Latest Civil War battle is in the nation's bookstores

October 01, 1990|By N.Y. Times News Service

After taking public television by storm with the recent series on PBS, the Civil War is now cutting a swath through the nation's bookstores.

More than 75 stores nationwide already specialize in Civil War books, but now many general bookstores -- including the Doubleday Book Shop on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan -- are adding Civil War sections.

One of the fastest-selling books in any category is the companion volume to the television series -- "The Civil War: An Illustrated History" by Geoffrey C. Ward with Ric Burns and Ken Burns, published by Alfred A. Knopf. After an initial printing of 150,000 copies, there are now 300,000 in print.

The book is also a main selection of the Book of the Month Club.

But dozens of other titles about the United States' most self-destructive war have recently been published or are headed for the printing presses.

Many publishers are ordering new print runs for their most popular Civil War titles.

And books on the subject that have been out of print for years are being dusted off in hopes of cashing in on the latest national obsession.

Vintage Books, for example, received so many orders for Shelby Foote's trilogy on the Civil War after the author's appearances on the PBS series that it is going back to press for another printing.

And Little, Brown & Co. is planning its first paperback editions of two books by Bruce Catton originally published in the 1960s: "Grant Moves South" and "Grant Takes Command."

"Interest in the Civil War has been increasing for about the last five years," said Charles Elder of Elder's Book Store in Nashville, which stocks some 17,000 books and pamphlets on the war. "But it's higher right now than it has ever been."

That observation is seconded by Pauline Peterson, the owner of the Conflict Bookshop in Gettysburg, Pa. "It seems that everybody's interested in the war," she said. "Your personal narratives and human-interest stories appeal more to women, and the battles and statistical books appeal to men."

A new reference work that appeals to both, she said, is The Civil War Battlefield Guide edited by Frances H. Kennedy, a project of the non-profit Conservation Fund published by Houghton Mifflin Co.

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