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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 26 March 2017
This is probably the best one volume book on the Civil War out there. There is never a dull moment. McPherson's writing style is quick, clear, and easy to read. He truly brings to life that feeling of utter division that was the Civil War and one wonders how the country ever healed and how it has become so united. The idea that Americans would place allegiance to their states over the national governement seems so utterly foreign now, it amazes me to think how so much has changed since those days.

There does seem to be some confusion about the purpose of the book. It was actually written as part of a greater series "The Oxford History of the United States." It covers the Civil War era, not just the war itself, and covers about twenty years from 1847-1865. It is impossible to undestand what the Civil War was without understanding the background, so I fail to understand the complaints of some reviewers that the war only shows up after about 300 or so pages. It is a thoroughly detailed review of the major causes of the Civil War and if you don't understand it after reading this book, you never will. It is clear and concise.

I really believe that any student of American histroy must read this book. It's beautifully written and worth the time it takes you to plow through it. There are extensive notes so readers can investigate fully various subjects of the book. Highly recommended.
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on 29 February 2016
At first sight, this can be a daunting book; at nearly a thousand pages, it is a weighty tome. I knew very little about the American Civil War, and thought it about time to remedy that; after a bit of research, this volume seemed to fit the bill. Firstly, it's important to state that this book is NOT simply a military history of the conflict, although it naturally covers all the campaigns, battles and leading military figures. This is much more; it spends as much time explaining the lead up to the war, as it does the war itself. For me, not knowing a lot about American history in the nineteenth century, this proved fascinating, and necessary. I learnt a huge amount about the origin and mindset of various traditions and factions in America and some elements came as a complete surprise. Without this background, the war itself would have seemed a bit of a mystery.
The writing is always engaging, with enough detail to satisfy, without getting bogged down. The main personalities are well handled, with plenty of first- and second-hand testimony. My only real criticism is that the maps really should have been re-done for the Kindle version, as they are virtually useless (unfortunately this is a common complaint in many history books).
The American Civil War is the most written about event in American history, and many elements are still widely disputed and debated in the States today. As a non-American, I think this book makes an excellent, apparently objective, introduction to the subject.
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on 10 February 2018
I have always been intrigued by the stories that surrounded the American Civil war, its causes, and the thinking that drove men to take up arms against brother, family and fellow countrymen. The book however covers not just the period of the war from 1860 to 1865 but sets the historical pre-cursors decades prior to that terrible conflict. Mc Pherson covers every political aspect and translates these into real effects on tbe population of the States at tbat time. It is fascinating, tbought provoking, and exhilarating to read. It is the story of mankind attitudes toward equality and freedom and highlights questions that have not been totally resolved, even today in the 21st century some 153 years since tbe end of the war. It tells the story of the building of a great nation that at one time was prepared to tear itself apart with both sides having the firm belief that they were fighting for freedom. If you want to understand the nuances, the wherfores and whyfores of a war that was to shape the world we live in today then dont leave this earth without first reading tbis exposition.
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on 6 January 2015
Whilst being an excellent history book, the Kindle edition is appalling!
The maps/photos present a low resolution, blurred image of what is an essential resource towards understanding the written context. The book layout also suffers badly from being "Kindelised".
Do not buy!
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on 21 September 2017
In my opinion, and many others concur, if you want a single volume history of the American civil war, this is the one to go for. Very readable, it is also detailed, nothing of significance is left out. The opening chapters give an excellent recording of the situation in the pre-war years. The political turmoil that led to sectionalism. The economic pressures, the immigration bringing growth and conflicts, the efforts of the southern states to maintain a hold on power in the face of growing imbalance. From the ramifications of the Mexican war to the explosion in Kansas, so much is explained. The book is well sprinkled with useful maps showing the state of the country and the various campaigns. This was the period that defined America and launched it as the powerhouse that we know today. To understand America, its past has to be understood too.
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on 28 August 2016
This is the book you should read if you're looking for a single volume on the American.civil war. It documents the events which led up to the war all the way through to General Lee's surrender.
The book was excellent for me because, although 956 pages, I learnt all I want to know on a subject where entire books are dedicated to single battles.
The author is light handed, and doesn't let his own opinions distort his version of events; which is always a positive in a historical tome. He also does a thorough job on describing all the main protagonists in depth; and the roguish elements of the war too. Highly recommended for those like me, who only want to read a single volume on the subject.
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on 25 April 2017
Extensive coverage of society, politics, and battles in one (thick) book. This is the alternative to multi-book series. It is engagingly written and covers all a non-scholarly reader will want to know (although there are copious footnotes).

