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 Posted: Thu Jun 10th, 2010 01:51 am
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Mark
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I was looking over my ACW library the other day and I started thinking about two of the masters of Civil War writing: Shelby Foote and Bruce Catton. My own preference is for Catton because I have qualms about Foote's lack of notes. In my opinion this relegates him to the world of a storyteller (albeit an absolutely brilliant one) and not a historian. Bruce Catton's Army of the Potomac trilogy was the first set of ACW books that my Dad and I read together and I have been a fan of his brand of grand narrative history ever since. I am curious as to whether the august members of the forum have any opinions on this supremely trivial matter...

Mark :D



 Posted: Thu Jun 10th, 2010 07:35 am
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fedreb
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I love Shelby Foote's trilogy, I was hooked from Chapter 1, but saying that I would still tend come down on the side of Bruce Catton whose writing has the stamp of the professional historian. The "Army of the Potomac" trilogy, the "Coming Fury" trilogy, the Grant double, "Grant Moves South",& "Grant Takes Command", all terrific reading.
The Storyteller V. The Historian, should be an easy choice for history lovers but in this case it is close, very close..



 Posted: Thu Jun 10th, 2010 02:12 pm
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Old North State
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The problem with reading Foote is that I'm constantly wondering "That's fascinating, how does he know that?"



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 Posted: Thu Jun 10th, 2010 07:19 pm
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HankC
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I wonder who wrote the most total book pages on the civil war?

Foote was a career novelist who wrote a Civil War history.

Catton was a Civil War historian.


HankC



 Posted: Thu Jun 10th, 2010 09:25 pm
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Mark
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Thanks for the responses so far! Catton also wrote a great one volume history of the war called, "This Hallowed Ground." Someday when I have children I will read that to them to get them hooked... As to Foote, I did enjoy his novel "Shiloh." Did anyone read the chapter devoted to him in Tony Horwitz's "Confederates in the Attic?" I was somewhat bemused by his portrayal of a grumpy old man who still gets phone calls from admirers. Such is the price of fame though...

Mark



 Posted: Thu Jun 10th, 2010 09:48 pm
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ole
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Going with fedreb. Really, really close. There are few if any books out there more enjoyable to read than Foote ... except maybe Catton.

Catton wrote his long before the advent of easy access, so he's not quite so thorough in details as we'd like him to have been. Foote never let a detail get in the way of a great story



 Posted: Thu Jun 10th, 2010 11:50 pm
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pamc153PA
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I love to read and especially watch/listen to Shelby Foote talk about the CW. There's something magical in his voice, for me. Like a good story teller.

Of the two, I feel Catton is more a go-to man for the factual, but Shelby Foote's version was one of the things that caught my attention and made me want to know more about the CW.

Pam



 Posted: Sat Jul 10th, 2010 08:05 pm
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Captain Crow
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Well to be perfectly honest, I prefer Foote. Surprised? Lack of footnotes isn't a deal breaker for me considering how many errors I've run across in books crammed full of the things. In the end it's the narrative flow that matters to me. I must agree with some here that it is a really close call. Catton's AotP trilogy has been on my shelf for many years...1st edition hard cover btw....and unlike many historical authors his work is actually enjoyable to read. I really think both author's collective works are must haves for anyone interested in a basic knowledge of the ACW. I just happen to prefer a more Southern accent to my story tellers.



 Posted: Thu Jul 15th, 2010 06:26 pm
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Barlow
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I think I will vote for Shelby Foote.  I just saw this on the web:

 

http://civilwarhistory.wordpress.com/2010/06/13/shelby-footes-wit-and-commentary/



 Posted: Thu Jul 15th, 2010 06:42 pm
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Mark
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Captain Crow, I understand how the narrative is important, but I think (for a history book anyway) that knowing where the author got the information is just as or more important. That way if you do see what you believe is an error you can go see what the orginal source was and then evaluate for yourself whether the author was wrong in his interpretation based on the data he used. Maybe that takes some of the fun out of the reading, but I'm more of an analytical kind of guy. Regards!

