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3.7 out of 5 stars61
3.7 out of 5 stars
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on 30 September 2009
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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on 21 May 2011
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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on 16 May 2011
I approached this volume excitedly having devoured Keegan's single volume account of the First World War and found it to be the best work of its type. I have to say I was disappointed by this work. I admire the ambition of trying to address such a complex and sprawling subject as the American Civil War in a single volume; you would expect it therefore to be more of a precis, with a shrewd economy of words applied. What I found was frequent repetition of the same analytical arguments, often on the same page. The North had numerical superiority; control of the rivers was key to controlling the war; the South was desperate for recogntion/intervention by the Great Powers of Europe who demanded its cotton. If I read these conclusions once I read them a thousand times!

In the pen picture and analysis of the key figures McClellan comes out of it better than one would expect considering he was a spineless ditherer. Lee is somehow regarded as a good tactician but not a good strategist; interesting considering he held off a vastly superior political, economic and especially military force for over four years. I could go on...and often do, but my biggest disappointment was that this consideration didn't capture the soul of the conflict. Maybe you need to be American to truly do the subject justice. If you're looking for a well written, meticulously researched and painstakingly accurate review of the American Civil War, go for the three volume masterpiece by Shelby Foote.
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on 5 December 2009
Keegan's book offers an excellent and concise overview of the civil war, focussing on the military campaigns and the personalities involved. At less than 400 pages it is not too long and maintains the reader's interest throughout. Having said this there are some issues that need to be addressed. There is a general sense that the book has been rushed; there are several occassions when the same information is repeated without any reference to the fact that this has been mentioned elsewhere. This may be because Keegan wanted his work published ahead of the avalanche of books that can be expected as the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of Lincoln's election approaches. However my biggest issue with the book is that it is too narrow in its focus. There is hardly any mention of the home front and particularly to the role of women, either North or South and yet this is crucial to an understanding of both the length and course of the war. Both sides understood the importance of taking the war to the other side's homeland and this dictated much of the military strategy. Equally there is only a short section devoted to the role of African Americans in the war and yet this is the single most important issue. If there had been no slavery then there would have been no war and everyone knew this at the time. The lines in the Battle Hymn of the Republic that state: "As he died to make men holy. May we die to make men free" sum this up, as do the Emancipation Declaration and the Gettysbury Address. In conclusion though I enjoyed reading this book it is more one of the twentieth than the twenty-first century.
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on 5 June 2010
The number of books on the American Civil War is huge. To write a new work that is worth reading is very difficult, requiring perceptive scholarship of the highest order, good illustrations, clear detailed maps, et. I had expected much better from an historian of the calibre of John Keegan. The book is not well written (it starts with a paragraph lasting almost three pages and is plagued by irritating repetitions that his editor should have corrected), the maps are about the worst I have seen in a modern work of serious military history and it is not until the final third of the book that the author says anything worth reading. I can only think that the author was pushed by his publisher into writing a book that did not interest him.
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on 5 June 2011
The American Civil War by John Keegan is a decent enough book, but like many other reviewers, I do feel a little disappointed. Usually Keegan's books a rather better than this one.
There seems to be a certain lack of focus in his writing and the book is not nearly as succinct as many of Keegan's other books. At several point he even repeats himself - not something we're used to seeing in Keegan's writing.
It almost seems as if he is trying to make the book accessible rather than incisive, but, if that is the case, the resulting narrative is more rather than less confusing.
On the plus side, there is a refreshing absence of the pathos that infect so many American books on the subject; at least until the end of the book, where the inherent sadness of the conflict does shine through the pages.

All in all, I have read better books about the American Civil War than this one, and I can't really recommend it.
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on 1 November 2009
Keegan is a very good military historian. I've read most of his books. It's unfortunate with this book his some research is apparently flawed. Some geography, locations, people and places in some instances are incorrect so says the New York Times Book Reviewer, a writer/historian of the Civil War himself who has a lot of respect for Keegans ability. With a little more factual research I suppose it could have been a better book. I purchase books by good authors so that I can learn and be entertained. What I did read I really enjoyed because Keegan can deliver. If there are errors in some facts I'll never know. But it's a good read never the less.
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on 9 October 2014
Having read a number of the one volume histories of the American Civil War I'm puzzled by some of the reviews. It's a well researched, well written history. It covers topics from the living and social conditions of slaves to the naval war and all major points in between in a logical manner. It generally avoids simplistic stereotypes and tries to accurately characterise the people and events involved in the war. It doesn't say anything that's particularly original but what's there to say that's really new. I think it's an interesting well written book and the best of the one volume histories of the war that I have read.
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on 29 October 2013
As the descendant of Confederate soldiers, I always dread reading a history of the War Between the States, for I can count on a Yankee bias. This book, however, is balanced, fair, and readable, obviously based on deep research. Well done!
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on 17 May 2013
This book is not a definitive and (for those who are "true" historians may they be students or professionals no book is nor should it be the final say). Keegan has written a book that is a good starting point. It is as pointed out by reviewers on here "far from being a definitive book about the war - and if you are looking for that you may well be disappointed".

I do not want to read the concise history on the ACW. I want something too drag me in and make me think and analyse and then go and read other books by other authors. Why be lazy.

Maps.......ok it is nice to have good maps admittedly. Very few well written books have good maps. PS what is the internet for if it is not for downloading maps.

Repetition? was that not what most wars are about repetition? at present none of the conflicts are original they are all being fought over the same land. EXCEPT the ACW, a war fought on "part new, seaboard was used in the ARW" (western style) land over repetitious ideas. Forcing someone's views on another may that person be white or black.

Sadly to say i think those on here who gave up so early miss the point of the book. You cannot write a concise history about the politics, social, people the actual war on a continent [a land mass bigger than what a certain Genghis khan ruled over] in one volume, to do so is foolish. PS i don't give 5 stars for any book because that would mean it is definitive or the best book in the world. For those who are looking for the simple version about the ACW maybe try the ladybird range...just an idea.
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