A warning about Russel Beatie's ARMY OF THE POTOMAC

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sove...@techie.com

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Feb 26, 2005, 4:02:09 PM2/26/05
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I was excited to finally get Vol. 1 of Beatie's ARMY OF THE POTOMAC
series. But having read two hundred pages potential readers of this
book should be warned. Beatie is just not a good writer. More than that
he is sloppy.

What do I mean? Well, he writes very choppy sentences. If you are used
to the grace and elegance of a Stephen Sears be prepared for rougher
waters ahead. He plainly is an average writer.

But it is more than just style that hurts this book. Beatie is clearly
overwhelmed by the amount of material he is covering. He simply doesn't
know how to organize the vast amount of information he has compiled. As
a result the story is very difficult to follow. The reader is
introduced to a seemingless endless number of characters who are
introduced hap-hazardlessly. The chronology and narrative is often lost
as the author meanders unevenly around the larger story.

There is also repetition in this book. For instance, at the beginning
of the book a half-page capsule biography on each of the main
characters is given. Then that material is essentially copy-and-pasted
into the chapters when the character is introduced as part of the
narrative. Why he wouldn't put the capsule biography one plane or the
other, but not both, is beyond me.

Finally, unforgivable, there is an amazing number of typographical
errors. He misspells secession as succession. Is that superficial?
Sure. Did I understand what he meant? Absolutely. But it is
disconcerting and unprofessional. How do I know he is not equally
sloppy and inattentive in his research? How can I trust the quotations
? Many books have typos. This one has an inordinate number, for which
both the author and the author's editor should be blamed.

Beatie's book is useful because it offers a new perspective, explores
new sources, and looks at unstudied events in great detail. That is
wonderful. I am actually learning a great deal. I plan to finish the
long book.

But merely having something useful to say is not enough. You also have
to be able to express yourself in an organized, clear, professional,
and precise manner.

I hope Beatie learns this lesson. I recommend this book to those who
want the nitty gritty details. But be prepared to read more slowly than
usual to compensate for the shoddy writing. And hope Beatie has learned
his lesson.

j...@ams.org

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Feb 26, 2005, 4:45:22 PM2/26/05
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sove...@techie.com wrote:

> Finally, unforgivable, there is an amazing number of typographical
> errors. He misspells secession as succession.

You've got to be kidding me. Does he do this once, twice, or
habitually? If the former, it's a forgiveable error, if the
latter it is (IMO) a fatal flaw.

JFE

sove...@techie.com

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Feb 26, 2005, 6:13:11 PM2/26/05
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Here's the citation

Paragraph Five, Page 92, the Army of the Potomac: Volume 1 - Birth of
Command (Hardcover edition)

"Although he was opposed to succession and deprecated war, he added, he
could take no part in an invasion of the Southern states..."

The sentence is describing R.E. Lee circa 1861. Obviously it should be
secession, not succession.

I should probably explain why I brought up this particular book
seemingly randomly. There was a thread this fall in which someone asked
about the book. One person raved about it. I just thought I'd add my
two cents. It's informative, but tough to read; not professional as one
expects of a good history book.

sove...@techie.com

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Feb 26, 2005, 6:29:38 PM2/26/05
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JFE:

I do not know if he misspells secession other times. I was not looking
for errors while I read and I am only about a third of the way through
this book in any case.

But more broadly, not just looking for the word secession, I have seen
other typographical errors. I didn't note them down so I can't cite
them, but they are there.

I agree that typos are forgivable in small quantity, but there is a
limit as well. Whether Beatie passes that line is subjective. We should
look to the editor too, not just Beatie. The editors are responsible
for oversight. Maybe both parties rushed too much to get this large
book (600 pages) to press.

I am not pointing out the typos for pedantic reasons. Sure, typos take
away some of the enjoyment of reading, but a reasonable person can work
around them (especially when the book is so large and contains so many
words!). But, as I indicated earlier, I personally judge the writing to
gain an idea of how painstaking and particular the author is. Does he
take the time to look over his work and smooth out his sentences? Does
he make sure his ideas are expressed clearly, that the narrative
connects into one whole story? I care about this because perhaps it
reveals something about the author's research habits. Did he
discriminate between sources and check for biases certain sources
might, which involves a sometimes time-consuming background check? Did
he copy down quotations precisely? Granted, the writing gives only a
partial idea of the author. One must look to the footnotes and
reference other sources. But it is a source I look at to judge
historians. So that's a long way of saying I care about spelling in
books but not for any superficial concern over spelling.

