Under the Radar

A Fresh Take on the Civil War

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Harold Holzer went through the collection of the New-York Historical Society and used what he found inspired him to write The Civil War in 50 Objects. Holzer has written or edited more than forty books on Lincoln and the Civil War era, so he knows as well as anyone how hard it is to bring new perspective to our nation's most-studied era.

The book includes fifty essays inspired by items in the Society's collection. Holzer examines these objects (slave shackles, a print of Lincoln writing the Emancipation Proclamation, an entry ticket for the 1864 Metropolitan Fair) and explains how they relate to the broader history of the Civil War.

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One of the highlights is the chapter on the Draft Wheel. A large wooden barrel that looks like a super-sized version of the  modern lottery tumbler, the society's machine includes hundreds of filled-out draft cards. Holzer's essay describes the conscription process in detail and gives a good account of the 1863 draft riots.

There's no pretense of giving a comprehensive timeline of the era, but the stories collectively give a great perspective on the Civil War. All of the essays are concise, so the book's easy to digest a chapter at a time. This one would make a great gift for anyone interested in the era.

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