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On Great Fields

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He was more than just an amazing mustache. Ronald White takes a look at the full life of Joshua Chamberlain in his book, On Great Fields. You may remember Chamberlain from various books or movies where his exploits at Gettysburg are highlighted. However, Chamberlain had a very full life both before and after the Civil War.

White looks to give a fuller picture of Chamberlain's life by giving attention to every episode. It is a stated goal of White to not skip over the earlier parts where Chamberlain grew up, chose a college, and tried to figure out what he wanted to be when he grew up. Little did he know how it would all turn out.

Chamberlain is one of the few people whose life is pretty interesting throughout. Admittedly, there are a few points which lag a bit more than others. Chamberlain's attempts at entrepreneurship, for instance, are important in telling his full story but add little to who he is as a person by that point. However, White wanted to give a full accounting and he does so without ever losing the reader's interest fully.

(This book was provided as an advance copy by Netgalley and Random House Publishing.)

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“On Great Fields: The Life and Unlikely Heroism of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain,” by Ronald C. White (ISBN: 9780525510086), Publication Date: 31 Oct 2023, earns the strongest five stars.

This is a magnificent and comprehensive writing that is beautifully revealed, which helps the reader know and understand far more about Joshua Chamberlin than has ever known before. We learn of his heroic exploits in the American Civil War, but with the turn of the last page we understand how he was formed and moved to that pivotal experience and learn of has many achievements thereafter. Ronald White his revealed Joshua Chamberlin as a human being who gave everything at his disposal in the service of others. What a gift; what an enduring legacy for both Chamberlin and White. If you read one book in the next year, read this one. Once you finish reading it, you’ll realize greatness is preceded by selfless dedication and diligent work, and that greatness resides in all of us.

Thanks to the publisher (Random House Publishing Group - Random House, Random House) for granting this reviewer this opportunity to read this Advance Reader Copy (ARC), and thanks to NetGalley (EPUB) for helping to make that possible.

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I thoroughly enjoyed ON GREAT FIELDS, the thorough, scholarly and comprehensive biography of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. Chamberlain was more or less plucked from obscurity by Michael Shaara in his epic THE KILLER ANGELS, his retelling of the Battle of Gettysburg. What appears to have happened to Chamberlain is what happened to Thomas Cromwell in the WOLF HALL books; a character emblematic of their own time is translated and made into a charming narrator, made accessible for modern audiences. ON GREAT FIELDS is history, not popular fiction, and it presents Chamberlain as a Congregational product of the Great Awakening and a loyal son of Maine, bookish and upright.

The last Civil War-era biography I read was the one Steve Inskeep of NPR wrote about John and Jesse Fremont; the contrast between the slippery and ambitious Fremont and the dutiful and scholarly Chamberlain could not be more apparent. Author Ronald White has a less fiery and controversial character to work with, but crafts a worthy three-dimensional portrait.

In an important way, Chamberlain’s character seems to have affected White’s retelling. White is more than once forced to do something that biographers don’t want to do; he has to throw his hands up and admit that there are things that he just can’t know. Case in point: Shaara tells us, at the close of his book, that Chamberlain was shot through both hips and died of his wounds; White has to confront the reality of the nature of that wound. Did Chamberlain, happily married before the war, have issues with intimacy as a result? White says that he must have, and his marriage was strained at times, but (given the era) there aren’t any letters about it, so we just don’t know. White's honesty and forthrightness about the issue, and others, does him credit--and Chamberlain wouldn't have wanted it any other way.

ON GREAT FIELDS is an outstanding companion work to THE KILLER ANGELS; you could make the argument that it is necessary to read both. (One wonders if Shaara would have written his book differently if a well-researched Chamberlain biography had been available; we’ll never know.)

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A book doesn't necessarily have to be revelatory or bring something new to the table to be good, and this book will not surprise anyone. However, Chamberlain was much more than a war leader. A scholar, politician, and civil servant, Chamberlain was a great example of civic participation in American life and this inspiring biography makes it clear that he was a great man.

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A truly inspirational biography of a great civil war hero. His fame not only came from his exploits in the war, but how he lived his whole life. His values and beliefs are a model for today! This is a great and must read book about one of America's heroes.

Thank you to #NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for my honest opinion.

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This is another expertly researched well written biography by Dr. White. He wonderfully manages to knit together the varied aspects of Chamberlin's life. I highly recommend this to anyone who is interested in the Civil War or 19th Century America.

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I wanted to love this book so badly, but ultimately I found myself wondering what the point was. White admits that Chamberlain’s narrative has had a resurgence since Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels and while I find the concept of the changing view of history over time interesting, as I was reading this book it didn’t feel like it was bringing anything new to the table regarding Chamberlain. And maybe that’s a problem of me coming into this book with different expectations than what the author intended, but I wanted a deeper dive into the story or at least for his story to be told in an interesting format and this sort of felt like I was reading a Wikipedia page about Chamberlain. Every time I though the story was going to lean into his role in the Civil War (or post-war historian) or as a professor or as governor or his relationship with his wife, White would move into a different part of the story. Maybe that was due to lack of historical sources, but I don’t think it is outside of a biographers purview to offer some analysis or deduction based on evidence that remains so long as it is acknowledged as not provable.

