Friday, July 10, 2015

Book Review: Battle Lines: A Graphic History of the Civil War

I picked this up to see if I should recommend it to my early-teen kids and ended up engrossed for myself. The basic idea is of seeing the Civil War through the lens (in one case literally) of ordinary objects. The graphic novel medium is used incredibly well, with the only problems coming when more exposition is needed to connect the dots, or in the case of the second episode, when trying to cram 100 years of legal history into a dozen pages. You won't get a bird's-eye view of the war from this, you'll get snapshots -- but some of the snapshots are incredibly moving. A graphic panel is worth 1000 words. One episode in particular uses the triptych style to tell three stories in parallel and accomplishes what no other medium can. It's a slight mixed bag, and if you're familiar with Civil War documentaries and movies, some of the episodes essentially recapitulate those. But a large majority of the episodes are creative, insightful, and tragic. I can only hope that the makers of this can return to the era and fill in more episodes based around other objects in the future. This is a fantastic way to teach and learn.

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