Monday, August 19, 2013

Book/ Author Review: Joseph A. Altsheler

Joseph Alexander Altsheler
Rating: 5 out of 10 stars
My term: “Streaky”


      From Wikipedia: “Altsheler was born in Three Springs, Hart County, Kentucky to Joseph and Louise (Snoddy) Altsheler.[1] In 1885, he took a job at the Louisville Courier-Journal as a reporter and later, an editor. He started working for the New York World in 1892, first as the paper's Hawaiian correspondent and then as the editor of the World's tri-weekly magazine. Due to a lack of suitable stories, he began writing children's stories for the magazine.

      Altsheler married Sarah Boles on May 30, 1888, and had one son. He and his family were in Germany when World War I began. The difficult journey home took a huge toll on Altsheler's health and he was never the same. He died in New York City in 1919.

      I stumbled across the works of Joseph Altsheler a few weeks ago when browsing through the Librivox Forums. So far, I have read twelve of his books, and find that they are interesting, and some of them convey a lot of information, though often that information is not in a very condensed format (which is why his Civil War series is 8 volumes). His writing style is a bit modern for my taste, and is not very colorful, but he does a good job describing his characters emotions. I don't completely trust his historical accuracy, though I think he's pretty close on the main points.
      Altsheler does not appear to have been a Christian, and seems fond of making references to “the primitive man”, millions of years, and occasionally, saber-toothed cats. He speaks negatively of parental authority in his book The Young Trailers, and seems quite critical of the Puritans. He does make references to Christianity, often in a positive light, but also seems to have viewed it as somewhat hypocritical. Therefore- although I do think his books can be helpful to learn history from, I would definitely be careful with which ones I allowed a child to read. The majority of the books below are available from Internet Archive, Librivox, Project Gutenberg, or Google Books. So far, I have read:

The Civil War series:

(I liked the majority of these, and learned a good bit about the Civil War.)
The Guns of Bull Run, a story of the Civil War’s eve (1914)
The Guns of Shiloh, a story of the great western campaign (1914)
The Scouts of Stonewall, the story of the great valley campaign (1914)
The Sword of Antietam, a story of the nation’s crisis (1914)
The Star of Gettysburg, a story of southern high tide (1915)
The Rock of Chickamauga, a story of the western crisis (1915)
The Shades of the Wilderness, a story of Lee’s great stand (1916)
The Tree of Appomattox, a story of the Civil War's close (1916)

In Hostile Red, a tale of the Revolution (not recommended)

The Texan War series:

The Texan Star
The Texan Scouts
The Texan Triumph (I have not been able to find a free version of this, so haven't read it. The first two are pretty good.)

And I've read one book of the Young Trailers series:

The Young Trailers: A story of early Kentucky (I did not like this one at all. It is definitely not recommended. If you want a good story of the settling of Kentucky, read Daniel Boone's autobiography, and the biography by Francis Lister Hawkes. I highly recommend it.)

      So, overall, I would give the books of Joseph A. Altsheler about 5 out of 10 stars, because they can be useful for presenting history in an interesting and easy-to-read format, but he is what I call a “streaky” author, meaning that while he has some good, his books are not always trustworthy, and discretion should be used. There are enough good books available to probably avoid his altogether.

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, 
whatsoever things are honest, 
whatsoever things are just,
whatsoever things are pure, 
whatsoever things are lovely, 
whatsoever things are of good report;
 if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, 
think on these things.
Phillipians 4:8

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