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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
The Civil War, written by Ken Burns, Ric Burns and historian Geoffrey C. Ward, is the companion volume to the outstanding 1990 documentary series from the Public Broadcasting System. Lavishly illustrated with paintings, photographs and maps, this book tells the dramatic and tragic story of America's bloodiest conflict.
Like the television series from which this project was derived, its narrative is both informative and awe-inspiring. Its prose is lovingly crafted, and one can almost hear the voice of historian-writer David McCullough, who narrated the TV episodes, when reading from any of its five chapters.
"By the summer of 1861, Wilmer McLean had had enough," write the authors in the introduction, The Crossroads of Our Being. "Two great armies were converging on his farm, and what would be the first major battle of the Civil War -- Bull Run, or Manassas as the Confederates called it -- would soon rage across the aging Virginian's farm, a Union shell going so far as to tear through his summer kitchen. Now McLean moved his family away from Manassas, far south and west of Richmond -- out of harm's way, he prayed -- to a dusty crossroads town called Appomatox Court House. And it was there in his living room three and a half years later that Lee surrendered to Grant, and Wilmer McLean could rightfully say, 'The war began in my front yard and ended in my front parlor.' "
Although the hardcover edition is a coffee table sized volume, it is not a terribly long or exhaustive work. There are only five chapters, each one dedicated to a year of the war and followed by an essay by an eminent historian. My personal favorite is the essay "Men at War" by Shelby Foote, whose award winning three volume history of the Civil War is considered by many to be among the best on the subject. More interview than essay, "Men at War" attempts to explain why Civil War battles were so bloody; "It was brutal stuff," Foote explains, "and the reason for the high casualties is really quite simple: the weapons were way ahead of the tactics." Foote also discusses the primitive medical techniques of the time, and has this to say about Lee at Gettysburg: "Gettysburg was the price the South paid for having Lee." On the issue of who won the war, Foote says, "I can tell you who lost it -- the South lost the war. But I'm not sure anybody won that war. It's a tragedy."
Other essay writers include Barbara J. Fields, James M. McPherson, Don E. Fehrenbacher and C. Vann Woodward.
The Civil War follows the structure of Ken Burns' documentary, and most of the individuals portrayed in the PBS series (ranging from Presidents Lincoln and Davis to Union soldier Elisha Hunt Rhodes -- who rose from private to colonel during the war -- and Confederate soldier-turned-author Sam Watkins) are wonderfully described in the text.
While definitely not a substitute for the film on which it's based, The Civil War is a fine book and a good one-volume introduction to the worst internal crisis the American people ever faced.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 7 February 2006
This again is a great Book about the subject "American Civil War". The book contains all the important facts, the reasons of the secession to the beginning of one of the bloodiest and cruelest Wars in the world history. The author does not tell all the difficult stories but the important facts. One disadvantage is that all great battles such as Fredericksburg, Stone River, Gettysburg, Wilderness etc. are not very detailed described. The book shows the emotions of North and South at war and is at the end very moving. If you are interested in the american Civil War or general in military history you have to buy this book. I'm happy to have read it and know now again more of the bloody conflict of 1861-1865.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 31 August 2001
The civil war seen through the eyes of the actors of the time before history took over, before the post-humous explanations, theories, and rationalizations.
Very well-written, a real discovery of war in general : what the soldier feels like when aiming at the enemy for the first time, taken over by a machinery he doesn't really understand.
Extraordinary photographic material. Really gripping.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 11 August 2011
Not enough detail here for the serious student but a fabulous introduction to the conflict. It may well whet your appetite for more. Well written, though necessarily brief, with copious contemporary photographs as you'd expect with the Burns' involvement. Lots of eye-witness accounts and anecdotes (including the most heart rending letter from a soldier to his wife that you will ever read). Very, very impressive.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 9 June 2008
This is categorically NOT a tie-in with Ken Burns' video documentary, as suggested by one of the reviews on this page. Rather it is a short but very prosey, well-written but deeply unfashionable book about the Civil War dating from the early 1960's.

True to its time, it is a simple, stripped-down narrative of the main events of the civil war with few of the factors that make (say) James M. McPherson's "The Battle Cry of Freedom" or Shelby Foote's mammoth Civil War trilogy such rewarding investments: In the former case profound reflection on the moral and cultural dimensions of the war and how it shaped the present; in the latter case, in-depth analysis and evaluation of the personalities involved in the conflict and a florid richness of detail and anecdote supported by a fine military understanding.

Moreover, by modern standards Mr. Catton simply seems patronising. By repeatedly treating the eventual northern victory as a foregone conclusion from the outset he undersells the particularity and fierce cultural authenticity of the ante-bellum south, allows the reader to forget just how close the South came to winning its independence, and fails to explain the continuing and all-pervading sense of separate nationhood that still persists in parts of the Deep South today. In short, he makes it an anodyne story of how the great American democratic experiment survived its greatest challenge. Worse still, to a modern reader he seems to patronise the African-Americans both in his language ("Negroes") and his glancing treatment of the predicament and active role of African Americans in a conflict that became increasingly about them as it progressed.

This is not a truly bad book, just average and rather dated. There is nothing in it (apart from perhaps simple brevity) that "The Battle Cry of Freedom" does not do better.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 7 February 2006
This again is a very good book about the subject "American Civil War". The advantage of the book is that the author does not tell to much difficult details. This book contains the important facts of the War 1861-1865. From the reasons for the secession to the beginning of one of the most bloodiest and cruelest wars in the world history. If you are interessted in the civil war or generell in military history you have to buy this book. I'm happy to have read it and know now a lot more of this War.
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on 8 July 2014
If you saw the documentary series, then this is the book of the series. A comprehensive fabulously illustrated history of all aspects of the war in one volume. If you're interested in the Civil War and don't where to start, then look no further.
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on 4 January 2014
I bought this book to go along with the DVD set I have on Ken Burns epic on The American Civil war and it follows word for word covering everything on Ken Burns DVD box set.
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on 29 January 2011
This gives a very good overview of the ACW. It contains some very interesting titbitys as well as a good birds eye view of the whole war.
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on 23 August 2011
This book was in excellent shape. It gives a comprehensive look at the Civil War. A very balanced perspective
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