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The Civil War in Depth: History in 3-D, Bob Zeller, Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 120 pages, $24.95

Nowadays, 3-D photography is a special effect used chiefly in science fiction movies. But 135 years ago and through the turn of the century, Americans took 3-D images for granted. Stereo views–card-mounted twin photographs viewed through goggle-like devices–were common household items. Many Civil War photos were taken in stereo and can be seen in 3-D.

Now, thanks to Bob Zeller’s handsome new book, The Civil War in Depth, history enthusiasts can easily rediscover the 3-D world of Civil War stereo photos. With the book’s no-frills viewer and a few moments of patience, anyone (except about eight percent of the seeing population) can see the pictures in 3-D. There is an odd cardboard-cutout quality to some of the objects in these pictures, but there is also a real sense of perspective, distance, and the lay of the land. Particularly impressive are the images of the dead; “casualties” suddenly look like what they are: fallen humans.

Zeller includes a chapter on Civil War action photos, most of which is merely interesting. One image, though, is startling: a stereo view, previously unrecognized as such, of Union warships, one of which is actually firing on a Confederate fort. It is not because of any new discovery that this book succeeds, however. Its appeal lies in the photos themselves, seen as they should be: in 3-D.

Jim Kushlan