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My new holiday tradition is to listen to an audio book over Christmas Eve and Day. This year, I chose what I thought would be a unique take on one of my favourite topics: Jay Winik’s chronicle of the last big month of the Civil War. I’m disappointed to give this book (or lecture series, as it really is) such a weak review, as the structure of Winik’s history is fantastic: The course of the Civil war is presented in retrospect from April, 1865, as the war peaks and wanes. Unfortunately, the author’s command of English is less in evidence than his command of history – his lecturing style is appalling. He has a tendency to sentimentality, often throwing in anecdotes (nicked in their entirety from polished storytellers like Shelby Foote) which are invariably telegraphed with a preface about their “poignancy”. Winik also embellishes with repeated phrases that, rather than creating the poignancy he so clearly desires, simply add to the impression of a poorly written, padded high school essay. A failing grade from me, I’m afraid, and a big (poignant) thumbs-down to boot.

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