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3.8 out of 5 stars
71
3.8 out of 5 stars
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on 19 August 2012
I have to add my voice to those who have commented that this book has been rushed out in an attempt to exploit the anticipated peak of interest in the civil war surrounding the 150th anniversary. Keegan's is unquestionably an authoritative voice, yet this book is plagued with so much repetition that it reads like a first draft. This infuriating habit operates at all levels of the text's organisation: for example, the story of the assault on Fort Wagner by the 54th Massachusetts Regiment is recounted in full not once, but twice in the course of the narrative; we are told no fewer than three times that General McClelland was a curious mix of the personally self-assured and the militarily timorous; at other times whole sentences are repeated almost verbatim just paragraphs apart. I lost count of the number of times Keegan explained that the the Confederacy hoped to achieve international recognition by fomenting discord among the cotton-importers in the North of Europe.

Furthermore, the book is lamentably myopic in scope. Other reviewers have commented that it concerns itself with very little beyond the events of the battlefields of the war. I would add that even within this limited remit, it further reduces its scope by focusing almost exclusively on the generals, strategies, soldiers and condition of the Union army. We learn almost nothing of the plans and concerns of Jefferson Davis and other Southern politicians and strategists; a general reader would be forgiven for concluding that Jackson and Lee were the only men obtaining to the rank of General within the entire Confederate army, as influential figures such as Stuart, Longstreet, Hood and the two Johnstons are mentioned only in the briefest of asides. Time and again, the book leaves the impression that Lincoln's forces were fighting against a vacuum. Was Davis concerned by Union gains in the West? Did he have plans to counter-attack? Was he contemplating surrender in 1863-64? Was he impeded in his ability to make strategy by the issue of States' rights? On these subjects and many others Keegan is silent.

While this book undoubtedly contains much worthwhile research and credible reportage of the major battles of the civil war, it is too limited in scope and too poorly pieced-together to be anything like the definitive single-volume account that it claims to be. A great shame.
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on 6 February 2011
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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on 7 December 2016
Until I read this excellent book by John Keegan I didn't know the ins & outs behind the American Civil War. How simply the two sides slid into a terrible civil war, it almost seemed inevitable and was another depressing example about Man being unable to resolve differences without recourse to war. I didn't realise how many battles were fought altogether and how intensive the fighting was. The casualties were staggering, both combat & through illness, and the two sides determination to engage in combat was without parallel. Yes, in Wellington & Napoleon's day men formed up opposite each other and fired volleys at each other but the American Civil War rifles were longer range and inflicted worse wounds. This book covered all the basics effectively and I'm now looking forward to reading the DK book which has lots of illustrations of the weapons, uniforms etc
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on 21 November 2012
An enjoyable read though it took me some time to sort out the combatants initially. The maps were too small to be really helpful. I learnt a lot from the book about that war and how it was fought. A map of America at the beginning would have been uesful.
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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 10 September 2015
He tries to do it differently from others but I m afraid I found his methodology slow and confusing. I also felt that if he suffered from a lack of enthusiasm for the subject.
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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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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 23 December 2013
This book certainly has lots of them. Like most books about military campaigns, it is more favourable to the winners, but not overly so. It is not really a book for reading cover to cover in one go, though this is OK as the subject is divided up intelligently and treated as a unit, with only slight assumptions that earlier chapters/subjects have been read in full, and the topics chosen are interesting and their treatment sometimes thought provoking.
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on 3 November 2016
Wars are generally confusing and the American Civil War more so than most, but this book offers a clear, concise overview and is particularly good at explaining how geography dictated the course of the action, and on assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the men in command. It is primarily a military history and for anyone interested in the political side I would recommend reading it in tandem with Jame's McPherson's 'Battle Cry of Freedom.'
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