However, the quality of the production is lacking: the maps are almost all totally unreadable (too small, and darkly reproduced), with many places showing a poor imprint of the text itself. This is surprising for Penguin (this review is of the paperback version; perhaps the hardcover is better).
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on 18 February 2018
As someone from the UK with only a very high level understanding of the background and cause of the US civil war, this book covered everything so well.
The lead up to the war covering its causes and the building sense of brinkmanship and distrust between leaders in the South and the North was fascinating to read through.

The book does focus on the military and political history, and less so on social history. It also doesn't go into much detail on the experience of slaves within the South, but this is not a criticism as such just a pointer to people that if they are seeking a social history this book isn't the one for you. If you are looking for a brilliant and detailed guide to the political and military history of the lead up to and course of the civil war though this is definitely the book to get.
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on 18 February 2014
If I was to read only one book, I was particularly concerned to find one that avoided ahistoric value judgments and the bias that would follow. All of us now would say the South was in the wrong, monstrously so, but I didn't need to read a 900 page book to be told that. So I started by reading a lot of reviews in search of 'the best one volume book about the war' - which led to this one.

There is a Simpsons episode where Lisa is asked about the causes of the war; Lisa starts to give a long list but the examiner cuts her off with "just say slavery." In a sense this is true, of course, but in other ways it really isn't. The South was fighting for states' rights and limited government, fundamental principles of the foundation of the United States. The North presents an even greater problem for the simpistic 'slavery' view: while abolitionists were strong in New England, many if not most of the people of the North had absolutely no more concern for the rights of black people than their opposite numbers in the South. Quotation after quotation after quotation, liberally peppered with a certain word beginning with n, and coming from all manner of Northerners from Lincoln down to the humblest sort, make this abundantly clear. The North was fighting for the preservation of the union from 'traitors,' and that was it, for the first couple of years at least.

There is little doubt that, had the confederacy collapsed more quickly, things would have gone back to business as usual in the South. This produces the curious reflection that it was the extremely able leadership of the South (Robert E Lee being widely regarded as one of the greatest half dozen generals in all human history) that caused the destruction of the slavery cause.

My biggest reservation about this book, by far, is with the Kindle format. I adore Kindle and even prefer it to reading real books generally, but the maps just don't quite work; how can you get an overview when a map covers 5 or 6 electronic pages? Maps are so important to understanding of military campaigns that this is a real issue. Given my time over, I'd seriously consider getting the paperback rather than the Kindle version.

To sign off, an unimportant tidbit, the sort of fun thing you get in very long books: it was this war which popularized the sort of standard sizes in ready-made clothing we are used to today. Previously, clothes were home-made or bespoke tailored, but the need for industrial quantities of uniforms led to standard sizings.
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on 15 September 2013
I had intended to read a book about the American Civil War for many years but never quite got round to it until recently. I chose this book after reading the Amazon reviews and speaking to a friend who had read and recommended it, and it turned out to be an excellent choice.

As other reviewers have pointed out, the maps are pretty useless in the Kindle edition, being just too small to see properly but that is the only criticism I have.

The book is well written, meticulously researched, and sets the facts out for the reader very clearly and objectively. As well as covering the war itself, the book spends some 300 pages going into the political background and underlying causes that led to it. Prior to reading the book I had only a superficial knowledge of the Civil War, but I now understand far better why it began, why the Union eventually won, and why it was so bloody. A war fought with traditional tactics but modern weapons was always going to be a recipe for mass slaughter.

It also became apparent as I read, that the attitudes to slavery were far more nuanced and complex than simply Confederacy pro-slavery, Union anti-slavery. In particular, Lincoln's views and statements on the subject prior to the war and in the early stages came as a real surprise and, while these did change as the conflict dragged on, it appears to have been more for tactical than moral reasons.

It is also worth remembering how relatively recent the US Civil War was; in historical terms, 150 years is nothing at all. Having read this book, I now understand better why civil rights remained such a difficult and divisive issue for American society well into the late twentieth century (and beyond). History very definitely shaped the future in this case.
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