Little Brown and Company, 2008, 446 pp., $29.99
Image courtesy of amazon.com
Beginner students of the American Civil War will notice a pattern in many of the commanders they begin to study: many of them served in the Mexican American War. While there is background into their service, there are very few works devoted to following specific people as they served in that war. The Training Ground by Martin Dugard attempts to fix the lack of information regarding the commanders in the Mexican American War. But does it succeed? That seems to be the question going throughout the entirety of the text along with the validity of what is being said. So what do I mean about this? Let’s take a look into The Training Ground.
Before working with Bill O’Reilly, Martin Dugard was the author of many nonfiction books including The Last Voyage of Columbus, Farther Than Any Man, Knockdown, Chasing Lance, and Into Africa. He has also written for many magazines including Esquire, Outside Sports Illustrated, and GQ. Now, he is known for co-writing the series of books by Bill O’Reilly which includes Killing Lincoln, Killing Kennedy, Killing Jesus and Killing Patton. He is a New York Times bestselling author.
Looking over the career of Mr. Dugard, there is evidence which points toward the field of Popular History and even makes certain people say that he is spreading himself out too much. This has proven well and poor for historians recently. In the case of Dugard, this book shows the poor side of that coin. As the text rolls on through the book concerning the commanders during the Mexican American War, the narrative is quite easy to read, if not told in a dull fashion. While I found myself moving through the book very quickly, I retained nothing of interest from what I had read. The deeper the book got into the war, the more I began to think what I might tell people about this book. Just to clarify, the main commanders which Dugard had chosen to use for his narrative were Grant, Lee, Sherman and Jefferson Davis. While others are mentioned throughout the book, those were the main focus. And yet, I feel as though I would know more about them if I had read a biography instead of this book. Even poor biographies of Lee tend to give more information about the man than this book had in its three hundred and seventy-nine pages of narrative. Overall, I felt as though this book had nothing to bring to the table when it comes to Civil War academia. That being said, there are those who have asked whether Dugard’s book is entertaining for those not familiar with history. I would have to answer that no, this book is not even entertaining for non-history readers. I could understand if there were Civil War readers who gained nothing from this work, but even non-history readers could not get anything from this book. The last thing which could help this work was whether or not it was a good introduction to the Mexican American War; I would still have to say that this one is one to avoid.
While the presentation of the book is nice, the text is riddled with factual errors about the commanders and has no grasp on the facts. The narrative is quite nice, but nothing is retained while reading this work. I do not recommend this book to the Civil War audience and place a warning with this work. This is the same author who co-wrote Killing Lincoln.