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45 Reviews
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56 of 59 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good military history - but not more than that
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...
Published on 30 Sept. 2009 by bookelephant

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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Poorly edited, Keegan usually does much better.
As one who both admires Keegan and has a lively interest in the American Civil War I, like others, siezed this book eagerly, only to finish it disappointed. The book does not achieve the standard that we have come to expect from this writer. As others have written this book is surprisingly repetitious due, I imagine, to poor editing. Expectations, said in my case with...
Published on 15 Aug. 2010 by Doctor Mac


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4.0 out of 5 stars Easily recommendable narrative cum basic analysis if what is required is an all-round primer, 16 Mar. 2011
This review is from: The American Civil War (Paperback)
The US Civil War has always been one of the black holes in my history background - an area I have neither studied or taught directly. So I purchased John Keegan's "American Civil War" in the hope that this would help fill the gap. And largely it has. Keegan, a war historian best known for his surveys of 20th century warfare writes well and clearly. I should imagine that the book provides more than sufficient detail on the campaigns and key meetings between both sides to satisfy most students researching the conflict (however some reviews have expressed concern with accuracy). What is irritating is the habit of repeating points made earlier on in the narrative. The battle maps are particularly useful (although I must admit to moving quickly through some of the land campaign details, lack of personal familiarity with the basic geography of the area trying my patience a little. This though is a personal failing, not one of the authors.). What is made very clear is how inexperienced and unprepared both sides were in the craft of warfare and it is interesting to read the process of natural selection required to find able military commanders.

Keegan also provides a number of chapters prior to and after the conflict that are extremely useful articles in their own right on key aspects of the conflict (such as the Life of the Soldier, Generalship, Nature of the Civil War Battle, Home fronts, Black soldiers). In many ways these are just as valuable as (if not more so than) the account of the war itself. One omission is a discrete chapter focusing on the war role of Lincoln himself, which is a pity.

Given Keegan's interest in 20th century warfare there are many instances where he shows how the Civil War displayed and introduced features of later wars (as well as how it did not and drew rather on earlier conflict experience in Europe). All in all this is an easily recommendable narrative cum basic analysis of the war if what is required is a primer.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A Good Introduction, 6 Feb. 2011
By 
P. J. Connolly "Caractacus" (Wiltshire, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The American Civil War (Paperback)
Prior to reading this book my knowledge of the American Civil War was pretty superficial. I really enjoyed the book and found it gave me an excellent introduction to the subject. I have not always enjoyed John Keegan's writing in the past but he really has done a great job in summarising the political, military, social and economic aspects of the Civil War in a very readable and concise manner. He covers the ground at a fast pace but nonetheless gives acute judgements on the personalities involved and the strategic dilemmas faced by the participants. The final themed chapters dealing with particular aspects struck me as a little strange at first but worked surprisingly well. I had never really appreciated the immense geographic canvas over which this war was fought and the real motivations driving each side. By the end, as so often, I was struck by what a waste it all was. The South could never realistically hope to win but persisted in clinging to its illusions long after reality should have set in.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Great introduction to the civil war, 6 Dec. 2010
By 
J. Duducu (Ruislip) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The American Civil War (Paperback)
At some point we all are new to a topic. This can be awkward when you are dealing with a popular topic e.g. World War 2 or the Roman Empire as there are so many books on a subject its hard to know where to start. The American Civil War is another of these events that has a plethora of books written about it. Consequently for the reviewers that give it a low score they are valid. There are far heftier tomes out there that go into far greater detail on all the areas of the war that John Keegan discusses.

However you may not want to start with a 1,000 page epic. In which case (and the reason for the 4 stars) if you look at John Keegan's work as a summary of events, as a starting point on a big topic then I can think of no greater book to recommend. The major battles are discussed in enough depth for you to get a feel for not just the horrors the common soldier encountered, but also the strategic importance of clashes like Gettysburg or Shiloh.

Keegan also walks you through the politics and social implications too and as a British writer shows the reader how the war did not happen in a bubble and why international assistance or influence was just as important as any of the battles themselves.

If I was to criticise there is some sloppy editing. Returning to a topic discussed earlier sometimes whole sentences are lifted word for word and repeated again giving you a sense of déjà vu or more commonly frustration at such a cheap trick which I doubt is the writers fault as most of the time the writing is informative and flows well. The other point I have already alluded to is that if you already are seeped in the events of 1860's America you will find nothing new here.

