HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Author: MacKinlay Kantor
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers, republished in 1987
Related website: www.randomhouse.com/kids (publisher)
Language level: 3
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Reading level: Ages 9 and up
Rating: 5 stars (EXCELLENT)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Kantor, MacKinlay. Gettysburg (originally published in 1952 by Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House Inc., New York City, NY). Most everyone has a reasonably good, if only rudimentary, knowledge of what happened at Gettysburg, PA, during the American Civil War. After deciding to take the war to northern territory with the hope that a decisive victory would tip the balance for the South, Confederate General Robert E. Lee led his Army of Northern Virginia to the sleepy little Pennsylvania town of Gettysburg where, on July 1 through 3, it met Union Major General George Gordon Meade’s Army of the Potomac. During the battle, which had the largest number of casualties in the Civil War, the Federals defeated attacks by the Southern troops in what became a turning point for the North, causing Lee to make a torturous retreat back to Virginia. President Lincoln’s visit there the following November to participate in the dedication of a National Cemetery for burying those who died in battle was the occasion for his famous “Gettysburg Address.”
In this book, one of the original Landmark series of best-selling children’s historical books, author MacKinlay Kantor relates the story of the Battle of Gettysburg as if he were writing a novel. He tells how the citizens of this quiet town peered from their windows in terror as strange, gray-clad soldiers came striding down their streets. Then he describes the three bloody days of fighting, with great detail about the preparation, the battle, and the cleanup, separating fact from fiction. Finally, he talks about the impact that the battle had on the people in that part of Pennsylvania. The original edition had excellent pen and ink illustrations by artist Donald McKay, but these are omitted in the paperback reprint. The descriptions of the fighting and its aftermath are accurate but tasteful and never gratuitous. The phrases “hell to pay” and “for God’s sake” are found in quotations. Otherwise, there is nothing objectionable—just good history interestingly told. The book ends with an account of Lincoln’s trip to the battle site and his “Gettysburg Address.”
Benjamin McKinlay (Mack) Kantor (1904–1977) was an American journalist, novelist, and screenwriter who was born and grew up in Webster City, IA. After attending the local schools, he married Florence Irene Layne and began writing numerous crime stories and mysteries for pulp fiction magazines to make a living for his family, later moving to New Jersey. One of his early novels, Long Remember (1934), was set at the Battle of Gettysburg. In all, he wrote more than thirty novels, several set during the American Civil War, including his Pulitzer Prize winning 1955 novel Andersonville about the Confederate prisoner of war camp. After serving as a war correspondent during World War II, he arranged an intensive period of research with the New York City Police Department for his short crime novels. Also he wrote the screenplay for 1950 film noir Gun Crazy and even acted in the 1958 film Wind Across the Everglades. In the Nov. 22, 1960, issue of Look magazine, Kantor published a fictional alternate history account entitled “If the South Had Won the Civil War” which was published in 1961 as a book. Kantor’s last novel was Valley Forge (1975), and he died at the age of 73 of a heart attack in 1977, at his home in Sarasota, FL.