And now to be a coward I disclaim any liability over the above post if
it contains typos, incorrect grammar, or misspellings (I actually never
do proof-read internet posts; only formal writing, so there's an out!).

Brett

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Feb 26, 2005, 9:44:44 PM2/26/05
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I've heard this opinion on this particular book before and have been
warned by several knowledgeable people about that flaw. We had a
lengthy (for the Recommended ACW Reading Yahoo group anyway!)
discussion about Beatie's second book, and a little bit of conversation
on the first as well. I personally didn't have too much of a problem
with Beatie's style in the first book, but I haven't had a chance to
read the second one. In any case, here's a link to the first post in
that discussion.

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/recommended_ACW_reading/message/631

I think anyone looking to buy this book, or Beatie's first book for
that matter, will find it interesting. I'm pretty sure you would have
to sign up for that Yahoo group (Recommended ACW Reading), but I've
found it to be a good place to discuss both books I've read and books
I'm looking to buy.

Brett

dro...@gmail.com

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Mar 1, 2005, 6:30:56 PM3/1/05
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As one of the ardent proponents for this series, let me chime in with a
few comments. All of the original poster's comments have some or much
merit, nevertheless:

(1) Spelling errors. What you find are occasional homonyms (only) and
it is a little shock when that happens. Beatie is a high-powered
litigator; his specialty is winning large anti-tobacco judgements; such
people tend to "write" by dictating for transcription. I am sure the
errors are homonyms because he is dictating to an assistant who is
transcribing his speech. That's no excuse for DaCapo to have missed
homonym substitutions, however. I noticed about 3-4 of these in volume
2.

(2) In terms of clunky, I would say he is more fluent than Harsh, by
way of comparison. Actually I resent the fluency. I want analysis, not
literary flourishes; I don't want to be carried away with events: the
story is in the details of personal relationships and how people work
together to get huge tasks done. In terms of matching him against mere
entertainers like Sears, I would say "compare the endnotes" - not the
literary technique.

(3) I have some sympathy for those who have a feeling of "get on with
the story". I don't know how to put this in terms that any publisher
would feel comfortable promoting, but Beatie's books are filled with
arcana to delight those people who have done a great deal of primary
source research themselves and who are steeped in the nuances of early
war AoP. Incredibly rich stuff if, for example, you've ever wondered
why Barry was replaced by Hunt; Stoneman by Pleasanton; why Barnard had
it in for Mac; why McDowell was left in the mix; what the underlying
plan of D.C. fortifications tried to address; how the senior command
functioned before corps commands; what were the iterations of the
various war plans up until March '62, etc.

I don't know if this could be classified as a structural defect in the
project, it may produce a little "clunk" but these books are the
product of an imposition by other ACW writers; they wanted Beatie to
disgorge a lifetime of personal research amidst previously unused
sources before he dies. He's trying to do that.

(4) As the poster noted, the dramatis personae section does repeat
information from within the later text (or vice versa), however, it
also offers a rationale for why you should care about this person (as
well as Beatie's perspective on the figure vis a vis AOP history).
Perhaps it smacks of a more literary approach and misleads readers by
setting that expectation.

My sense is that most of the posters to this newsgroup like mucking
around in details and that this kind of reader will get a deep and
satisfying "gee whiz, didn't know that" treat on nearly every page of
Beatie's stuff.

Nevertheless, it occurred to me after boosting Beatie's AoP in this and
other forums, that I had done a disservice to that audience
specifically looking for a certain type of reading experience -
apologies to all such. Yes, this is a narrative, but the tempo is
downshifted to match the complexity (and novelty) of the underlying
material.

My own interest in the Civil War is centered on the people, their
interactions, their characters, the hands they were dealt, plus the
epic quality of the personal tragedy endured by every single major
personality of the war. Beatie suits my interests perfectly. The
quality of his research and his treatment of evidence is absolutely
delightful.

If, in browsing the volumes, the "fresh" component does not jump out at
you from any given page, this is not the author for you.

- Dimitri
http://cwbn.blogspot.com

sove...@techie.com

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Mar 2, 2005, 3:16:10 PM3/2/05
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Dimitri,

I do not believe this is an issue of whether or not people want
detail-filled writing as much as it is one of whether or not people
want more readable, less sloppy writing.

