Stealing the General

Russell Bonds has written a wonderful attempt at the "definitive" account of what is often called "The Great Locomotive Chase." In Stealing the General, he has garnered (on Amazon) an average of five stars for s 28 reviews. That is as remarkable a fact as the act of the New Yorker having reviewed a Civil War book at all (this one, in fact). "Magnificent" from the Wall Street Journal is probably worth a glass of champagne as well.

This is, necessarily, a narrative but one extremely rich in detail and at 464 pages not suited for a quick flip-through in the tub. I have not yet gone through the trove of endnotes yet but look forward to it. There is plenty of meat here for the analyst.

I don't mean to frighten the narrative fans peeking at this blog - this read is no chore - Bonds writes so well you wonder what the hell Georgia Law Review read like when he edited articles there.

Railroading my metaphors, I view this as a successful experiment in freighting narrative history. Joseph Harsh is the extreme example of how much load a narrative can bear and still reach the station. Russel Beatie comes next with a better balance but a bias towards extreme data loads. Russell Bonds by comaprison is a fast freight train. If you love Harsh and Beatie, as I do, Bonds' single volume will in no way annoy you with the usual narrative "fast track" disdain for data and the reader's need to inspect and weigh. This is a solid read that - falling into the wrong hands - is also "maginificent" storytelling.

Bonds paints an nice miniature of General O.M. Mitchel, mentioning that he worked at the same railroad as Banks, McClellan, and Turchin. Mitchel preceded them but that certainly got the imagination turning and is worth a post soon. I'll be also returning to General in snippets in connection with the release Vital Rails later this week.

Meanwhile, there's free reading to be had over at the publisher's lovely website. To quote Hunter Thompson, buy the ticket, take the ride.