Lens of War grew out of an invitation to leading historians of the Civil War to select and reflect upon a single photograph. Each could choose any image and interpret it in personal and scholarly terms. The result is a remarkable set of essays by twenty-seven scholars whose numerous volumes on the Civil War have explored military, cultural, political, African American, women’s, and environmental history.
The essays describe a wide array of photographs and present an eclectic approach to the assignment, organized by topic: Leaders, Soldiers, Civilians, Victims, and Places. Readers will rediscover familiar photographs and figures examined in unfamiliar ways, as well as discover little-known photographs that afford intriguing perspectives. All the images are reproduced with exquisite care. Readers fascinated by the Civil War will want this unique book on their shelves, and lovers of photography will value the images and the creative, evocative reflections offered in these essays.
While many of the well-chosen images will be recognizable to even the casual Civil War scholar, there are a few obscure images presented as well. It is also amazing to see how much information can be divulged from some seemingly simple images such as the dead horse of a general.
—Tom Elmore, Blue & Gray Magazine
Lens of War
isn’t intended for coffee tables. . . . It is not so much a collection of Civil War photographs as a book about the insight photography brings to our understanding of the war. . . . The photographs in Lens of War
are doorways to lives long past; the words walk us through their worlds.
—Allen Barra, America's Civil War Magazine
A brilliant starting point for truly understanding the Civil War.
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
This collection of images, many of them familiar to Civil War enthusiasts,were selected to serve as a jumping-off point for the essays of twenty-seven scholars on topics suggested by the photos. The photos, topics, and essays are an eclectic mix. By themselves, many of the photos would seem unremarkable, but the often brilliantly written essays compel the reader to view the photos with a fresh perspective. . . . Together, the photos and essays make a superb addition to Civil War collections.
Lens of War
is refreshingly episodic and individualized, with the best essays being deeply personal, Montaignean explorations of why the war still matters to individuals today.
—Kenyon Gradert, Los Angeles Review of Books
Lens of War
meets the promise of the simple observation that prompted its creation. Additionally, this book provides an excellent analysis of representative images. Perhaps most importantly however, these timeless photographs are the central focus of this volume—a rare event among academics.
—Military Images magazine
The UnCivil Wars series . . . describes itself as 'dedicated to new ways of seeing and telling the American Civil War.' Lens of War
actually manages to tell the war by
seeing it. Moreover, it illuminates not only how photographs shape our understandings and memories of the war, but also how we teach it, and how images—even in black and white—will always hold a special power the written world alone simply cannot supply. With all of this in mind, the book is highly recommended to historians of photography and visual culture (it even includes a very helpful resource on Civil War photographic histories), but for historians of the Civil War it is—without question—a must read.
—Matthew C. Hulbert, Civil War Monitor
This fascinating volume . . . offers powerful insights into history and historians. . . . Lens of War
is a sometimes moving and always enjoyable book to read.
—Lawrence Kreiser Jr., The Journal of Southern History
This book changes the way we see the American Civil War. By looking intently at photographs - some familiar and some rarely seen - these expert interpreters reveal aspects of the war visible in no other way. The elegant essays, like the images they examine, are windows into fascinating lives.
—Edward L. Ayers, President, University of Richmond
The pioneering cameramen of the Civil War wrought shocking images that stir and haunt us still. Lens of War
is likewise groundbreaking, an album of essays that mines 1860s photographs for new insight into the war and its memory. Images I’ve stared at since boyhood—and others I’d never seen—come into fresh focus through the scholarly yet personal gaze of leading historians. This revelatory and highly readable book will captivate new and longtime students of the Civil War alike.
—Tony Horwitz, author of Confederates in the Attic and Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War
We view Alexander Gardner’s famous 1865 close-up portrait of Lincoln, Mathew Brady’s portrait of Ulysses S. Grant in 1864 after the Battle of Cold Harbor, Robert E. Lee on his horse Traveler, and Jeb Stuart in Confederate finery; in the accompanying essays we witness the rapture that these figures continue to cultivate in contemporary viewers. . . . Reading such entries, one is constantly reminded of the Roland Barthes’s claim that photographs can carry a punctum, the tiny, almost-incidental details within pictures that rivet the gaze and become deeply mesmerizing and achingly personal.
—Anthony W. Lee, The Journal of American History