(I've linked all the books I've mentioned throughout the article to amazon links in case you're interested in reading them.)
Recently the writer, Ta-Nehisi Coates, published a Civil War reading list, "Five Books To Make You Less Stupid About the Civil War." It was in response to White House Chief of Staff, John Kelly, stating, “the lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War," which one of the stupider things anyone could say about American history.
I had read one of the books on the list, "The Life and Times of Frederick Douglas," but not any of the others. I'm a bit of a history nut, so my knowledge of the Civil War, informed by school and the Ken Burns Civil War Documentary, was probably better than most. But still, I knew I was lacking in knowledge about what is undoubtedly the central event in American History.
Coates praise of one book caught my eye,
"1) Battle Cry Of Freedom: Arguably among the greatest single-volume histories in all of American historiography, James McPherson’s synthesis of the Civil War is a stunning achievement. Brisk in pace. A big-ass book that reads like a much slimmer one. The first few hundred pages offer a catalogue of evidence, making it clear not just that the white South went to war for the right to own people, but that it warred for the right to expand the right to own people. Read this book. You will immediately be less stupid than some of the most powerful people in the West Wing."
So I picked it up and started to read it immediately. In about 2 weeks I've read about 600 of its 900 pages. It's an incredible book, one of the best books I've ever read, and along with Tony Judt's Postwar.