An Interview with Albert Nofi, author of “The Blue & Gray Almanac”

Today on the blog, we’re excited to share this interview with author Albert Nofi! Learn about his background, his writing career, and the inspiration behind his new book, The Blue & Gray Almanac. 

Where were you born? Where did you grow up?   

Brooklyn to both questions,  though I did live in Providence from about the age of 1 to about 4, and although I’m mostly in Austin nowadays, that’s still home, and I get back there often.1. Where were you born? Where did you grow up?   Brooklyn to both questions,  though I did live in Providence from about the age of 1 to about 4, and although I’m mostly in Austin nowadays, that’s still home, and I get back there often.

Could you tell us a bit about any history of military service in your family? In what ways was the military part of your life from an early age?

Growing up the aftermath of WW II, in which almost all the men in my family and neighborhood served, military history was something  that seems to have come naturally.  In college  enrolled in ROTC, but was declared IV-F after a year.  I later spent 18 years in the New York Guard, the state defense force , retiring as a major.

What kinds of books did you read growing up? Which had the greatest impact on you?

Mythology and ancient history, all other genres of history, science fiction, and gradually a lot of military history.  On balance, the most influential was probably Roman history.

When did you first realize that you wanted to become a writer? What is it about writing that appealed to you?

I began writing when I was in elementary school . . . initially short stories, and soon found I had a talent for non-fiction rather than fiction . . . I essentially wrote my way through high school and college, my papers consistently being much better than my test scores.In a sense, I write to inform myselfI enjoyed – and still enjoy – writing because I like ferreting out information, and the organizing it into a more understandable form.  That also led to my deciding to become a teacher, which I did for 30 years, on pretty much every level from elementary school through graduate seminars.I might add that I’ve also designed several wargames that touch on some of the same subjects, and the process of designing a game has influenced the way I write.  Game design often raises questions about events that are not necessarily obvious to someone who’s doing researching for a book.

What did you do before you started (or in addition to) writing? Did you have any odd jobs? 

Lots of odd jobs before I began teaching, and once I was teaching I kept right on writing and designing games in parallel with my teaching career.

When and how did you become interested in Military history?

As I noted above, in part because I great up in the aftermath of WW2 . . . amidst a lot of veterans.  It probably also helped that I was in Brooklyn, home of the Navy Yard, where we could see some of the ships that had fought the war.

Who are your favorite authors, fiction and non-fiction, and why? 

Hmm, among historians, certainly Sam Morison,  who had a marvelous style, but there are so many others whom I admire it’s hard to choose.  In fiction, Mary Renault,  Sprague de Camp, Lindsey Davis, John Maddox Roberts.

Have you read anything lately that you’d like to recommend to our readers?

In terms of something every American should read, Andrew M. Schocket’s Fighting over the Founders: How We Remember the American Revolution and The Civil War in Popular Culture: Memory and Meaning, edited by Lawrence A. Kreiser, Jr., and Randal Allred, although not widely known, both of them offer useful insights into what America is about.

How do you relax? Do you have any hobbies or interests? 

I enjoy cooking, a bit of gardening, and walking, particularly in a bustling urban environment, which I find energizing.

Could you tell us about your interest in the Civil War, and why you decided to write this book? 

Most wars fought more than a century ago, whatever their consequences, are essentially of academic interest.  The Civil War is different . . . it’s still political.  The primary cause of the war, human dignity and equality, is still an issue, witness the fierce defense of “Southern heritage” and the denial of the very words of the founders of the Confederacy regarding slavery and racial inequality.  The war was about the nation trying to work out contradictions in its DNA, the conflict between “all men are created equal” and slavery.

What do you like most about your book? Why should we read it?  

This book doesn’t attempt to tell the ‘whole story’ because that can’t be done.   After the opening chapters, which set the background and outline the course of the events, it looks are various aspects of the war that are likely to be missed in most histories, if only because there’s too much to tell.  So it offers a mix of military history and practice, popular culture, life on the home front, social history, and the like.So if you know relatively little about the war, this will serve as a useful introduction, while still likely to be interesting to the armchair historian or “buff” of the war, and even to the seasoned student of the conflict may find some value in it.

Anything else we should know about you and your books? 

Several have been singled out as particularly valuable for the relative newcomer to the subject, such as The Gettysburg Campaign or my books on the Texas War for Independence or the Spanish-American War.

Albert Nofi is a military historian, defense analyst, and wargame designer. He has published over 30 books on a wide variety of topics. In parallel with three decades as a teacher and later administrator in New York public schools, he was associated editor of the journal Strategy and Tactics and produced a number of wargames. In 1999 Nofi became a research analyst with the Center for Naval Analyses, writing Recent Trends in Thinking About Warfare and several other analytical papers. He has lectured at a number of colleges, universities and other institutions including the University of Paris-Sorbonne, the Smithsonian, and the Air War College. For many years an Associate Fellow of the U.S. Civil War Center, he was a Director of the New York Military Affairs Symposium since its formation, and is a member of the Society for Military History and a number of other military and historical societies. From many years, Nofi contributed a regular column to North & South. In 1998, he became a contributing editor to StrategyPage. He splits his time between New York and Texas.

About the Book

9781612005522Albert Nofi tells the story of the American Civil War through a range of insightful essays, anecdotes, and facts. Did you know…

♠ During the final days of the war, some Richmond citizens would throw “Starvation Parties,” at which elegantly attired guests would gather at soirees where the finest silver and crystal tableware was used, though there were usually no refreshments except water.
♠ Union Rear-Admiral Goldsborough was nicknamed “Old Guts”, not so much for his combativeness as for his heft, weighing about 300 pounds, and was described as “. . . a huge mass of inert matter.”
♠ 30.6 percent of the 425 Confederate generals, but only 21.6 percent of the 583 Union generals, had been lawyers before the war.
♠ In 1861, J. P. Morgan made a huge profit by buying 5,000 condemned US Army carbines and selling them back to another arsenal, taking the Army to court when they tried to refuse to pay for the faulty weapons.
♠ Major General Loring was reputed to have so rich a vocabulary than one of the men once remarked he could “curse a cannon uphill without horses.”
♠ Many militia units had a favorite drink, the Charleston Light Dragoons’ punch took around a week to make while the Chatham Artillery required 1 pound of green tea leaves be steeped overnight.
♠ There were five living former presidents when the Civil War began, and seven veterans of the war (plus one draft dodger) went on to serve as President.

The Blue & Gray Almanac is now available in both print and eBook. You can purchase this book directly from our website, or from any bookseller.

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