McPherson and the Atlantic

Kevin Levin seems disappointed in the new McPherson book, citing especially the quality of analysis. He has applied some care and thought to his review. Compare it to the usual senseless outpouring flowing from, for instance, the L.A. Times:
"In This Mighty Scourge — a riveting collection of 16 masterfully written essays — James M. McPherson again demonstrates that he is our greatest historian of the war."

Give him credit, the man attracts excess. Not just from me.

There was a story recently in the Atlantic magazine about the Oxford University Press history series into which McPherson's Battle Cry was plugged by his Johns Hopkins mentor, C. Vann Woodward (editor of the series). Did you know, for instance that "The author originally slated to write the volume on the Civil War, Willie Lee Rose, suffered a stroke in 1978."

Does the author of the Atlantic piece, in this "sweeping indictment against American historians" include McPherson when he says of the Oxford series, "not only are the Americans unconscionably tardy; their entries conspicuously lack the intellectual refinement, analytic sharpness, and stylistic verve" of the stuff published on the British history side? Mind you, this fellow is the literary editor of the magazine!

The article carries a measure of cynicism towards Woodward's editorship. "...nearly a half-century later, only five of a projected 11 volumes in the Oxford History of the United States have been completed." It dwells on the good work he rejected.

Gordon Wood is quoted as saying "The idea that you can sum up the scholarship of a previous generation in one volume just doesn't hold anymore." He means one narrative volume.

Wood is giving others' views here - mainly mine, though I can't imagine how he got them. (But let's be clear: in the case of Battle Cry, it is not the scholarship of the previous generation - it is the pop history of the previous generation being summarized.)

Anyway, read the piece.