That being said, the book was well researched and the prose was easy to read, so I do think it would be a good starting point for people looking to learn more about Chamberlain, though if you already know the basic facts and/or are looking for more information about specific parts of his life I might suggest you look elsewhere.

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I’ve been fascinated by the story of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain ever since I read The Killer Angels and saw the film version of Gettysburg, and own two volumes of his writings and an older biography. I jumped at the chance to read On Great Fields, the forthcoming Chamberlain biography by Ronald C. White.

On Great Fields is a wonderful achievement. Well researched and documented, it looks at all aspects of Chamberlain’s life, not just his military accomplishments. I particularly appreciated the section on his childhood, having been completely unfamiliar with that part of his life and with his religious upbringing. The author doesn’t speculate on events where information may be missing, such as letters that were lost, rather simply informing the reader that there’s missing data. Overall one of the better biographies I’ve read in many years.

Highly recommended.

My profuse thanks to the publisher and to Netgalley for providing an ARC of this excellent book.

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I love Civil War history and one of my favorite leaders of all time is Joshua L. Chamberlain. I thought this book did a remarkable job of covering the entire life of Chamberlain, not just his service during the Civil War. The book kept my attention throughout and I finished knowing infinitely more about Joshua Chamberlain that I expected to. I will be highly reccomending this book to others.

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Ronald White is a capable biographer and has written a very fine study of Joshua Chamberlain. While many know Chamberlain solely from the dramatization of him in Shaara’s The Killer Angels and the movie version, Gettysburg, this volume explores not just the military hero but also the deeply religious, loving, and educated man who served as Maine’s Governor and as President of his alma mater, Bowdoin College. White has dug deeply into Chamberlain’s correspondence with his beloved wife and also scrupulously researched primary source materials for every aspect of Chamberlain’s life. Fascinating biography.

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I first heard about Joshua Chamberlain after viewing the film Gettysburg. His character certainly stood out in the film. I wanted to learn more about this man and saw this book On Great Fields on NetGalley and requested it and was lucky enough to be granted my request.
Joshua Chamberlain was a brave and courageous man on and off the battlefield. He was a deeply religious man and lived his life according to the Bible. I believe this is how he survived Gettysburg and Petersburg where he was severely wounded and almost died. He lived with pain the rest of his life but never lost faith in God.
He was married to his wife Fanny for almost 50 years. and they had several children two of whom died very young. His two surviving children, Grace and Wyllis were his pride and joy.
Mr. White has written several biographies which I have read but this one is truly great. I highly recommend this book to those who love history, especially biographies.

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Thank you Netgalley for the ARC.

Joshua Lawrence is an often overlooked but vital member of the Union Army. Dr. White brings Chamberlains accomplishments, struggles and influence to life as he leads the 20th Maine during several key battles such as Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg and beyond. A college professor, Chamberlain's views on the American Civil War was unique and he put his life, family and job aside to ensure the Union's survival and the eventual end of slavery. Well researched and masterfully written, Dr. White does Chamberlain's involvement justice with On Great Fields.

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Student. Professor. General. Governor. Author.

Until now, I was not familiar with Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, and out of curiosity, felt drawn to this individual, who played a role not only in the Civil War but in other areas of life, both privately and publically. The biography is in-depth and reflects the research applied to understanding more about the life of Chamberlain, and his contributions.

Reaching the rank of a brigadier general, awarded the Medal of Honor, Chamberlain is presented, as a well-read, man of faith, who eventually would serve four terms as Governor of Maine, before returning to Bowdoin College. Described as an "unlikely hero", the book goes into quite a detail about his personal relationships with his wife, and those around him, and the unending influence he sought with students, soldiers, and the people of Maine.

The book is well-researched, and those who are aficionados of Civil War history, they will find this book captivating as it goes into great detail about Chamberlain, whom despite having served in both the Civil War, and as a Governor of Maine, is not widely well-known. The writing reflects a desire to be authentic, and respectful both to the memory of Chamberlain, and provides a detailed understanding of what led a professor to volunteer for the Civil War and his continued influence afterwards. Chamberlain as laid out by the biography, was more than simply another general, but one whose beliefs he wasn't afraid to hide from people.

The writing style is fluid, and while some may find a biography dry, the author helps bring to life, a general and professor, not easily known by many save those who have direct interests in either the Civil War or in Chamberlain as a Governor. However, understanding Chamberlain both as a person, and a professor, one can see how his love for literature, and teaching, and there seems steadfast stubbornness, help him in the direction life took him, both personally, and politically. For those who enjoy biographies, On Great Fields, is an interesting read, and brings a human side to Chamberlain, whether people may or may not agree with him.

Thank you to NetGalley, and Random House for the opportunity to read and review this book in exchange for my honest opinion. It was a delight reading this biography.

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This is now one of my favorite books about one of my favorite people from history. Well researched and well written. This one is sure to earn many more Chamberlain fans in the future.

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