As I noted above I am enjoying the book for the events and characters
it covers. Few books deal exclusively with the Northern early war
period in the East. Few books cover the non-battle aspects of the AOP
period in depth. Beatie does both -- that is the main reason I bought
the book and still plan to buy future volumes. What he has and will
cover is a deep and rich subject to learn about. And I'm learning a lot
of new things which I find rewarding. If you look at my original post I
recommend the book to those who want the nitty gritty of the AOP.

But at the same time I do warn that Beatie needs to express his
narrative more clearly. My issue with Beatie has nothing to do with the
level of detail he offers. It has everything to do with the readability
and professionalism of his book. I definitely do not believe a book
filled with detail must naturally be difficult to read. The truly great
historian-writers maintain the complexity and embrace all details of
the events they are depicting while still making the narrative
moderately easy to follow. The details do not have to be dumped. Rather
the writing has to be properly organized and linking sentences have to
be properly developed and placed (joining the current page to a
previously mentioned character/event in as few words as possible to
trigger and connect the two things in the mind of the reader).

As for the actual writing, my point in bringing up Sears was not that
Sears is necessarily a better *author* (I know you damn the sourcing
and scholarship and accuracy of his books) but that he is a better
*writer*. Some people just naturally express their thoughts more
clearly than others. You may have issues with Sears the historian and
author, but in pure writing terms the likes of Sears are way ahead of
the likes of Beatie. This is, however, an entirely stylistic point. I
don't think Beatie's language is at all unclear (the organization of
his book is another matter but his language is clear), so Beatie gets
across what he wants to get across when he writes a senternce, just not
in a timeless way, which is worthy of noting as I did but not a
negative. Beatie's bigger and main problem is the organization of his
work in my opinion.

And another problem of Beatie's is that his work is somewhat sloppy.
Not so much so that the work loses merit -- certainly not -- but how
difficult would it have been for Beatie to re-read his book for proof
before its publication, or at least ordering and verifying someone else
did? And I think Beatie's sloppiness extends to his writing. As I
stated above I do not think Beatie's writing was unclear, just not
timeless. But I did notice that Beatie's writing was uneven. This is
largely subjective but I felt the first few pages of a section were
very well-written and highly professional and then the quality of the
next few pages sagged. Waht does this tell me? Beatie "tired" as he was
writing. He could have written an entire book of the higher quality but
instead wrote a more uneven book. It seems to me he rushed the book too
much; just my subjective opinion from a distance.

As for the dramatis personae section issue, I have to admit I do not
see much merit in any technique that entirely repeats (every single
word) from one section in the main text. But maybe I am just wrong. On
first blush I disliked it and simply skipped over the repeated text
once I reached in within the chapter; I had already read it when I
first started the book.

So I agree with you as for the merit of the scholarship Beatie brings
to the table. I disagree that clunkiness is a badge of honor and sign
of detail-rich writing. It's a sign of a less-than-ideally organized
book.

But this negative can be overcome surely. I have taken to copying down
the names of characters (other than the central ones) and the various
story off-roads on a notepad which I keep by my side as I read. When
Beatie meanders and swerves and moves from one story off-road and
secondary chracter to another I just look down at the notepad to recall
what I read earlier. We as humans, I have found, are fairly good at
storing information; but sometimes we need a trigger to bring a certain
piece of information to the fore. Maybe I am just stupid and a dumb
reader, but I found Beatie's book hard to follow because it didn't
adequately connect events and characters. But by reading the book more
slowly it is much easier to fully apprehend. My central point is the
book could have been organized and less sloppy. Maybe I am deficient
and alone in that view but all books could afford more careful
development so I doubt my advise regarding clarity would detract from
Beatie's future works.

Sorry for the long post.

dro...@gmail.com

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Mar 2, 2005, 5:57:42 PM3/2/05
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sovere...@techie.com wrote:
> I do not believe this is an issue of whether or not people want
detail-filled writing as much as it is one of whether or not people
want more readable, less sloppy writing.<

Fair enough; but you and I are going to slog through the amateurish
writing to get to the good stuff.

