The book features nearly four hundred big, glossy pages, filled with high quality photographs and images. An explanatory caption accompanies each artifact, and all 150 entries contain a brief essay, similar to an interpretive label in a museum. The book, as Michelle Delaney writes in its introduction, is "an exhibit between hard covers," designed to trace the full course of a national tragedy - from the growing divide on slavery through Reconstruction and the war's memory - using the best pieces from our national collection.
I'm impressed by the diversity of the material culture on display. This book is far more than a collection of guns, swords, and uniforms. The artifacts tell the story of the Civil War with broad strokes, encompassing the topics of slavery, abolitionism, politics, the armies, the homefront, women at war, technology, and many more. Just like a museum exhibit, the book invites browsing and careful reading alike, and I've done a bit of both.
|This blood-stained map powerfully tells the story of Bleeding Kansas. From the Collection of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.|
|Abraham Lincoln's Pocket Watch. From the Smithsonian Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center.|
These are just two of an array of incredible pieces from the National Collection highlighted. If you are like me, and you appreciate the power objects have to convey meaningful stories, you will enjoy this book.