Whatever prevents you from doing your work has become your work. - Albert Camus (1913 - 1960)
I know almost nothing about the American Civil War. Shelby Foote's account is vivid, full of character portraits and details of a vanished society. Sometimes difficult to follow (I imagine there are diagrams of battles in the print version) but always delightful to listen to.
A must for all students of Civil War history. The audio version simply draws you in... I can't wait for vol. 2.
I love reading and listening to books, especially fantasy, science fiction, children's, historical, and classics.
Shelby Foote's The Civil War: a Narrative: Vol. 1 (1958) begins by describing the personalities, appearances, and biographies of Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln and by establishing the political and cultural contexts that led to the Civil War. Then Foote moves on to depicting the armies, commanders, strategies, and battles of the North and South in roughly the first two years of the war. Although his history devotes equal time to the Confederate and Union points of view, unlike Ken Burns' TV Documentary it mostly ignores those of women and African Americans (slave or free).
Foote does not ignore the heroism and horror of war. For example, he describes how the fighting in and around a cornfield at the battle of Sharpsburg was so furious that corn and heads and limbs were flying up into the air, until the corn stalks looked as if they'd been cut close to the ground with a giant knife and the field was carpeted with the bodies of the dead and dying. He also vividly depicts how battles are often decided by weather, luck, miscommunication, personality, expectation, and morale.
At times I felt flooded by details about the battles, by the names of rivers, mountains, valleys, roads, towns, cities, politicians, and officers, and by the many different tactics and strategies, so that I had to focus to immerse myself in the sea of detail without drowning in it. It might be better to read The Civil War as a book, because then you could easily refer to maps so as to better visualize the action and ground yourself therein.
But Shelby Foote is such a good writer, weaving together so much fascinating information, as well as writing such vivid depictions of the battles and their commanders, that I was often transported to the Civil War. Moreover, everywhere in the book are memorable and often humorous lines, whether Foote is quoting the colorful language of the 19th century, as in "That filthy cage of unclean birds [Washington, D.C.] must and will be purified by fire," or writing his own apt descriptions, as in "All through the long hot afternoon of August 18 [General] Pope kept groping, like the 'it' in a game of blindman's buff, arms outstretched, fingers spread, combing the landscape for the ubiquitous, elusive rebel force: to no avail."
Foote also makes the past understandable and relevant to the present, as when he writes, "Indian, Anglo-Saxon names of hamlets and creeks and crossroads, for the most part unimportant in themselves until the day when the armies came together, as often by accident as on purpose, to give the scattered names a permanence and settle what manner of life the future generations were to lead."
Reader Grover Gardner makes the text easier to understand and feel with his perfect pace and without any histrionics or attempts at faux regional accents.
Although I am glad to have listened to this audiobook, I do not plan to listen to Volume 2 or 3 of Foote's Civil War epic for a while, because I feel saturated with detail from Volume 1.
This 3-volume set is really fantastic. Foote recounts a huge number of facts about the civil war, providing important context (e.g., the political ramifications of events), and manages to keep it interesting throughout. This is a very long haul, and there were many times when I wished that Foote was less good at his craft so that I could put this series down and move on, but I wanted to know what happened. I highly recommend this series.
Lover of good ideas
The first of a three volume history of the Civil War was a masterfully written story of one of the critical periods in our nations history. The author not only gave us the history of the period, but he introduced the reader to many of the key figures in the war between the states. In doing so he revealed their thinking and decisions which helps us better understand this most tragic period in our nations history. He revealed their strengths and character flaws, which often lead to the death of many men and a prolongation of the war. The amount of detail can be overwhelming at times, yet it reveals the depth of research that had to have been done to produce this masterpiece of history. No one who listens to these books will ever be able to say they don't understand the factors that lead to the war between the states or the extent of the tragedy that almost destroyed the United States. I am looking forward to listening to the other two volumes.
The three volumes (130 hours?) ran for about 4 1/2 months of daily gym workouts. I suggest buying a civil war map book or similar, since the main drawback to audio history is missing maps etc. The volumes were awesome hitting battles, generals. political leadership and economic and political bacground with an excellent, well woven flow. Not an easy task with so much information.
This is an excellent audio book. The narration deals with the details of the biographies of the various participants but doesn't neglect the strategic implications of all of the events. Outstanding!
This book is a very detailed account of the civil war from the eyes and ears of those who were there. In historical books I rarely feel so in touch with the characters. The author portrays the people of the civil war not as gods or morons, but as humans beings. I relate to these people more than I have been able to relate to any historical figures. I not only can't stop listening to what amounts to a fantastic story, but I am also very much more interested in the civil war. I want to visit local civil war museums and parks. I enjoyed this one so much I went ahead and bought volumes 2 and 3 just before finishing the first one.
In short, bravo.
Shelby Foote's writing adds drama and humor to what most other historians would turn into dry relations of fact. His ability to identify and describe the motivations of both sides make this one of the finest sources for Civil War histories a layman can hope for. My only disappointment was that Foote himself did not narrate portions of it... but given the pace of his wonderfull drawl, I guess that would have lengthened the audiobook to 60 hours instead of 40.
I have enjoyed Mr. Foote's book very much. The "narrative" is very much a detailed and impartial study of the central figures and events of the day. Mr. Foote's uncanny insight into the central figures of the day, to include their upbringing, educational background and moral convictions, helps readers better understand the "hows" and "whys" of those tumultous times leading up to and the commencement of hostilities. I congratulate Mr. Foote on his effort to tell the "rest of the story", to pull a well-known quip from Mr. Paul Harvey. This book was great and I look forward to Foote's subsequent insight in Vols 2 and 3.