<snip>

>The truly great historian-writers maintain the complexity and embrace
all details of the events they are depicting while still making the
narrative moderately easy to follow.<

I'm thinking of Donald's mentor J.G. Randall, for instance. Let's agree
to blame his publisher for not taking better care of the general
editing issues while remembering that this is not a writer, although
there are places where he seems to aspire to good writing.

<snip>

> As for the actual writing, my point in bringing up Sears was not that
Sears is necessarily a better *author* (I know you damn the sourcing
and scholarship and accuracy of his books) but that he is a better
*writer*. Some people just naturally express their thoughts more
clearly than others. You may have issues with Sears the historian and
author, but in pure writing terms the likes of Sears are way ahead of
the likes of Beatie. This is, however, an entirely stylistic point.<

No argument from me.

<snip>

> And another problem of Beatie's is that his work is somewhat sloppy.
Not so much so that the work loses merit -- certainly not -- but how
difficult would it have been for Beatie to re-read his book for proof
before its publication, or at least ordering and verifying someone else
did? <

I think this is a problem for any man in a big hurry; this researcher,
Beatie, is not only disgorging what he knows into multiple volumes as
fast as he can, he's also preparing multi-billion dollar lawsuits in
which his own contingincy fees probably amount to scores of millions of
dollars. Time pressure, a non-writing background, priorities, these are
all working agaist the polish of the end-product, although that can be
managed with ghost writers, co-authors, and loving publishers (if there
is such a publisher!). And if he is not busy enough, he and Theodore
Savas have started their own publishing company.

<snip>

> I felt the first few pages of a section were very well-written and
highly professional and then the quality of the next few pages sagged.

What does this tell me? Beatie "tired" as he was writing.<

I agree. I see this a lot in other nofiction and it applies to the
starts and finishes of entire books, as well.

>He could have written an entire book of the higher quality but instead
wrote a more uneven book.<

I think it was a conscious choice, he is going for speed.

> So I agree with you as for the merit of the scholarship Beatie brings
to the table. I disagree that clunkiness is a badge of honor and sign
of detail-rich writing. It's a sign of a less-than-ideally organized
book.<

The issue may be that this is an analytical work jammed into narrative
form - a hybrid. Authors: be bold, ditch the narrative form! We already
know the narrative. Write critical historiographies instead - we'll buy
them!

But note that a refined historic sensibility can inhabit the mind of a
clunky stylist; and after a lifetime of "good reading" I am hungry for
good history and cherish it maybe to the point of distorting the
overall experience for others.

<snip>

> My central point is the book could have been organized and less
sloppy. Maybe I am deficient and alone in that view but all books could
afford more careful development so I doubt my advise regarding clarity
would detract from Beatie's future works.<

I would invite our readers to join in the discussion with their own
impressions:

http://www.armyofthepotomac.net/downloads_volume2.html

There's a little writing in this bibliography:

http://www.armyofthepotomac.net/vol2_bibliography.pdf

... and what do you know, Beatie actually addresses our thread in that
bibliography in some remarks about Nosworthy's Bloody Crucible of
Courage:

** The usual perfunctory plaudits graced this effort at the beginning
of the review, but they quickly disappeared in a blistering series of
meaningless but vituperative gripes about middle initials, first names,
and other irrelevant mistakes having nothing to do with Nosworthy's
historical theory. At the end the reviewer reached the tired old
conclusion used so often to crucify young lawyers in large firms for
the "typo:" if the proof reading has mistakes (if Nosworthy has
incorrect initials), the content must be deficient, especially the
analyses and conclusions (Nosworthy's historical theories stand are
unproven). To coin another phrase, "BS." **

Just so we know where Beatie stands on proofing...

Friendly greetings,

- Dimitri
http://cwbn.blogspot.com

Message has been deleted

sove...@techie.com

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Mar 2, 2005, 7:19:11 PM3/2/05
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Dimitri, thanks for the link to the Acrobat bibliography. That's very
apropos considering the contents of this thread. That and the
background information you provided on Mr. Beatie (practicing lawyer,
publishing company, time demands and pressure) explain much. I think
you hit the nail on the head in your first post: it's a good book but
it's also a certain kind of book.


I have no hesitation in recommending this series for those with a deep
interest in the AOP just as long as they know it is written by an
author who focuses on quickly publishing his work and developing the
substance of the book vice the presentation/style. Some people who do
not care much for the detail and are not interested in any deviation
from the traditional story arcs of the war won't like it. Others will
like it but wish it had been further refined (I think that's my view).
Some utterly delight in it (you and others). So it's a worthwhile book
for two out of three categories I suppose.


