fun, jine the cavalry"

      Maj. Gen. James Ewell Brown Stuart

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by Eric Wittenberg View Post
        Mike,

        Most of Steve's books have a theme:

        1. Antietam: McClellan bad. Lee good.

        2. Seven Days: McClellan bad.

        3. Chancellorsville: Hooker good. Jackson and Lee good. Stoneman really, really bad.

        4. Gettysburg: Longstreet and Stuart bad.

        Read them, these themes will become obvious.

        We all have our own personal biases, and it's very, very difficult to keep them out. I usually allow my personal opinions to come into play, but I always try to say that these are my opinions on the subject.

        Some books are written with a clear agenda. The Connelly book you mention is a great example, as is Alan Nolan's Lee Considered. Nolan's book was the inspiration for my book Little Phil, which, like Lee Considered, was written like a lawyer's brief that took an advocacy standpoint. That's the only book I've written that is flagrantly slanted, and it was done intentionally.

        The rest of the time, it's difficult to keep your personal beliefs/opinions out of the equation. We are all human, after all.
        Thanks Eric. I have not read Sears Seven days but thinking about the others I see it. Maybe I was blinded by the fact I tend to agree with Sears and what you stated about his themes.
        As for your works I have read two of them and to my recollection you always state if you are giving an opinion. That being said I seem to agree with most of your opinions especially since you back them with well researched facts.
        I think I need to look into the book on Phil. I also think he was overrated.
        As for Nolan have not read anything by him but it appears he is a prime example of what I asked.
        Is she crying? There's no crying in baseball.

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by Eric Wittenberg View Post
          Mike,

          Most of Steve's books have a theme:

          1. Antietam: McClellan bad. Lee good.

          2. Seven Days: McClellan bad.

          3. Chancellorsville: Hooker good. Jackson and Lee good. Stoneman really, really bad.

          4. Gettysburg: Longstreet and Stuart bad.

          Read them, these themes will become obvious.

          We all have our own personal biases, and it's very, very difficult to keep them out. I usually allow my personal opinions to come into play, but I always try to say that these are my opinions on the subject.

          Some books are written with a clear agenda. The Connelly book you mention is a great example, as is Alan Nolan's Lee Considered. Nolan's book was the inspiration for my book Little Phil, which, like Lee Considered, was written like a lawyer's brief that took an advocacy standpoint. That's the only book I've written that is flagrantly slanted, and it was done intentionally.

          The rest of the time, it's difficult to keep your personal beliefs/opinions out of the equation. We are all human, after all.
          That is good reason to get other books of the same subject for clarification
          if there is a noticeable bias.
          In all my perplexities and distresses, the Bible has never failed to give me light and strength.
          Robert E. Lee

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by RuselUpsomegrub View Post
            We had a thread not too long ago about this same subject regarding Shelby Foote. I think the old adage perception is reality could come into play here. If a reader has a preconceived notion the book would already have a slant.

            Obviously, there are probably some authors who have an agenda, or they would not be writing the book, sometimes you get a version you might not agree with, it's what makes it interesting to me. If every book I read agreed with every notion I have it would be quite boring after a while.

            (Please, do not bombard me with Shelby Foote takes....I loved the man, and have enjoyed his books for years.)
            I also enjoy Foote. I also am guilty of the preconceived notion agenda, however I also hope I can read something with an open mind and draw my own conclusions. That being said revisionist authors really irritate me.
            Is she crying? There's no crying in baseball.

            Comment


            • #7
              Along the lines of what Marshall & Eric are saying, many times it is good to read TWO books at a time on a certain subject. I've done that before on several books & it is eye opening. Be that as it may, certain books are more difficult than others to do that on-many of the Western & especially Tran-Mississippi books only have a single recent book on the subject. While I wouldn't take reviewer's on Amazon to heart, it isn't bad to find Historical reviews from magazines or sites that focus on the war to hear their take on the book. Sometimes they can key you into certain things so that you notice them as you read. Sometimes that work against you & give you a bad pre-conception of the book.....though some are just plain bad.
              The muffled drums sad roll has beat the soldier's last tatoo. No more on life's parade shall meet that brave and fallen few.

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by Eric Wittenberg View Post
                Mike,

                Most of Steve's books have a theme:

                1. Antietam: McClellan bad. Lee good.

                2. Seven Days: McClellan bad.

                3. Chancellorsville: Hooker good. Jackson and Lee good. Stoneman really, really bad.

                4. Gettysburg: Longstreet and Stuart bad.

                Read them, these themes will become obvious.

                We all have our own personal biases, and it's very, very difficult to keep them out. I usually allow my personal opinions to come into play, but I always try to say that these are my opinions on the subject.

                Some books are written with a clear agenda. The Connelly book you mention is a great example, as is Alan Nolan's Lee Considered. Nolan's book was the inspiration for my book Little Phil, which, like Lee Considered, was written like a lawyer's brief that took an advocacy standpoint. That's the only book I've written that is flagrantly slanted, and it was done intentionally.

