2011 marks the beginning of the Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War. Even though it is 150 years in the past, it remains the pivotal, defining event in American history, an event that people come back to time and again. Alistair Cooke once said that to understand America, you had to study the Civil War. While we’ve always had a lot of books about this popular subject, the Sesquicentennial has spurred the publication of many more. Here’s a selection of some of the newest.

Discovering the Civil War from the National Archives. Photographs, reproductions of handwritten records and personal stories.

America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation by David Goldfield. A sweeping history of America from the 1830s through Reconstruction.

The Union War by Gary Gallagher. Why we fought the Civil War, from the Northern perspective.

The Civil War: the First Year Told by Those Who Lived It. Drawn from letters, diaries, speeches, articles and memoirs creates a firsthand accounting of the war.

The Civil War: a Visual History by the Smithsonian Institute. This coffee-table worthy book is packed with photographs and maps drawn from the Smithsonian’s extensive collection of artifacts.