Overall though a fabulous introduction to the US Civil War.

If you liked this there's more historical debate and fun at @HistoryGems on Facebook and Twitter
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19 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Finest Book of the American Civil War, 19 Sept. 2009
By 
Richard N. Jones (Lincoln England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The American Civil War (Hardcover)
There is no doubt that Sir John Keegan is THE writer of historical factual books. I thought his book, The First World War, could not be bettered. I was wrong. This book is the finest I have read about this dreadful war which shaped the America, and thus the world, of today.

I was amazed to learn that the graddaughter of General Stonewall Jackson died less than 20 years ago! There are still many men alive who have talked to veterens of this awful period in America's history. Keegan's book tells it all; as it should be told. Buy this book, you will never regret it.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The American Civil War, 13 Oct. 2009
By 
John R. Fox - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The American Civil War (Hardcover)
As an American who has read many Civil War histories, I greatly appreciated this history from a different perspective. As with all John Keegan books it was very well written. I would recommend to anyone interested in the Civil War as a refreshing and perceptive overview.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A History of the ACW from the Federalist Perspective, 18 July 2010
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This review is from: The American Civil War (Hardcover)
Having read some books on campaigns and personalities of the ACW I was looking forward to a more general overview of the entire conflict. Keegan has some interesting chapters regarding the cultural differences between North and South and puts forward the arguments for and against slavery as they were seen at the time to a reasonable level (a difficult subject as many historians do view this with the benefit of hindsight). Some intellectuals of the time postulated the idea that freeing the slaves would be unkind as they would not be able to cope with their freedom and be destitute as the blacks in the North were. Under slavery they were controlled. It is clear from some of the Northern argument for freedom of slaves that this was not for altruistic purposes but to maintain a large, fluid and cheap labour force for their industries. He does fall into the trap of saying that the war was about slavery from the onset which it clearly was not until after The Emancipation Declaration enshrined it into to ideology of the Union, also making certain that the Confederacy could not gain any help from other Nations without surrendering slavery- something that was economically impossible for them at that time. His figures regarding Southern slave owners are also interesting stating that of the South's white population of five million, only 48000 were identified as planters, that is, men owning more than twenty slaves. Only 3000 owned more than a hundred slaves, only 11 more than five hundred. The vast majority of the Southern fighters were not slave owners and many of the battles were fought on territory which did not own a large slave owning class and many of the Southerners even resented the slave owning class. Hence it is contradictory for Keegan to then assert that the beginnings of the war were about slavery- although it certainly played a part one would expect a less simplistic conclusion from such an eminent historian.

It is apparent that Keegan's sympathies do lie with the Federalists and it is also quite apparent throughout the book to such an extent that his uncritical analysis of the North and sweeping statements betray a definite bias which should not be evident in an historian. To say that U.S. Grant was a man who did not enjoy war does not sit easily when viewed next to his insistence on unconditional surrender and making war on the enemy's civilians. It is not enough to write about Southern "atrocities" without backing up the statement with evidence. He is throughout the book consistently glossing over events or offering a one sided view which is done either out of ignorance of the events or wilfully to promote a prejudiced opinion- both of which are unworthy of any historian.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 24 Oct. 2014
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This review is from: The American Civil War (Kindle Edition)
A particularly good analysis of the American Civil War
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 7 Aug. 2014
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This review is from: The American Civil War (Paperback)
good
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Keegan Analysis, 7 Jan. 2010
By 
Dennis M. Gasick (Il., USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The American Civil War (Hardcover)
In his review of the battles of the U.S. Civil War Keegan is average and a little repetitious. His closing chapters which analyze some the conditions of the war are worth the read.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointed, 19 Oct. 2010
By 
Ifor H. Smout (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The American Civil War (Paperback)
Not sure waht the aim of this book is. It has interesting details on the causes of the war and some pen pictures of the main protagonists but overall I felt it is too wide ranging to provide any new insights while containing some bald statements on "Best Cavalry officer" (Jeb Stuart) - "superlative commander (Andrew Jackson) but none supported by any reasoning or evidence to support the claim. Lee was never measured as a commander and the brief descriptions of momentous battles hardly did them justice either on a strategic or personal level. Failed to reach the high standard of his other books.
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The American Civil War
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