He is currently reading Ron Chernow’s biography of George Washington. The last “great book” he read was James Oakes, Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States. He believes that Bernard Bailyn, David Brion Davis, Gordon Wood, Eric Foner, David McCullough, and David Hackett Fischer are the best historians writing today. He endorses John Hope Franklin’s From Slavery to Freedom as the best book ever written on African-American history. C. Vann Woodward’s Origins of the New South is the book that has had the most influence on his career as an American historian. If he could assign Barack Obama one book it would be Doris Kearns Goodwin’s The Bully Pulpit. If he was hosting a literary dinner party he would invite Mark Twain, John Dos Passos, and William Faulkner. He is embarrassed that he has not yet read A. Scott Berg’s biography of Woodrow Wilson.
*New York Times* Interview With James McPherson
Read about these things and more in this interview with noted Civil War historian James McPherson.
By the way, he has a new book out: Embattled Rebel: Jefferson Davis as Commander in Chief.
Ryan Ross says
What do you think about him regarding Oakes's Freedom National so highly?
It is considered to have very low explanatory power at my institution.
John Fea says
Good question, Ryan. I really don't know. I haven't read the book, but have read some reviews that praised its compelling narrative. Somtimes good narratives lack the kind of “explanatory power” that most academics want out of a history book.