A bravura cinema portrayal of Abraham Lincoln by Daniel Day Lewis. Museum exhibits in Washington and around the country. Scores of commemorative books on dozens of aspects of the conflict. With all of that surrounding the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, should we pay any mind to a scholarly book with 70 pages of footnotes and a bibliography that runs another 38 pages written by a professor with an endowed chair at the University of Illinois?
The question is prompted by the appearance this month of “The Fall of the House of Dixie’’ by Bruce Levine, and the answer is an emphatic yes. In these pages are few of the signature Lincoln quotes, none of the popular vignettes, and very little of the cloying key-of-D “Ashokan Farewell’’ melodrama that we have come to associate with a war that, along with the American Revolution, defined the nation. But in these pages there is drama enough — and a portrait of a country in transition, especially the South, as vivid as any that has been written in this season of commemoration or at any time.