Review: “Rebel Yell” by S. C. Gwynne

downloadRebel Yell: The Violence, Passion and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson by S. C. Gwynne. 672 pages. Simon and Schuster. 

If you were to take a look at my yearly goal of 30 books that I posted on Goodreads, you’d see that the vast majority of books I’ve read so far this year (and I am ahead of my goal so far) are novels of one sort or another. It’s the rare nonfiction book that catches my attention. But once in a while I find one–such as the book on brain physiology that I reviewed last week–that catches my fancy. This is another in that category.

I’ve always wanted to know more about Stonewall Jackson, the hero of so many Confederate victories in the American Civil War. But most of these biographies tend to try to be comprehensive rather than focus on what the typical reader is really interested in. They spend immense amounts of time on their childhood, who their parents and relatives were, where they went to school, etc. That’s interesting, but not as interesting as how and why he got his infamy and nickname.

The author seems to be aware of this tendency, and spends less than 10 percent of the book on his growing up years and the time he spent as a professor at the Virginia Military Institute. This is important to know, but I’m grateful that the majority of the book is on his time as a general.

I’m also grateful that the author was truly objective in his portrayal of Jackson and the other Confederate and Union generals and other officers. He shows the brilliance that took Jackson to victory and fame, but he showed Jackson’s shortcomings as well. He shares Jackson’s mistakes, as well as those of Robert E. Lee, which we don’t hear much about.

Finally, I felt the book’s best contribution was putting a human touch on the facts and statistics that often come with studying history, and more specifically, a war. This is good reading, and the 672 pages kept my attention and went by fast. I give this book five out of five stars.