Skip to main content

Cannonball Read #24 (5K Book 3 -- Biography): American Scoundrel: The Life of Notorious Civil War General Dan Sickles by Thomas Keneally

This book is a fascinating look at a person who could either be considered a national hero or an irredeemable asshole.

This is the story of Dan Sickles, a native New Yorker who was brought up through the Tammany system. Although not well-remembered today, Sickles was a dynamic, popular, and very gossip-worthy figure of his time. His connections to Tammany Hall were definitely not entirely honest, but he often used them to accomplish good things, like the establishment of Central Park, and many years later would head the effort to preserve the battlefield at Gettysburg.. He served in the US government, and became friends with many powerful people, including the Lincolns. Sickles was also (as mentioned in the title) a general during the Civil War, fighting on behalf of the Union, despite his pre-war Southern sympathies. His actions at Gettysburg--moving his troops ahead of the planned position and onto higher ground--could have resulted in Union disaster but instead led to victory. However, the most dramatic episode in Sickles's life came when he went on trial for shooting down his young wife's lover (son of Francis Scott Key, the anthem writer) on a sunny Washington street. His trial would be the first time "Temporary Insanity" would be used as a legal defense in the USA.

The life of Dan Sickles is packed full of adventure and heroics, but the author never turns away from showing the downside of Sickle's personality--his tantrums, his philandering, his arrogance, and his neglect of his family. It seems to be a relatively fair description of the man, with many details pulled from historical record. However, I found the style slightly lacking. It often felt sort of "And then this happened. And then this happened. And we think this happened, but we can't be sure." Sometimes it felt more like a report than a story. However, on the whole I enjoyed it. I love finding out about forgotten historical figures. I'd recommend it to anyone with an interest in Civil War history.

Fun Fact: Sickles had his leg horribly injured by a cannonball at the battle of Gettysburg. The leg was amputated and the bones sent to the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington D.C. He visited the leg for many years on the anniversary of its removal, and kept a photo of it in his home until his death. The leg is still on display at the museum for public view.


Popular posts from this blog

CR3 #30: The First Wives Club by Olivia Goldsmith

I saw the movie of The First Wives Club before I read the book. It's a cute chick flick, in which scorned women take comedic revenge on their former spouses. They become better friends and everyone winds up happy in the end. I was somewhat surprised (though not much--the differences between film and literature are often wide) at how different the book was--I am used to changes in plot or small character changes (combining two characters into one, or perhaps changing to a more pleasant ending) but the major change here between novel and movie was the tone.

The story is basically the same; After a close friend's suicide, three middle-aged female friends get together and beginning reviewing their lives. They realize that much like their late friend, they have been screwed over by the men in their lives--the men used them to get to their high social and financial positions, then screwed them over both personally and financially. The three women decide to use their wits and their co…

CR3 # 17: Mount Misery by Samuel Shem

Mount Misery is the sequel to Samuel Shem's first book, House of God (review here). It follows Dr. Roy Basch as he leaves the House of God and moves to psychiatric hospital Mount Misery to begin his psychiatric residency. Unfortunately, it turns out that psychiatrists are just as crazy, confused, and often detrimental as medical doctors. As Dr. Basch cycles through the various sectors of the hospital (talk therapy, admissions, Freudian Analysis, drug therapy) he is horrified to discover that it seems everything he is being taught is not only wrong, but potentially dangerous. He begins to fall into terrible patterns of behavior, mirroring the problems his patients are having. Each area is worse than the last, with one doctor who thinks the best way to treat is to be aggressively hostile, one who cares only about insurance premiums and efficiency, one who treats with silence and "regression," and one who thinks the only viable treatment is to pump every patient full of exp…

CBR9 #5 Borgin Keep by Ron Ripley

I've read the entire Berkeley Street series, as well as the Haunted series, and I think this was definitely one of the better offerings. This time, former Marine Shane and his slowly growing band of willing (and unwilling) ghost hunting allies face their biggest challenge yet. While the ghosts of Borgin Keep are both very dangerous and very evil, Shane also must keep one step ahead of The Watchers, a ruthless and powerful organization who find him to be a threat to their shadowy goals.

As always, for me the best part are the characters. Shane and his ghost-hunting partner Frank (a former soldier/former monk) are joined once again by police detective Marie LaFontaine, who is a very tough woman determined to avenge a dead friend. I'm not as fond of Shane's girlfriend Courtney, but I understand her uses as far as character development.

The plot moves along quickly, and I found this book a little better fleshed out than a few of the previous ones in the series -- while I enjoye…