                The rest of the time, it's difficult to keep your personal beliefs/opinions out of the equation. We are all human, after all.
                Sears is a very polarizing individual amongst Civil War historians. What are your opinions on his works, Eric?

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by midaeu View Post
                  Thanks Eric. I have not read Sears Seven days but thinking about the others I see it. Maybe I was blinded by the fact I tend to agree with Sears and what you stated about his themes.
                  As for your works I have read two of them and to my recollection you always state if you are giving an opinion. That being said I seem to agree with most of your opinions especially since you back them with well researched facts.
                  I think I need to look into the book on Phil. I also think he was overrated.
                  As for Nolan have not read anything by him but it appears he is a prime example of what I asked.
                  I enjoy Steve's work a great deal. I only wish I was the writer that he is. I have two major gripes with his work:

                  1. The whole theme thing bugs me, so I read his works with an eye toward remembering that the theme is there and that it may slant the interpretation. I also will try to find another book on the same subject without the theme to see how Steve's interpretations of things stack up. For a long time, there was nothing else out there on the Seven Days, which was frustrating.

                  2. He doesn't walk the ground. I firmly believe that one cannot truly understand the battles and write about this stuff without walking the ground and understand how the terrain drives the action. I spent ten full days on the Trevilian Station battlefield before I ever wrote a word about that battle.

                  Now, with that said, I have nothing but respect for Steve Sears, and was thrilled and flattered when he agreed to write the introduction for my biography of Ulric Dahlgren. I was also very grateful for his input on the manuscript of that book.

                  I do state very clearly when I am interjecting my opinion. I do that for a reason: I want the facts to speak for themselves and I don't particularly want my opinion to taint the reader's own opinions on things.

                  Eric
                  Last edited by Eric Wittenberg; 04 Jan 13, 15:14.
                  "If you want to have some fun, jine the cavalry"

                  Maj. Gen. James Ewell Brown Stuart

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    don't you think that even the most reasonable open minded person
                    has some built in prejudices that are always under the surface?
                    Human beings are the only creatures who are able to behave irrationally in the name of reason.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Eric Wittenberg View Post
                      Mike,

                      Most of Steve's books have a theme:

                      1. Antietam: McClellan bad. Lee good.

                      2. Seven Days: McClellan bad.

                      3. Chancellorsville: Hooker good. Jackson and Lee good. Stoneman really, really bad.

                      4. Gettysburg: Longstreet and Stuart bad.

                      Read them, these themes will become obvious.

                      We all have our own personal biases, and it's very, very difficult to keep them out. I usually allow my personal opinions to come into play, but I always try to say that these are my opinions on the subject.

                      Some books are written with a clear agenda. The Connelly book you mention is a great example, as is Alan Nolan's Lee Considered. Nolan's book was the inspiration for my book Little Phil, which, like Lee Considered, was written like a lawyer's brief that took an advocacy standpoint. That's the only book I've written that is flagrantly slanted, and it was done intentionally.

                      The rest of the time, it's difficult to keep your personal beliefs/opinions out of the equation. We are all human, after all.

                      Eric,

                      I did not think Sears thought of Longstreet as being bad at Gettysburg. And to be sure, I went back and took a quick look at Sears book on Gettysburg. Sears states that Longstreet "argued strongly against Lee's attack plans on the 2nd and 3rd.There is no doubt that he directed those attacks with a heavy heart. Yet there is also no doubt that when he struck, he struck as hard as he always did." Sears also writes that on the third day "by holding back reinforcements, Longstreet saved lives in what was clearly a misbegotten venture." Sears finally sums up that Longstreet was "the only one of Lee's corps commanders who lived up to expectations."

                      In a magazine article, he defended Longstreet by stating that at Gettysburg, Longstreet led the ANV in batting average and slugging percentage (I believe you had an article in that same issue, although I can't recall which magazine).

                      Anyways, he is critical of Lee, Hill, Stuart and Ewell, but with Longstreet, although he does criticize him, he thought overall he did his job pretty well. Comparing his analysis to Coddington's, which I believe with Sears book are the best general studies of Gettysburg, he is less critical of Old Pete. Sears, having read his stuff, especially since the time of the Gettysburg book, is definately in Pete's corner.

                      I do agree with you concerning McClellan, when given the opportunilty he goes after Mac.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by midaeu View Post
                        I also enjoy Foote. I also am guilty of the preconceived notion agenda, however I also hope I can read something with an open mind and draw my own conclusions. That being said revisionist authors really irritate me.
                        Mike,

                        I do understand your frustration with some revisionist studies, but some have been important, critically so in changing our perceptions of the Civil War. For example, Thomas Connelly's Marble Man was important in showing how a group of men, Early, Pendleton, Fitzhugh Lee, etc shaped how the Civil War came to be viewed and more specifically, how the perception of Lee was shaped.

                        This is important because the Civil War's most influential historian, D.S. Freeman, based a good bit of his work on what these men had to say. Freeman's long shadow has been great and you can see it influencing Catton and Foote's very popular Civil War books as well as numerous and notable trained historians such as Emory Thomas and Frank Vandiver. Connelly's book shows how Civil War history was manipulated and unfortunately, has shaped the way the Civil War is viewed. Of course, Connelly is known to go somewhat overboard (some would say greatly) with his arguments and I have listed those before.

