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The American Civil War Paperback – 5 Aug 2010

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Product details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (5 Aug 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0712616101
  • ISBN-13: 978-0712616102
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.7 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 47,505 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"Vivid and compelling" (Sunday Times)

"It is hard to see how Keegan's masterful and thought-provoking book could be beaten" (Daily Telegraph)

"In its range and sweep, this book is difficult to better and promises to become the definitive account of the conflict" (Daily Mail)

"One of our finest military historians, Keegan brings a shrewd and discerning eye to [the] conflict... compelling" (Literary Review)

"The best military historian of our day" (New York Times)

Book Description

This major and long-awaited work is the definitive history of the American Civil War by our greatest military historian.

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Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

56 of 59 people found the following review helpful By bookelephant on 30 Sep 2009
Format: Hardcover
I am afraid I must beg to differ from the previous reviewer. This book is (of course) very good as a military history. However, despite its title it really does not aspire to be more than that (as the notes and bibliography reveal) - and there is a great deal more than that to the Civil war. So it is far from being a definitive book about the war - and if you are looking for that you may well be disappointed.
However it is excellent on the real military history aspects. Keegan has conveyed more clearly to me the impact of geographical factors, both generally and in relation to specific battles, than anything else I have read. He is excellent on identifying and keeping track of the planning of the war on each side. He is also wonderful at evaluating the individual generals, and drawing speaking parallels with generals of other wars. Frankly, I could have used and enjoyed more detail on each of these facets, but particularly the last.
The two big problems with the book are (1) the title, which conveys a false sense of the ambit of the book - it should more properly be called "A Military History of the Civil War" or "The Geography, Battles and Generals of the Civil War" (2) the introductory chapters (and to some extent parts of the concluding chapters too) where Keegan goes outside the military history remit; these sections are frankly somewhat carelessly written and edited (so much repetition - including the same phrase twice within two paras -that I came close to throwing the book across the room) and say nothing illuminating at all. He would have been much better to drop these, cut to the chase, and give us some more of what he is really good at.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By R&JGomersall on 21 May 2011
Format: Paperback
This is my first foray into the history of the American civil war (my usual haunt is WW1 and WW2 military history.) Having visited several sites of importance during a recent holiday to America, I decided to find out more about it, hence my purchase of this book.
I cannot comment on the academic accuracy of the contents, but for my wargaming interests it covered well how the conflict began, its military conduct and the overall progress and end of the war, with a short and interesting discussion of its legacy. The language is somewhat overextended in places (I prefer a more business-like use of language to the academic ability to construct sentences seeming to last for whole paragraphs), making it necessary to concentrate your attention to follow some of the arguments being expressed. There are twelve black and white maps and a selection of photographs.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By M. Baerends on 14 Jun 2013
Format: Paperback
This book is very suitable for those, like myself, who know next to nothing about the subject matter and who want to get a good overview without having to wade through 1000s of pages. With some 350 pages this book serves its purpose. What I really liked is that Keegan does not get lost in the details of every individual skirmish but rather tries to keep a broader perspective, and tries to explain why things worked out the way they did.
For example, he explains the high casualty rate not only from the introduction of the Minie rifle, but more because the two armies had no real other meaningful targets (e.g. strategic places or cities) than each other. As a result the war really became a war of attrition that would only stop when one army would have been ground down entirely. Not sure if this is really true - could the North not have used its advantages better & perhaps have brought the South down by a number of simultaneous invasions behind enemy lines or something?
I also think Keegan goes overboard when he explains diverse phenomena such as the reported femininity of southern women and the lack of American socialism from the civil war experience (the southern women had to console their beaten menfolk, and the American working class had seen so much bloodshed that they were unwilling to embark on bloody uprisings). Even more ridiculous is his assertion that soldiers found it mightily difficult to 'get used' to high-velocity shot from the new rifles - as if traditional musket balls where slow enough to see them coming or dodge them??

All in all, still a useful book despite the fact that there is a lot of repetition (as many other reviewers pointed out already).
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By BobH on 28 Jun 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Keegan's book is well-researched, well-written and offers insight into a bloody conflict. He describes the chaos at the start of the war (e.g. no standard uniforms or equipment) but also how this chaos continued into the conflict. From the start the Confederacy was at a disadvantage & its failure to gamble all in an initial thrust vs. weak opposition doomed their cause, especially as when it became a war of attrition in the hands of Grant & Sherman.
The amazing ineptitude of commanders on both sides is amply illustrated and, what becomes clear, is that Jefferson Davies was vastly inferior to Abraham Lincoln in ability. The result was that Lincoln managed to pull his generals into line while Davies didn't. The colossal wastage of lives and resources is described & the misery of a country & families torn apart.
Obviously, the book is a MILITARY history so diplomacy & political manoeuvring is largely omitted. The 'gallant loser' gives the Confederacy a romantic image but what would a Confederate victory have meant. To answer such questions you'll have to go elsewhere.The more irregular operations & pressures (e.g. in California)are glossed over.
All in all, however, Keegan has done a fine job in covering a ghastly war which retains its echoes today.
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