Mark



 Posted: Sat Jul 17th, 2010 02:32 pm
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Captain Crow
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Mark, I am also somewhat analytical in my approach to certain more defined subjects such as a specific battle or a regiment involved. But in the context of a general overview concerning a widely known subject such as the ACW, I'm a little less concerned about the minutia and more concerned with an author's ability to keep the reader's interest. After all these books (both authors overviews) are more suited to those who might otherwise never read a historical work. And honestly Mr. Cattons "American Heratige Pictoral History of the American Civil War" was an excellent introduction to the subject for a 7 yr old Captain Crow, but it was really based more on those cool battle maps with little soldiers on them than the text LOL! As an adult I was, like many Americans, captivated by Mr. Foote's wonderful story telling skills evidenced in Ken Burn's documentary. He stoked the fires of my burning curiosity with his obvious passion for the subject. I owe both authors a debt of gratitude for all the happy hours I've been allowed to enjoy over the years while attempting to asuage the historical hunger that they had a large hand in creating.



 Posted: Mon Aug 16th, 2010 04:42 am
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Hellcat
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I may be wrong but I believe when I looked at Foote's trilogy back in high school back in the early '90s the bibliography listed Catton as one of his sources. Personally that's saying something to me.

I'v nothing against Shelby Foote and would someday like to add his trilogy to my library. But I grew up with Bruce Catton. My family visited Appomattox Court House right around the time I went into kindergarten and picked up A Stillness at Appomattox and The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War. All through out elemenary and high school I always referred to Catton when I wanted something and the very first book in my personal library was The Civil War (1987 reprint of The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War) which I recieved from one of my aunts and uncles one Christmas. Since then my library has grown considerably, especially after 2000 when it began growing by leaps and bounds. This has included the additions of Catton's The Coming Fury, Terrible Swift Sword, Never Call Retreat, and This Hallowed Ground. So I'll always have a soft spot for Catton because my library started with his work.



 Posted: Mon Aug 16th, 2010 09:43 pm
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Captain Crow
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Hard to beat the "American Heritage" book with all those cool battle field illustrations....still my one volume favorite.



 Posted: Tue Aug 17th, 2010 05:15 pm
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I'm a youngster myself, but just based on anecdotal evidence, it seems that the American Heritage book interested more people in the ACW than any other medium until the movie "Gettysburg" came out and hooked my generation...

Mark



 Posted: Thu Jan 31st, 2013 02:38 am
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JG6789
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I’m not sure anyone here is interested in a two and a half year old thread, but since we’re resurrecting Ol’ Jube and the Lost Cause, this one seems somewhat appropriate, too.  For me Catton is the hands-down winner.  Foote’s writing contains too many errors, omissions, half-truths, and (I think) deliberate distortions.  I know Foote denied in interviews that he sympathized with the Lost Cause, but to me the proof is in the pudding.  He’s more subtle about it, but there’s a clear story he’s trying to put across, and he doesn’t let inconvenient facts get in the way.



 Posted: Sat Apr 13th, 2013 02:50 pm
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Paulson
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Both authors have a real talent for storytelling, but it's a bit like comparing apples and pears. Foote wrote a narrative of the entire war, while the bulk of Catton's work focuses on the AotP, and the AotP only.



 Posted: Sat Apr 13th, 2013 05:41 pm
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JG6789
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Paulson wrote: Both authors have a real talent for storytelling, but it's a bit like comparing apples and pears. Foote wrote a narrative of the entire war, while the bulk of Catton's work focuses on the AotP, and the AotP only.

What is this "bulk"?.  Sure, Catton's three volume history of the Army of the Potomac is his best known work, but he also wrote a three volume centennial history of the war that is more or less comparable to Foote's, but far superior.  Perhaps his best work, from a scholarly perspective, is his two volume history of Ulysses S. Grant's Civil War years that picks up where Lloyd Lewis' "Captain Sam Grant" left off. 



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