History is an amazing reality. We can learn so much just by looking back at what has come before, and how similar our lives really are to people from long ago. Or how different! If a storyteller can make history come to life we are in for a real treat, for an experience that opens our mind and teaches us something at the same time.
This is what happened to me with Rhys Thomas’ wonderfully interesting story. As he says in the Afterword, “This is a classic example of what happens when guys sit around and talk about ‘what-ifs’ in history, in this case two guys, me and veteran Hollywood labor reporter David Robb, talking about what might have happened if Robert E. Lee had been arrested as a prisoner of war and put on trial for treason.”
Well, if you’re not a history buff, especially not a civil war history buff, then you’ll read this book as I did—fascinated, pulled in, checking in with Google to research here and there, find out what really happened and who was who—and not be able to put it down for longer than a few minutes while it slowly but surely unfolds, sweet as a slice of peach pie. Like I said, it’s a treat when a storyteller can make history come to life.
Rhys Thomas is an historian, and a delight as a writer. He knows his history, so he can play with it. He has fun with this story, and as a reader you do too, even though it is a serious look at a painful time in American history. There are many small, lovely details to savor along the way, and a rich, easy use of language. It is a visual book, full of dialogue and description that enhances it with color but never bogs it down. It feels effortless, honest and true.