Brief reviews of recent releases: "Smithsonian Civil War," edited by Neil Kagan and Stephen G. Hyslop, and "Johnny Carson," by Henry Bushkin.
SMITHSONIAN CIVIL WAR
Edited by Neil Kagan and Stephen G. Hyslop. (Smithsonian Books, 388 pages, $40.)
Here’s the perfect book for those who want to satisfy their curiosity about the Civil War, now marking its 150th anniversary, without plowing through a thick tome on battles or political strategy. The Smithsonian has unlocked the door to its attic and pulled out photographs, objects, clothing, weapons, flags and art to represent 150 themes related to the United States’ bloodiest war, ranging from antebellum days to Reconstruction.
The coffee-table book has something for everyone, on every full-color page: Confederate currency, exotic Zouave uniforms, Lincoln’s coffee cup, bloodstained maps, ID badges issued to South Carolina slaves, a portable Army printing press, Winslow Homer’s soldier sketches, a field medical kit, and the chairs used by Grant and Lee at Appomattox.
Entries accompanying the photos are supplied by Smithsonian curators, and the foreword is written by journalist and historian Jon Meacham. It’s an easy trip through 12 Smithsonian museums without the plane fare to Washington and the endless lines, expertly done up in an addictive and spellbinding volume.
KEVIN DUCHSCHERE, metro reporter
By Henry Bushkin. (Eamon Dolan Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 294 pages, $28.)
Those impatient television fans still waiting for Bill Zehme’s oft-delayed biography of the King of Late Night can snack on “Johnny Carson,” a tart appetizer penned by Carson’s longtime personal lawyer, Henry Bushkin. The author, who was only in his 20s when he started working for Carson, clearly has mixed feelings for his former boss, praising him for his generosity one minute, accusing him of being a boozing womanizer the next. You need to keep reminding yourself that the two split on bitter terms and that there’s every reason to believe that Bushkin is not the most credible source. Still, Bushkin is fairly convincing as he shares stories showing the supposedly smooth Carson tripping up: The time he packed heat and broke into his wife’s private condo to obtain proof of her affair with Frank Gifford; the time mobsters beat him up for hitting on one of their girlfriends; the time he aggressively wooed “Three’s Company” star Joyce DeWitt, unaware that she was Bushkin’s girlfriend.
If you’re looking for an in-depth, balanced bio, hold out for Zehme’s tome. If it’s dirt you’re after, dive right in.
NEAL JUSTIN, television critic