I've enjoyed this conversation on the book (I hope I disagreed without
being disagreeable) and have learned a great deal from reading your
posts (here and from the archives and from the blogl).

hj...@comcast.net

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Mar 3, 2005, 10:31:34 AM3/3/05
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Gee, I sure hope they correct the typo on the cover of Volume III:

"McClellan's Fist Camagne"

DaCapo never ceases to amaze.

Harry

Brett

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Mar 3, 2005, 10:58:58 AM3/3/05
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Harry,

You mean "McClellan's FiRst CamPagne" with an 'R' and a 'P' don't you?
I noticed the "Campagne" spelling myself. I figured there had to be a
story behind that, such as someone's (mis)spelling in a diary,
newspaper, or letter. Do you have any ideas on that one Dimitri? Or
is DaCapo really this bad at spelling?

Brett

slippymi...@yahoo.com

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Mar 3, 2005, 1:04:13 PM3/3/05
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An unrelated question... but do publishers and authors really think
that they get any benefit by writing a review of their own book and
posting it to Amazon via "AdvanceBookReviews.com?" From the
AdvanceBookReviews.com website:

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"The price of a Bronze posting is $39.95. This includes:

Text: A text-only description of your book provided by you (up to 2,500

characters);


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as you like!


Longevity: Your listing will be active within 24 hours for a six-month
period, or until six months after the date of release, whichever is
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------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

sove...@techie.com

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Mar 3, 2005, 2:42:42 PM3/3/05
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Maybe Beatie writing for a foreign audience, heh

Campagne de l'Armee du Potomac

hj...@comcast.net

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Mar 3, 2005, 6:31:00 PM3/3/05
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"McClellan's Fist Camagne"

Looks like I could use a proofreader myself!

Reminder to self: Always hit the "preview" button first. Starting
now.

Harry

ray o'hara

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Mar 3, 2005, 7:54:52 PM3/3/05
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hj...@comcast.net wrote:
> "McClellan's Fist Camagne"

> Reminder to self: Always hit the "preview" button first. Starting
> now.

i often say that to myself. somehow i keep forgetting.

roto...@mailcity.com

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Mar 4, 2005, 1:31:59 PM3/4/05
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sove...@techie.com wrote:
<snip>

> I've enjoyed this conversation on the book (I hope I disagreed
without
> being disagreeable) and have learned a great deal from reading your

> posts (here and from the archives and from the blog).

Thanks so much, me too, I hope everyone gives this material a chance,
as you have.

- Dimitri
http://cwbn.blogspot.com

roto...@mailcity.com

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Mar 4, 2005, 1:37:02 PM3/4/05
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Google is not showing me what you are responding to, Brett.

But I noticed this title typo on the mock-up of volume II's cover; If
DaCapo mocked up the cover, it's their typo, for sure. Not also
"Campaign" should stand for "Campagne."

(A couple of years ago, the principal Da Capo editors left before a
round of mergers - they were the Civil War buffs responsible for
re-issuing Young Napoleon and other titles. Someone told me they were
starting a new publishing concern. Don't know what happened there.
After a hiatus, DaCapo is now going great guns with the ACW again.
Wonder if they returned.)

scott s.

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Mar 4, 2005, 8:29:31 PM3/4/05
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dro...@gmail.com wrote in news:1109804262.393797.145960
@o13g2000cwo.googlegroups.com:

Actually, I clipped it all but trying to keep this in thread context:

I ahve a little bit of trouble figuring out what Beatties's conclusions
are. I'll give a couple examples:

1. He gives a rundown of various "pools" from which high commanders of
the AoP are drawn, but he doesn't really give his idea of the relative
importance, or if there wasn't any, why that was. I get the impression
that selection was random from the way he expresses it. But I don't
think that is really what he wants to say.

2. Stone. In Vol I he is put out as the savior of Washington, in Vol II
he is hung out by the Radicals as a traitor. So, which was it? Or were
the officers from the "West Point" pool tone deaf? Or did he really have
latent secesh tendencies? Or was he incompetent, and this was seen as
tratorous by those with other agendas?

In both of these, ISTM the reader is left to draw his own conclusions.

scott s.
.

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