Lens of War, edited by J. Matthew Gallman and Gary W. Gallagher, is both a book of beautiful pictures and haunting pictures. It is a book of history and present day and people's stories. It is a book that will bring those who haven't seen many pictures of the Civil War right into the action, but give those who have a deeper understanding of them.
Gallman and Gallagher have compiled essays written by people about one photograph from the Civil War that has some meaning to them, that has touched them in some way, or sparked curiosity in them. Each writer brings their own take of these photographs into their essay. This gives the reader a wide variety of photographs to look at and a bevy of information to read. And yet, it is not overwhelming and does not seem like too much. These snippets of the Civil War that come to us in each essay are informative, passionate, and interesting.
Lens of War is broken up into the following sections: Leaders, Soldiers, Civilians, Victims, and Places.
The first essay, in what seems quite fitting, is a portrait of Abraham Lincoln. This portrait seems to be the compilation of two pictures - the right half of the face different from the left half. Which draws the viewer right into the picture and sparks the imagination. Harold Holzer has been taken with this picture for most of his life and now investigates why the picture wasn't more widely circulated when it was originally taken. Though this we go down a path that link photography with paintings and sculptures.
In another essay, by Carol Reardon, we learn about the pensions that were given to fallen and injured soldier's families. $8.00 monthly to the families of fallen enlisted men. $8.00 that was hard to come by and hard to get. $8.00 for the whole family, regardless of if it was just a mother, or a wife, or a wife with 8 children to feed. For me, this was fascinating as it was a part of the war I had never learned about before.
Of course, the most haunting images come in the victims section. The pictures here strike right to the core. The reality of the war - which took a great toll on so many people. You want to skim through the section as quickly as possible, and yet, you can't look away. This is what war is. Even with abolition of slavery, there was a high price to pay. Worth it? Yes. But one we should acknowledge and these pictures and essays give us space and time to do that.
Overall, I felt this book was fabulous. I could stare at the photographs for hours. And yet the essays give me a chance to explore the photo deeper, to learn more about the Civil War and to get it from the perspective of quite a few people. I believe this book would be a great read for anyone: those who love to read about the Civil War and to study it more in-depth and those who just want a taste of it.
*Note: I was given an e-copy of this book through NetGalley with the express intent that I would review it. However, as always, all thoughts and opinions are my own!.