Book Review: March by E. L. Doctorow


March by E. L. Doctorow

This month’s selection for “When Johnny Comes Marching Home: A Civil War Book  Discussion” was March by E. L. Doctorow, not to be confused with Geraldine Brooks’ March.

I selected this book because of the accolades it has received: Pen/Faulkner Award and National Book Critics Circle Award. It was also a New York Times Bestseller. I had given the audiobook version to my husband to listen to, and he could not get past the first three discs. This did not bode well for my own listening of this book.

March tells the story of Sherman’s imfamous march through Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina during 1864 and into 1865. There is a rather large, colorful, and diverse cast of characters, led by William Tecumsah Sherman himself. Doctorow does an excellent job incorporating people from all “walks of life” into this story: freed slaves, Southern women, Confederate and Union soldiers, and even a British journalist. However, there were almost too many characters. At some point I lost track of who was where when and what happened to them. Some people stayed behind on different parts of the march and we never heard from them again. After a time, you wondered, “Hey, what happened to…?” and you never found out.

This book is not for the queasy or faint at heart, as there are graphic war scenes, including mass rape, killing of prisoners of war, drowning of freed slaves, and the burning of entire cities. If you’re expecting a nice, wholesome story, you won’t find it here. This is a realistic account of what actually happened during Sherman’s march to the sea. You’ll learn a lot and gain insight into a much maligned man.

Whether you love or hate Sherman and can or can’t justify his actions during the Civil War, one has to admit that he greatly helped end the Civil War and saved thousands of lives who would have been lost if the war had continued. March shows a softer side of Sherman, a man who, while following orders, often found himself at the mercy of his men, who got carried away with the spoils of war.

While I found this book to be interesting and the reader, Joe Morton, engaging, I did not love it. The language and style were easy to read and understand. I’m not sure what Doctorow could have done to take my rating from an “ok” to “great”.

Rating: 3 stars

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