Sunday, July 26, 2009

Review: The Complete Gettysburg Guide

The Complete Gettysburg Guide: Walking and Driving Tours of the Battlefield, Town, Cemeteries, Field Hospital Sites, and other Topics of Historical Interest, by J. David Petruzzi and Steven Stanley. Savas Beatie Publishing, 306 pages, with maps, photographs and bibliography. $39.95.

I am generally skeptical of any work that claims the title of “complete guide.” In this case, however, I believe the title is well deserved. J.D. Petruzzi and Steven Stanley have combined to produce a work that may have redefined the standard for battlefield guides. After reading it cover to cover in two sittings and perusing it for several hours, I cannot think of an aspect of the battle that is not addressed in this guide.

This should be the one book carried by any visitor to the battlefield. Every aspect of the battle is addressed, and there is quite literally something for everyone inside its cover. Kids tired of looking at signs and cannons and statues? Turn them loose to look for the rock carvings detailed in a separate section of the book. Spouse tired of staring into empty fields trying to visualize historic charges and stands? Refer them to the detailed tour of the town itself.

This is a superior tour guide for several reasons. First, precise driving instructions that include warnings about traffic, parking areas and private property. Second, excellent color photos and maps that make it very easy for even a novice traveler to remain oriented on the battlefield. The maps provide much more detail than the black and white sort I am accustomed to seeing in battlefield guides. Third, it provides depth lacking in most guide books, with a wealth of human interest stories and other interesting tidbits. Finally, it provides the most comprehensive look at the battlefield and surrounding area that I have ever seen.

J.D. Petruzzi’s narrative is both readable and very informative. A wealth of detail is contained in the book, but it is packaged in such a manner that is not at all cumbersome to the reader. He uses many sidebars to highlight human interest stories from the battle to broaden the appeal of the book. For those who want to dig deeper into a given area, there are suggested sources for additional reading at the end of each section.

The maps are tremendous. Steven Stanley proves his justly deserved reputation as a Civil War mapmaking master, with maps that are clear and easy to use. Some of the maps portray skirmishes that I had never seen mapped before. The photos he has selected show the park during all seasons, illustrating how different the park appears at different times of the year.

The book is divided into several sections. The heart of the book is of course the 110 pages organized into 30 stops that cover the main battlefield. The other nearly 200 pages focus on outlying battlefields, the town itself, the cemeteries, field hospital sites, and even a section on rock carvings. Each section could stand nearly on its own as a separate book. My favorite section was the article on Fairfield, with the first maps of the skirmish I had ever seen. A close second was the rock carving section, which was organized to provide a ready made game of ‘find-it.’

The book is attractive enough for service as a coffee table book. Somewhat jaded after scores of ‘exciting’ (for me) new Civil War purchases, the first thing my wife said when I removed it from the package was, “What a beautiful book!” Savas Beatie has once again produced a very high quality (and adequately mapped!) book at a reasonable price. Nearly every one of the 300+ pages has a map, picture or sidebar, and often a combination of the three. Good binding and quality paper ensure this book will endure many visits to the park. The result is a work in which both the authors and the publisher should take a tremendous amount of pride.

The Complete Gettysburg Guide is a comprehensive volume on the battle. It is equally valuable as a historical overview of the battle, a tour guide, or a coffee table picture book. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the battle, from the first visit tourist to the experienced battlefield stomper.

Yes, yes, I know, less reading and more writing.....

1 comment:

J David Petruzzi said...


I can't tell you how much we appreciate the review - very detailed, in-depth, and flattering!

Thank you so much, my friend.