Book Review: Smithsonian Civil War: Inside the National Collection edited by Neil Kagan & Stephen Hyslop

[FULL DISCLOSURE: I received my copy of this book free from the author. I was not paid for this review and the opinion expressed is purely my own]

Smithsonian Civil War: Inside the National Collection is an amazing look at the Civil War Era holdings of what many people call America’s Attic.

The book itself is a large coffee-table glossy format and is 368 pages long with an object list and index.  Each section starts with an explanatory note about the objects chosen to illuminate the theme.  This is essentially a museum in a book.

The sheer variety of items presented in this volume is amazing.  What makes it especially interesting is that many of these are items that are in storage because the Smithsonian simply does not have the display space for everything they hold.  One of the best things about museums are the artifacts, which tell stories in themselves.  I have always had a sense of wonder and awe when I visit museums and see items that were there when great events happened.  This book is full of such items.  The array of items shown in the book is amazing in itself from the Death Mask of Lincoln to a Union soldier’s picture frame made from a piece of the ubiquitous hardtack that soldiers lived on during campaigns.

This is not a book that you will pick up once, look through and then put down to never pick back up.  This is a book that you will keep in your living room and pick up at random to look at pieces of American history.  This book is not only worth buying for personal use, it would make an excellent gift for someone who has even a token interest in the Civil War.  I highly recommend this book for both history buffs and those uninterested in history as it presents the opportunity to introduce people to a seminal period of American history and awakening an interest in not just American History but history in general.