James McPherson, book machine

He's giving Harold Holzer a run for his money; James McPherson has at least two books coming out during the Bicentennial and he's already dancing circles around Holzer promoting these unpublished works on the lecture circuit (start here).

Meanwhile, both of these public historians have achieved filmography pages on IMDb (see here and here). Speaking of which, dig the Oscar night poster (right) Pritzker has put out for one of McPherson's lectures.

Ladies and genlemen: for the best synthesis of top-selling narrative Civil War histories ... the envelope please.

If this ambitious pre-publication tour is intended to create buzz for his new titles, the buzz is not showing up on Google; there are plenty of speaking previews, no speaking reviews.

The books in question are Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief (October 7, 2008) and Abraham Lincoln: Presidential Life (February 1, 2009).

For the crowd hitting each other with water balloons to learn about history, these will no doubt be challenging works filled with fresh insights. For the rest of us, indications are not so good.

The publisher's description of Presidential Life suggests that we have here a synthesis of best-selling Lincoln books. Why not? As a coach once told me, "Keep doing what works for you."

We have no publisher's description on Amazon for Tried by War, but summaries do appear here and here. This book stakes a claim to novelty: the idea that Lincoln developed the role of commander-in-chief. I will match Polk against Lincoln in this, precedent by precedent; nevertheless I am jealous beause McPherson has beat me to half of the story I have long wanted to tell.

The role of the general-in-chief needs an historian. Its birth and then long disfigurement during the Scott incumbency is important history; McClellan's attempt to revive it, likewise; and its stunning diminution under Halleck, Grant, Sherman, Sheridan, and Schofield beg to be analyzed.

Any general-in-chief analysis is the flip side of the commander-in-chief coin. The two need to be considered together. As I mistrust McPherson's powers of analysis, his historical knowledge, and his impartiality, I expect this book to pollute a what could have been a pristine spring of inquiry.

But I could be wrong.

It could also be that McPherson has more Bicentennial titles in the works than we know of and that he could overtake Holzer for the title, "Greatest number of publishing opportunities seized during a public commemoration."

The race is on!

(Hat tip to Russell Bonds for alerting me to these forthcoming titles.)