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!