Stonewall vs. Stonewall vs. Stonewall: Such Books as These!
Does the world need another Stonewall Jackson biography? Of course, the world will read another Stonewall Jackson biography. There are thousands of people just like me who can’t get enough of old Jack. But that’s not what I’m asking here….
At 951 pages, James “Bud” Robertson’s 1997’s Stonewall Jackson: The Man, the Soldier, the Legend describes, documents, and catalogs Old Jack’s life in exhaustive detail.
Is there anything left to chronicle?
C. Glenn and Bevin Alexander both think so. Both have released new Jackson biographies this fall: Gwynne’s Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson (Scribner) and Alexander’s Such Troops as These: The Genius and Leadership of Confederate General Stonewall Jackson (Berkley Caliber).
I intend to read both new books now that my Christmas break has arrived. I will report back as I am able. But before I dive in, I want to hit on that larger philosophical question: Does the world need either of these books?
Robertson’s book is big, no doubt about it. The narrative alone is 762 pages. At 10-point type, it has a word count so high math has not yet invented the number. Plus there are 24 pages of bibliography and 135 pages of footnotes. The book weighs 3.5 pounds and the binding is 2.25 inches thick. I have seen unabridged dictionaries that are thicker but not many other books.
A marketing person would immediately recognize that length is a competitive point.
So is price. Robertson’s book is not readily available any more. You can get it online for as low as $45, although most sellers have it priced at $60 or higher.
How do the new contenders stack up?
Gwynne’s book, by contrast, is 2 pounds, .02 ounces. 673 pages, including 562 pages of narrative, 45 pages of notes, and 13 pages of bibliography. While it doesn’t look freakishly fat, it still measures an intimidating-looking 1.75 inches. “I have not attempted to be comprehensive in reporting the details of Jackson’s life,” Gwynne says at the beginning of his bibliography. “Instead of putting in everything known about Jackson, my approach has been to include facts and analysis that I feel best illuminate my subject” (emphasis in original). Rebel Yell retails for $35, with an Amazon list price of $23.48.
Alexander’s book, on the other hand, is a banterweight 1.25 pounds and 324 pages. The main narrative runs 283 pages at a relaxed 12-point font. His notes run another (smaller-fonted) 19 pages, and his selected bibliography runs 3.5 (it’s apparently highly selective). The book, apparently steroid-free, is just over an inch-and-an-eighth thick. It retails for $26.95, with an Amazon list price of $20.31.
(The great-grandaddy in all of this is R. E. Henderson’s two-volume Stonewall Jackson and the American Civil War, originally published in 1898. Weighing in at 5.5 pounds, with its spiffy cardboard slipcover, it’s 3.25 inches thick.)
So there we have it: the two new contenders and the current reigning heavyweight champion. I’ve read Robertson’s book cover-to-cover twice already, and although I’ve always liked it, I don’t feel the need to march that campaign again. The two new ones should do just fine in giving me my Stonewall fix.
I’ll keep you posted!
14 Responses to Stonewall vs. Stonewall vs. Stonewall: Such Books as These!
Sorely tempted by anything Stonewall, I paged through “Rebel Yell” at Barnes & Noble. I too reveled in Robertson’s “Stonewall Jackson,” although unlike you I have not undertaken a second reading–yet. Well, I was glad for the glance-through because it saved me from wasting my money. After encountering a few hints of the author’s disdain for his subject, the disguise fell off when it came to Beauregard. Unfounded slander and insult seethed from the page, and I knew then that this was not history, i.e., a dispassionate (while not uncaring) effort to understand the past and its players on their own terms–but yet another slanted polemic passing for same.
On the other hand, I have purchased “Such Troops As These” but not yet read it. Looking forward to your reviews, and remaining open to revising my first impression of “Rebel Yell” (not having read it in full, after all).
I had the same first impression, Amanda, but I’m liking the book more and more as I read it.
I confess I was disappointed by Robertson’s tome, as it didn’t really address a great many military questions. Robertson sort of copped out on that in his intro.
It took me a close read to realize that he got Jackson’s wounding wrong, too.
Both of your comments demonstrate to me that I need to re-read the book. As to the military questions, I wonder, Dave, what you think of Peter Cozzens’s treatment in “Shenandoah 1862: Stonewall Jackson’s Valley Campaign.” (Of course now we’re talking about two different genres: biography vs. campaign study.) This book delved deeply and thoroughly into military particularities, but after reading it I was left with the odd, overall impression that Stonewall Jackson never really won a single battle!
I’m studying Dr. Hunter McGuire and General Jackson’s wounding. Could you elaborate the issue? I’m not looking for arguments, just curious and wanting to understand. Thanks.
Is “Stonewall: A Biography of General Thomas J. Jackson” by Byron Farwell (1992) worth a read?
It’s a quick overview, but Robertson’s book a few years later completely overshadowed it.
I liked Robertson’s biography of Jackson and appreciated all the primary sources which I felt gave the reader a good “experience”. I read about half of “Rebel Yell” before I had to return it; the writing pace is good, but there was so much explaining of the war and longish introductions to Union generals that it wasn’t my favorite.
I will have to look for “Such Troops As These” – haven’t read that one yet.
Thanks for the blog post and comment chain. It’s so nice to know I’m not the only one reading multiple inches of pages on this Confederate general. 🙂
I agree RE: Gwyne’s book: a lot of it, particularly early, felt like Jackson was just his excuse to write about the war in the east, which seemed to be what he really wanted to write about. He has done less of that as the book has moved forward.
Don’t be ashamed to be reading so much. To be honest, I can’t get enough about the guy! 🙂
Good to hear that the book’s pace picks up a little more as the account progresses. I am trying to get “Rebel Yell” from the library again and will finish it then.
Chris, assuming you have finished reading “Rebel Yell”, what do you think of it?
Still pushing through it, John, although I did offer a couple quick thoughts tonight in a post.
I’m the kind who likes to get it all on the first march through. I actually don’t like reading, but the information is addictive, if those go together. I was going to go for the R. E. Henderson, but thought to ask first. Also, I keep seeing there’s a two volume set by George Francis Robert Henderson (That doesn’t seem to match “R E Henderson” so I’m not sure if I’m just not finding it). Anyone else compared that reading yet? Is that the best to get it all first round if I’m just not going to go a second round if i can help it?