This is one of the finest historical volumes I have ever read on any subject. McPherson's strengths are are threefold: firstly his research is astonishing in its detail and expertly referenced, secondly he writes with wonderful clarity and linguistic dexterity, and thirdly he remains passionately impartial about his subject. The only weakness I can think of in this superb work is the extremely poor quality of the maps and diagrams some of which are nearly illegible, responsibility for which rests with the publisher (Penguin). Those seeking an easy read focusing primarily on the famous battles of the Civil War might be better off looking elsewhere (such as the Osprey volume "The American Civil War"), because while McPherson does cover military matters extensively, he is at least if not more concerned with an analysis of the political and social climate surrounding them and in this respect his book must surely stand out as an astonishingly well researched and scholarly work. Which is not to say that this book is anything other than a compelling read - despite the wealth and density of detail, Macpherson writes with elan and lucidity for over 850 brilliant pages. Thoroughly recommended, even if you will need at least a week of solid reading to get through it!