                        Some of this revisionist historians have been important in righting the ship as far as our understanding of the Civil War. Just to give a different perspective.
                        Last edited by cici; 05 Jan 13, 19:58.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Eric Wittenberg View Post
                          I enjoy Steve's work a great deal. I only wish I was the writer that he is. I have two major gripes with his work:

                          1. The whole theme thing bugs me, so I read his works with an eye toward remembering that the theme is there and that it may slant the interpretation. I also will try to find another book on the same subject without the theme to see how Steve's interpretations of things stack up. For a long time, there was nothing else out there on the Seven Days, which was frustrating.

                          2. He doesn't walk the ground. I firmly believe that one cannot truly understand the battles and write about this stuff without walking the ground and understand how the terrain drives the action. I spent ten full days on the Trevilian Station battlefield before I ever wrote a word about that battle.

                          <snip>

                          Eric
                          Walking the ground - absolutely essential! One cannot begin to grasp the battle until the ground has been walked and walked and walked and ....
                          Don't leave good whiskey for the damn Yankees!" John Hunt Morgan, Eagleport, Ohio, July 23, 1863

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by midaeu View Post
                            The latest thread on Jackson's best battle makes me wonder.Does an author or historian enter a work with a preconceived notion and then try to find facts to support that belief? Would a publisher allow this? I am sure that it is done all the time because people do it everyday. Thomas Connaly's Marble Man comes to mind. I guess I am asking how prevalent this is. I for one enjoy Steven Sears work but did not know he wrote Chancellorsville with the intent of defending Hooker. I just reread that book last month and never picked up on that theme. Either That is the sign of a good author or I am a little slow or naive.
                            Just a little curious as to what ya'll think and if you can give some other examples of this happening.
                            I realize that Chase is talking about the Lost Causers in other threads and that is a prime example of this practice, but it seems to me that most modern historians do not take that approach. Hopefully someone can shed some light on this for me. I really don't want to start an argument but I a hoping to learn a little something.
                            It seems to be a conceit of the time that somehow one's intrinsic biases do not color one's approach to whatever question one is considering. This conceit is pure balderdash.
                            Don't leave good whiskey for the damn Yankees!" John Hunt Morgan, Eagleport, Ohio, July 23, 1863

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by midaeu View Post
                              The latest thread on Jackson's best battle makes me wonder.Does an author or historian enter a work with a preconceived notion and then try to find facts to support that belief? Would a publisher allow this? I am sure that it is done all the time because people do it everyday. Thomas Connaly's Marble Man comes to mind. I guess I am asking how prevalent this is. I for one enjoy Steven Sears work but did not know he wrote Chancellorsville with the intent of defending Hooker. I just reread that book last month and never picked up on that theme. Either That is the sign of a good author or I am a little slow or naive.
                              Just a little curious as to what ya'll think and if you can give some other examples of this happening.
                              I realize that Chase is talking about the Lost Causers in other threads and that is a prime example of this practice, but it seems to me that most modern historians do not take that approach. Hopefully someone can shed some light on this for me. I really don't want to start an argument but I a hoping to learn a little something.
                              Most of the writing I do currently is academic for school. When I do write about controversial subjects, I admit that as a person with an individual perspective, I will always be a bit biased on my point of view and from how I was introduced to the subject, but I think that is just natural.

                              That said, I always try to be fair when writing, especially about historical personas. I try to avoid the classic armchair generalship (Lee should have moved Division X to position y) without trying to understand what information that person had at the time and their reason for making the decisions they did. When writing for school, I usually include multiple viewpoints on figures and then mention how sources align with those viewpoints. However, We can never have enough first hand sources in my opinion. I think the recent discovery of the Hood papers prove this. They will be a major source of revisionism I think, on the part of Hood and his role in the campaigns for Atlanta and Tennessee. In this case, the change of view will be source driven.

                              Sometimes authors will try to make a point, and then try to stretch or bend sources to support that point. I think this practice is more common that it should be, basically taking a source out of context.

                              And I think Eric brings up an important point. It is very hard to write on battles without understanding the ground (it goes in with my point about understanding what battlefield information commanders had at the time). There is no better way to understand the ground but to walk it. Unfortunately, school has limited my battlefield stomping my local tours to Pea Ridge and Shiloh. This has rather limited my first attempt at a manuscript (a history of the Army of Tennessee), one that I won't attempt to finish or expand without visiting as much of the battlefields as I possibly and as I extensively as I can. In some cases such as in the Atlanta Battlefields, the grounds simply don't exist anymore as it did in 1864, so that also presents a challenge.
                              Last edited by semperpietas; 05 Jan 13, 03:38.
                              "Hit hard when you start, but don't start until you have everything ready." - Lt. Gen. James Longstreet

                              Pyrrhus Travels West:
                              Hanno the Infamous, General of Carthage, Rb Mhnt of Sicily

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