Another reviewer slates this book for catering to an A-Level audience, a harsh criticism considering that is its exact purpose. Of course, there are far more authorative books on the subject but this book is designed to help students understand the period and it broadly serves this purpose.
As an educational book, a key aspect is literacy and familiarisation with key terms and people. This is so students who have no prior knowledge of, or probably interest in, the American Civil War can access the period. If a student doesn't know a term, it'll be invariably explained in the margin. Some students do not know these terms, they need them explained. It's a sad indictment of the education system for sure, but you play with the cards you're dealt. It's better to explain terms and mistakenly be interpreted as patronising than, in effect, tell the students to f*ck off because they're not smart enough.
To satisfy the keener mind, it recommends numerous titles at the end of each chapter and introduces further reading explicitly throughout with analysis of key texts such as Uncle Tom's Cabin and Hilton R. Helper's, The Impending Crisis of the South. It provides a complete, if not exhaustive, history of the period 1803-1877 and, as said, it is designed with students in mind and, therefore, tries to make it as accessible as possible. This meaning that more gifted students will read additional material to further their understanding. Or just stick to the book if they're lazy so-and-sos.
The books limitations are obvious. Some of the period is covered briefly: Andrew Jackson by way of an example. A figure of such distinction that merits a word or two in this book. In other places, it really falls down in what it is supposed to be doing. The war itself is covered in a right half-arsed way. Swaying from Virginia to the West and back again like a drunkard, it is poor stuff. Very confusing and complete with maps of which even the Pathfinder, John Fremont would struggle to make head nor tail. There's some ok stuff on Grant, Lee, Jackson, Sherman and McClellan but how you can write a book on the Civil War and barely mention figures such as Nathan Bedford Forrest - Fort Pillow???? and JEB Stuart - I think he's mentioned once in reference to John Brown's Raid where he served under Lee, to name but two is pretty poor form.
Another problem of the book is that it is dull. The ACW is my favourite period of history but the book, whilst having its merits, hardly grabs the student and twirls them around. A sprinkling of panache would get more attention and affection for the subject to the A2 student. Give them Sheridan's quote, "If I owned Hell and Texas, I'd rent out Texas and live in hell", tell them John Bell Hood had his hand mangled by an arrow by the Comanches in Texas, had his arm incapacitated by a shell at Gettysburg and his leg amputated at Chickamauga before leading CSA troops at Atlanta (to be fair, the book does say that Lee said of Hood, "All lion but none of the fox", a very good quote although apparently he never actually said it). Still everyone's a critic, eh? It does a job but must be read with other volumes to have any deeper meaning.