I am a voracious reader, and really I don’t have a favorite genre, although I will confess that as I get older I do seem to be reading more history oriented books. Alas history is maybe the most abused of any factual genre. Every author has a bias, and the further back in time the events occurred, the greater the skew becomes. Authors may be well intentioned, but by relying on the works of others they merely skew the actual events even more.

One only has to pick up a high school text book to see the one-sidedness of the research. As one pundit put it, there are three versions of any story, yours, mine, and the truth, which lays somewhere in the middle! Time alas has shown that what ends up in the history books sways in the direction of ‘mine’.

The Words Of War takes a look at the American Civil War, but Don Bracken does it in a unique way. Instead of adding his own slant, he shows us the slant that the popular press of the day used. 18 major and pivitol events are explored in The Words Of War, Don offers a brief introduction to each one, to set the scene, he then includes actual newspaper articles (including their typos, and archaic language) from both the northern New York Times and the southern Charleston Mercury. Each event is then concluded with the ‘official’ historical view.

This is fascinating reading to say the least. What is trumpeted as a major victory by one side, is downplayed as a minor skirmish by the other. In fact, more than once I was not sure that they were even talking about the same event! When you add to this the ‘official’ history, you get a very murky picture indeed. My favorite quote from the book has to be:

“It was a new time for the American press. Standards for war coverage were far from set, and each one reporting the war took what liberties he felt might not only get the job done but help his side as well”

From Sumpter to Appomattox, Don Bracken has brought to life the events of this deciding period in American history.

The War Of Words certainly got me thinking about other historical events, and just how much of what is taught in our schools is factual, and how much has been modified over time to meet our expectations. Even if history is not your thing, this is a book that you should read. It will give you pause for thought. The next time you read your local newspaper, or watch CNN, remember what Ella Fitzgerald said in that old advert ‘Is it real, or is it Memorex?’

The Words Of War is available through the History Publishing Company.

Simon Barrett

 

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