I had sworn off commenting on James McPherson's books in the last half-year. Hat tip to Drew for alerting me to this forthcoming navies volume on which I had speculated previously in this space. To close the loop, a letter to McPherson's publisher is in order, and I have written that and posted it here.
Gallagher is a great enough acquisitions editor to understand the danger that a McPherson book on Civil War navies represents.
At worst, it presents an attempt to usurp the insights and analysis of those who have preceded him. At best (the best we can hope for from this author) it will be a fully credited "retelling" of ACW naval history with entertaining anecdotes.
As hostile as I am to McPherson's deplorable corpus, I don't begrudge him a mindless, pointless, entertaing retelling of naval history. Nor do I begrudge him future multiple prizes for his "brilliant" work as the new "pre-eminent" naval historian. Many will worship at his new, nautical altar. I truly believe - truly - McPherson is uniquely qualified to write an authoritatively useless synthesis of Civil War naval history that no one needs and that everyone will praise.
My special concern regards McPherson's editor, Gary Gallagher. We need him to stop McPherson from ripping off the writers who preceded him.
In this, I am personally willing to help. I promise to review McPherson's printed word in order to track every lifted meme, every stolen phrase, every unattributed quote, every purloined insight, every piece of chicanery that gets by Dr. Gary Gallagher. I will invite readers to report on the same topic. We will have a McPherson expose extravaganza.
This sounds like a threat but it shouldn't. I do trust Editor Gary Gallagher as much as I distrust Author Gary Gallagher. I think the author (weak stuff) got finagled into a book deal that the editor (stern stuff) dislikes.
Giving McPherson a swing at naval history makes no sense except potentially in sales. Unless you are networking with him or looking for a book prize...
My secret hope is that in the seven years since this project was announced, Editor Gary Gallagher has been struggling to bring integrity and decency to an author who is used to having his own way in all things and at all times. This is an author (McPherson) who defended the indefensible DK Goodwin in the midst of her plagiarism scandal. He recently wrote a tiny book on Lincoln, acknowledged not a single Lincoln scholar, and got away with it, even winning prizes for it. Lincoln scholars rolled over and nobody scratched their stomachs.
We deep Civil War readers are made of sterner stuff than Lincoln scholars (any day), we are brighter stuff than the Ken Burns fans who haunt our bookshelves, and we are more demanding stuff than the generic nonfiction bookbuyer who is intended to cop McPherson's latest.
My hope is that it has been seven years of Gallagher the editor fighting McPherson the author. That is my hope. I am willing to bet on Editor Gallagher's integrity based on the quality of books UNC has released under his purview. I am fearful but confident. UNC has published good stuff under Gallagher's editorship. Getting McPherson into the "good" column is a task of more years than seven.
Let us see what we will see. My money is on Gallagher.