Monday, September 28, 2009

"War Like the Thunderbolt" - HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

When a writer's debut book (or the first book you've read, anyway) makes an impression on you, you naturally look forward to their next one. Recently, I've felt that way about nonfiction authors like James D. Hornfischer, whose Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors had me waiting (not so patiently) for his Ship of Ghosts. Likewise, novelists like Matthew Pearl and Louis Bayard - with debuts like The Dante Club and Mr. Timothy had me looking forward to their follow-ups The Poe Shadow and The Pale Blue Eye.

So it was with my anticipation of Russell S. Bonds' War Like the Thunderbolt: The Battle and Burning of Atlanta, after reading his first book, Stealing the General: The Great Locomotive Chase and the First Medal of Honor.

I recently finished War Like the Thunderbolt and all I can say is: WONDERFUL!

A quick - but important - disclaimer: I'm not your ordinary reader of Russell Bonds' books. He has been a kind and faithful correspondent for a few years now and has provided important advice for my own research and writing. Mr. Bonds was kind enough to mention me in the Acknowledgments of Thunderbolt, for pointing him to some sources relative to medical aspects of the book. With the disclaimer aside, I can still safely declare that Thunderbolt is indeed...WONDERFUL!

In many ways, Thunderbolt is a fitting sequel to Stealing the General, in no small part because the Georgia and Tennessee railroad networks are important strategic points in both books. As Atlanta played an important part in the trials of the raiders involved in the Great Locomotive Chase in Stealing the General, so is the city a very important player - a major "character," even - in Thunderbolt. Indeed, he begins the book by describing what most people (think they) know about the battle and burning of Atlanta: the dramatic burning scene in the film Gone With the Wind.

As for the battles of Atlanta, Bonds uses just the right amount of detail to avoid the minutiae that sometimes plagues battle narratives. Many people like the tactical detail, and that's fine. I don't have the patience for it. For my part, I very much enjoy small unit actions (company-level and smaller, even) when it comes to reading about WWII and other modern wars, but for the Civil War, brigade-level (and in the rare case, regimental-level) detail, suits me just fine. Thunderbolt mostly maintains this level, which - with excellent maps - makes following the battles easy, indeed.

Among the more interesting consideration to which he gives attention are the feuds - on both sides - engendered by petty arguments over promotion and rank, with generals resigning over the principle of "self-respect." The fact the resignations were almost uniformly accepted without reservation suggests that - in sports parlance - most of the resignations were "addition by subtraction."

If Bonds doesn't "rehabilitate" the wartime reputation of Confederate general John Bell Hood, he does treat him fairly, and makes a good case that he was not a "hard-fighting simpleton" but uses his orders and correspondence to prove otherwise.

Naturally, Union general William T. Sherman is also a major character and Bonds fairly - but thoroughly - assesses Sherman's decision-making in the expulsion of Atlanta's citizenry and the burning of the city.

The closing anecdote - which I won't give away - is easily the eeriest ending to any Civil War book I have ever read.

Well done, Russell Bonds, and I look forward to what comes next!


Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more. I too just finished "War Like the Thunderbolt" and thought it was one of the best written CW books I have ever read.

Bill Gurley

Russell Bonds said...

Thanks very much, Jim, for the review and your support. And Bill, I appreciate your kind words and am very pleased that you enjoyed the book. Would you consider posting a review on Thanks and regards, Russell Bonds

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