Book Review: The Complete Gettysburg Guide: Walking and Driving Tours of the Battlefield, Town, Cemeteries, Field Hosptial Sites, and Other Topics of Historical Interest


by J. David Petruzzi and Steven Stanley

New York: Savas Beatie, 2009. Pp. xiv, 304. Illus., maps, biblio., index. $39.95. ISBN: 978-1-932714-63-0

The Complete Gettysburg Guide is a new kind of guidebook.  It doesn't set up a new paradigm for guidebooks, but rather adjusts each standard component to produce a large overall change.  This makes it as different from ordinary guidebooks as an army staff ride is from, say, a battlefield tour.

Consider a basic, conventional guide.  There's a map, usually B&W, showing roads but little detail, with numbers that key to explanatory text.  The idea behind the numbers drives the organization of the guide.  The spots on the ordinary tour map can be there based on popularity; accessibility; efficiency of touring; and, very often, "ownership" (belonging to a park).  The sequence of stops can be based on covering-the-most-ground-in-a-day; or "must see" criteria; or places being closest to the road; or richness of historical data for that spot. This builds a high degree of arbitrariness into most tour guides.  Here, author J. David Petruzzi and his publisher address arbitrariness as a matter of "completeness." The title, The Complete Gettysburg Guide, could as well have been The Rational Gettysburg Guide, or The Historian's Gettysburg Guide, chronology providing the motive organizing the "spots" in this work.

The work (which has its own website) follows the time sequence of days, beginning with opening cavalry clashes and finishing with follow-on battles.  (It includes, at the end of the book, visits to cemeteries and rock carvings, which are obviously off the timeline.)  The narrative is keyed, not to your day, or an allotted time you will spend in any one spot, but rather to the event, with events broken up intra-day (you might say into "phases").  Each of these phases gets its own beautiful map by Steven Stanley adorned with a clock.  The map shows dispositions as they were on terrain as it was; the clock allows the visitor to align time of day to the tour; and the historic description of events allows visualization of events in place.

I mentioned adjusting components.  The maps are spectacular, as anyone who receives Stanley's maps in Civil War Preservation Trust mailings could expect.  The minimum position for publisher Savas Beatie would have been to provide a route map; here we see many top-notch battle maps as a kind of bonus.  The clock aspect is also important in maintaining fidelity to timeline ? the organizing principle for the whole tour.

Another adjustment: the battle narrative.  These are not here compiled or recapped from same-old-same-old; J.D. Petruzzi has researched and written material that would otherwise stand alone in a splendidly written work based on new accounts and including fresh contemporary (and current) imagery.  There is a great deal of good reading here, irrespective of touring.

So we have these vivid, and interesting battle descriptions ? good history - graced by fascinating maps and novel imagery inhabiting a guide book done completely in color, the "guide" part of which is also special.

On a mechanical level, the guidance, the driving instructions, is at a level of detail rarely seen, involving tenths of a mile and GPS numbers.  GPS is becoming more common in guides, but here the driving instructions are painstaking and perhaps idiot proof.  (Let me try them out before certifying them idiot proof.)  More important, Petruzzi is moving the reader around a lot, intra-spot. The user is looking at an event from multiple angles - and I do mean multiple!

One charming thing is that the directions are boundary free.  You may wind up in someone's field or driveway or parking lot; the points of interest are not organized on the principle of park limits.

The book design and production are another area in which the idea of the guide book is kicked up a couple of notches.  This reasonably priced hardback is done entirely in color, as I said, and it follows the best principles behind magazine design - Steve Stanley did the design as well as the maps.  It is laid out better than your glossy ACW mags and includes sidebars, breakout quotes, and more and better relevant imagery. It is a completely thought-out book that may remind older readers of the joy once brought to them by the American Heritage History of the Civil War. Kudos to the team: to J.D., Steve Stanley, and their publisher.

A final word that seems never to make it into guidebook reviews.  Whether an author intends it or not, the guidebook is a produced and directed artistic experience.  I'm not referring to the physical book but to the effects on the user who is being directed.  There is little doubt in my mind that J.D. Petruzzi has distilled into his directions and narrative a specific - and beautiful - experience that he wants me to have.  Guidebooks like this are rare and ambitious; a Russian mystic once said that great art attempts to produce the same reaction in all experiencers. This looks like an attempt in that class.

This is a tome that can be thoroughly enjoyed without leaving home ? perhaps an unintended consequence of its excellence. I intend, however, to use some of these glorious, dry, cool September days to try the book out. If any guidebook deserves to be exercised, this one does.
Note: Readers may able be interested in the just released COMPLETE GETTYSBURG GUIDE: Audio Driving and Walking Tours, Volume 1: The Battlefield, also by J. David Petruzzi and Steven Stanley (New York: Savas Beatie: 2010),
Reviewer: Dimitri Rotov - [email protected]   

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