Book review: The Scourge of War: The Life of William Tecumseh Sherman by Brian Holden-Reid

The Scourge of War: The Life of William Tecumseh Sherman by Brian Holden-Reid

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


The author of this book has a definite viewpoint, which is that William Tecumseh Sherman got a bad rap and was not the savage butcher and scourge of the South that he has been portrayed to be. I don’t generally like biographies with a set agenda, but I was intrigued by the premise of this one. And, in the end, the author is persuasive. Sherman wasn’t a particularly competent line officer, but he was a brilliant strategic and operational officer, who understood the psychological impact that a march deep into the South would have on Confederate morale. The sheer complexity and scale of maintaining his supply lines in his march to the sea (from Vicksburg to Savannah) was quite a logistical and tactical feat, and his grasp of the importance of the mental aspect of war was equally impressive. In addition, he had a prolific writer, and his grasp of the deeper societal issues was well-articulated in his correspondence.
It is helpful when reading this book to have a basic understanding of the course of the Civil War, and the maps included in the book, while not always ideally placed, are key to helping to understand the complexities of Sherman’s accomplishments.
The author also covers Sherman’s childhood, personal life, and post-Civil War life, but the bulk of the book is devoted, as it should be, to his significant accomplishments during the Civil War. Any fan of the Civil War and anyone who is curious about the the military personalities will enjoy this book.



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Book review: The Battle of Midway by Craig Symonds

The Battle of MidwayThe Battle of Midway by Craig L. Symonds

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Unlike many other books on this battle, which tend to attribute the American victory in this pivotal battle to luck or good fortune, this author’s premise is that the outcome of the Battle of Midway was a direct result of the personalities of the major players and the differences between Japanese and American cultures. The author credits the superiority of American technology, including its code-breaking efforts and the effectiveness of radar, as major factors in the battle. In addition, the author walks through each commander’s personality and preferred battle tactics to explain why certain actions were taken and certain decisions made. He also explains the differences in military culture between the Americans and the Japanese and how they resulted in certain decisions.
I was fascinated by the book, which covers one of my favorite battles of World War II. The author writes well, the book is eminently readable, and even though we know how the battle turns out, the element of suspense is well used throughout the book.
In addition, the author is not afraid to take stands on certain issues. While he thinks the efforts of the individual code-breakers and intelligence officials were not given enough credit, he also thinks that some historians give the overall code-breaking effort too much credit for turning the tide of the battle, while at the same time, not giving the strategic and tactical officers present at the battle enough credit. In addition, he is skeptical of the official reports from the commanding officers of the carrier, the Hornet, and has a very plausible explanation as to why the Hornet’s official reports do not reflect what actually happened during the battle.
I look forward to reading the author’s next book and highly recommend this one!

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