Book sales and new thinking: the matrix

[If you are joining us late, we are tracing the decline of a school of thought that used mass market sales to leverage itself into a position of doctrinal dominance.]

Professor T. Harry Williams enjoyed a phenomenal writing career, turning the public's WWII-era fascination with Lincoln into a Civil War publishing avalanche. Some of his work is eclectic and currently rejected by the dominant historiography: P.G.T. Beauregard: Napoleon in Gray, for instance; also Lincoln and the Radicals, which when it appeared as a reissue in the mid '60s, contained apologies for sins against ACW doctrine in its introduction.

Williams' most influential (and doctrinal) works are represented by Lincoln and His Generals and McClellan, Sherman and Grant.

Used copies of the 1952 Knopf hardback and the 1952 Vintage paperback editions of Lincoln and His Generals are still circulating, however, this title is now maintained in hardcopy by the specialty publisher Diane and in softcover the rights are retained by Vintage; in fact, the Vintage softcover out - if it is still out - is the 1967 release(!); Ingram sold zero copies this year and zero last.

Williams recapitulated key ideas from Lincoln and His Generals in a work called McClellan, Sherman and Grant. This appeared during the Centennial in a Rutgers Press edition, not making it into commercial channels; it is currently maintained as a student edition under the Elephant marque of Ivan R. Dee, an eclectic independent house tilted towards textbooks. Dee's Ingram sales of this book totaled 22 in 2003, from which number I will not try to estimate a total figure.

As readers of T. Harry Williams well know, his main points about Union generals, Lincoln's management of the war, and his interpretations of military and political events mesh closely with the current orthodoxy because he is co-author of that orthodoxy. His contemporary, Kenneth Williams, also shaped how we view the Union side of the war as a single story, and Kenneth's Lincoln Finds a General snugly complements the other Williams' works. Issued by Macmillan in 1949, Lincoln Finds a General ran to a surprising five volumes at a time when trade publishers were rejecting Bruce Catton's manuscripts with advice that the public wanted no Civil War titles.

Lincoln Finds a General is available in a 1985 Indiana University Press edition only nowadays, one that sold just 13 copies through Ingram last year (I won't project total sales in this case either).

Civil War interpretations were eclectic when Williams and Williams published, but they represented two threads in a matrix that included contemporaries such as Nevins, Catton, and many others, a matrix out of which doctrine would be shaped. (I discussed the evolution of this process last year: see here, here, here, here, and here.)

What is interesting to me is that the people who devour the opinions of Williams and Williams second-hand (say, through McPherson, Sears, Gallagher, or Davis) have no interest in the source. When we get downstream to where commerce flows deeper and faster we will need to recall that the springs that once produced this running water have completely dried up.

Monday: The current sales profiles of Nevins and Catton, the next two points of the doctrinal matrix.

(If you had trouble with any industry terms or concepts in this post, please read this. To understand the point of this exercise, read this.)