News From Terre Haute, Indiana

May 9, 2013

Bruce’s history lessons: Spring Cleaning 2013

Bruce Kauffmann
Special to the Tribune-Star

---- — Time for my annual “Spring Cleaning” column, in which I address reader issues and answer “Frequently Asked Questions.”

Issue No. 1: My one reader issue this year is still the same. I appreciate the volume of reader mail I get, and I pride myself on answering every one, good or bad, agree or disagree, in awe of my range of knowledge or in disbelief at the depths of my ignorance.

But my mail volume is such that I can only answer each reader once. I cannot, as some readers wish, get into a back-and-forth debate on every column. I suggest that readers looking for a dialogue, including the bloggers who are now posting my columns on their blogs, start posting their comments about my column on my website, www.historylessons.net. There I would happily engage in a dialogue.

FAQ No. 1: My one FAQ this year is also the same. Books from the past year that I recommend are: ”Fateful Lightning” by Allen Guelzo. This is one of the best books on the Civil War I have ever read. Lucid and thorough, it breaks new and fascinating ground (for me, anyway) on a number of topics related to both the war itself and Reconstruction.

“America’s Great Debate” by Fergus Bordewich. This book is a fascinating look at one of America’s seminal historic events, the Compromise of 1850 — the congressional compromise over slavery and western territory that postponed by 10 years an American civil war (thereby helping ensure the North would win that war). Bordewich also wonderfully brings to life a colorful cast of characters — Henry Clay, Stephen Douglas, John C. Calhoun, Daniel Webster and more.

“The Last Lion: Defender of the Realm” by William Manchester and Paul Reid. Manchester died before he could complete the last of his “Last Lion” trilogy on Winston Churchill, but he wisely tapped journalist Paul Reid to finish it for him. It is a magnificent book on the most important period in Churchill’s life: the war years when he led Great Britain to “its finest hour.” Reid honors Manchester’s memory.

“Lyndon Johnson: The Passage of Power” by Robert Caro. Another volume in Caro’s never-ending pursuit of the real Lyndon Johnson, this book focuses on Johnson’s domestic policies in the early years of his presidency. Caro makes a convincing case that, for all his faults, Johnson was among the most skillful legislators ever to serve as president.

Bruce G. Kauffmann’s e-mail address is bruce@historylessons.net.