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3.7 out of 5 stars
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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 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 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 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 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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Keegan is an uninspiring history writer and this is a fairly mediocre effort. Worryingly as one reads each chapter one can tell where each days labour at the keyboard began and finished and the ragged transition between each days writing. While Keegan has obviously researched his subject thoroughly, his publisher has rather skimped on close and careful editing. Although Keegan's book was informative I fear I still need to purchase and read the late Shelby Foote's epic and definitive American Civil War history.
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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 15 August 2010
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 hindsight, must be tempered by the realisation that this is a short book about a big topic. It therefore could not be other than limited in its scope and coverage. This adds but little to an already rich literature on this conflict. For a fuller account, albeit in a slightly more journalistic style, see Shelby Foote. Those wanting something less massive that Foote's three volumes should try McPherson's "The Battle Cry for Freedom".
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on 12 February 2011
I sense that the reason so many people disparage this book is because, like me, they expected something much better from such a respected author. The book has all the feeling of something rushed out for the 150th anniversary to meet a marketing need, rather than a need to explain the complex issues of the war. Despite this it has some virtues, particularly for a reader seeking an overview when meeting the subject for the first time. The book does contain factual errors, but many of these are not significant to anyone except the keen student who will recognize them anyway. More dangerous in my view is that the book seems to expound the authors own views on a range of issues including slavery versus state rights and the relative merits of the military leaders without considering or barely acknowledging other viewpoints.
To the keen student, it is worth a read, but it cannot be considered a vital book when so many are available elsewhere. The keen student will probably note the lack of references and citations in the text and the very few appendix notes and draw their own conclusions
Since writing this review I have re-read James McPherson's "Battle Cry of Freedom" - Overall it is a much better one volume guide than Keegan's, and I readily recommend McPherson's as the better buy
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on 1 December 2009
After eagerly waiting this publication by the usually excellent John Keegan, I have to say this is the most disappointing book I've read this year.
Nothing really new here and there are far better books about the Civil War available by other writers (Wiley Sword, Foote, McPherson, Commager etc). Too many comparisons with the Great War. Too many repetitions of the same point in the text. And some odd errors eg "the unsuccessful seige of Sebastopol".
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