James M. McPherson, professor emeritus of U.S. history at Princeton, is one of the foremost scholars of the Civil War. In this informative and meticulously researched masterpiece, he clarifies the differing ways of life and philosophy that led to this shattering conflict.
Abraham Lincoln wondered whether "in a free government the minority have the right to break up the government". Jefferson Davis felt "forced to take up arms" to guarantee states' rights. McPherson merges the words of these men and other political luminaries, as well as housewives and soldiers from both armies, with his own concise analysis of the war, creating a story as compelling as any novel.
Battle Cry of Freedom vividly traces how a new nation was forged when a war both sides were sure would amount to little dragged on for four years and cost more American lives than all other wars combined.
Please note: The individual volumes of the series have not been published in historical order. Battle Cry of Freedom is number VI in The Oxford History of the United States.
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"Of the 50,000 books written on the Civil War, [this is] the finest compression of that national paroxysm ever fitted between two covers." (Los Angeles Times Book Review)
I wish all audiobooks were this good. This is a well written book with fantastic narration. I usually zone out a little listening to a book of this length and sometimes find myself getting overwhelmed. I was able to listen to this one endlessly however - primarily because the narrative is crisp and engaging and the narrator is superb. I could just dive in and pick up where I left off and I was instantly swept up in it without ever being overwhelmed. This combination of good writing and good narrative is very rare - so it's refreshing when I discover it. This is one of the few books that I could listen to multiple times.
I have never read Shelby Foote, but I understand what the other reviewers are saying. This is a survey of an entire epoch of U.S. history (roughly 1848 - 1865) It is an overview of the politics, culture, society, and military history of the times - with an emphasis on how these currents interrelate and influence each other (without ever getting boring or too academic) I think that it succeeds admirably.
As an example, the first few hours (yes, hours) are given over to discussing the crisis of the 1850s after the Mexican War. This section in itself could be its own little gem of a book, as it describes in detail the workings of the compromise of 1850, the Fugitive Slave Law, "bleeding" Kansas, Dred Scott, U.S. designs to acquire Cuba and other territory in S. America etc etc. It's presented in a compelling way, so by the time you do finally get to Fort Sumter - it has a lot more resonance and punch.
While there is a lot of description given to battles, tactics, troop movements, generals etc, it is not a strict "military history" per se .. So if you are interested in that kind of nuts & bolts detail, Shelby Foote might be more your style.
Still, I think this is an indispensable book for understanding the era, and a sheer pleasure to listen to.
Battle Cry is a good book with interesting background on the civil war period. It is reasonably well written and read, and is well recorded. I would recommend, however, that you read Shelby Foote's Civil War: A Narrative (also available from Audible) before reading this book. Foote tells the stories and paints the characters of the civil war like no one else. Reading most other books is like reading chapter headings and footnotes. McPherson's is, perhaps, a more balanced historical account, but Foote's book is essential.
When you see 'Volume 1,' the first thing you ask yourself, am I really going to go the distance with this book and surrender how many 48+ hours it will take to complete all volumes? I've had hit or miss experiences with other civil war books and was pulled right into this one. For me, this is the one to have. Narration is perfect. Someone on here gave it a 1 star and said its from a northern point of view. I felt it was impartial. I give it 5 stars because I learned very much and the narration was top notch.
The narrator is fine. The question is, can you follow him? Does he sound consistently interested in the material himself? The answer in both cases is yes. The book itself gives a brilliant overview of both the political and military aspects of the conflict. A substantial amount of the first "volume" (in audiobook terms) is given over to the causes of the war, with a skillful weaving of thematic and chronological development. McPherson gets all the battles down in broad strokes -- there is detail, but it's very selective -- but he never loses sight of the overall strategy that leads to each battle. In his hands the Civil War becomes coherent. I agree with the suggestion that this book is a perfect companion to Shelby Foote's more luxurious narrative.
This was thoroughly enjoyable history. You may be concerned that two volumes (each with four parts) is too intimidating. But when you reach the end, your understanding of the United States will have traveled a very long way. The Civil War informs so much of the way America is today, and it gives priceless perspective on contemporary politics.
I found the book's content to be detailed and balanced. The author backs up his narrative with primary source material. The author also supplies several interpretations of events as described by past and present historians. When the author gives his own opinion (which I found helpful and enlightening), he explains his reasoning adeptly and honestly.
The modern United States owes much of its substance to Lincoln and the outcome of the Civil War. The country was reborn as a result of the war and the political and social agenda of the Republican Party. Slavery is not only illegal, but it is no longer regarded as a "social good" by any political force. There is a strong central government with a national currency and income tax. McPherson directly addresses the presence of Southern apologist history whose efforts to reframe the Civil War as a "state's rights" disagreement does not hold water. Slavery and its role in America was central to the dispute as the author will show.
The scope of the books are breathtaking. There is of course the military aspect which the author covers with rich detail. There is the social and political aspects which are just as interesting. One segment is devoted solely to treatment of prisoners of war, which shed so much light on the two people's differing views. The refusal on the part of the South to acknowledge black soldiers fighting for the North as "prisoners of war" broke down the prisoner exchange system and lead to dismal treatment of prisoners including the infamous Andersonville prison.
I won't spoil the book for you, but I always get teary-eyed when I near the ending. It is a beautifully written conclusion to an incredible story. There is no fiction that can beat this real-life drama.
Regarding the narrator, his reading is perfect. When he reads quotes from Southerners, he uses an accent which seems appropriate. It is not so exaggerated but it flows nicely in the story. Sometimes I wonder if the actual authors he quotes, like Jefferson Davis, even talked like that. In real life, there may not have been much of a difference between Northern and Southern "dialects" until after the war. The narrator does a really great job bringing the story alive.
If you are even remotely interested in the Civil War, you'll love this book. I cannot recommend it highly enough. It ought to get seven stars. Out of the entire Oxford American History series, this one is the prize. It is by far the best written and the best narrated. Prepare to be dazzled, surprised, and inspired.
There are longer books on the American Civil War, there are books with more elevated prose, but I doubt that you can find any single volume book that comes close to explaining this defining event in American History. I am not a historian, but I love history and this book is well nararated and a "must have" for history buffs.
Retired Clergy. PhD in Comparative Religion. Enjoying retirement of golf, motorcycling, model railroading, gardening, and reading.
As a student of the American Civil War, I found McPherson's work to be utterly fascinating. I gained new insights into the great American tragedy that never would have occurred to me. Well narrated, this immense work is a must for anyone interested in what divided and divides us as a nation. The ultimate in historical research, Volume 1 opens the door to the clearest look available into the mind of a fractured nation. You will learn from this volume, but you will also want to find out even more from Volume 2.
The detailed account of the historical context. The much deeper understanding I acquired of the Civil War and its role in history, of Lincoln, of American culture and society.
Much too long for that! But I did not want to stop listening.
The first two volumes are long but well worth it. I'm waiting for Volume 3
I would and have. I originally bought the print version of this book for a Civil War class in college, but I held on to that book, replaced it when it was damaged, and now own the audiobook as well. It's a great read and I feel like I find something new each time.
The Oxford History of the United States is a great series in general. Getting away from that, I might compare it to "John Adams" by David McCollough, since it uses a story-telling structure to discuss complex topics in detail without being boring.
It's a bit more than a scene, but I think McPherson do a great job of covering the Mexican-American War, which is important because it introduces a lot of people and themes that become important in the Civil War.
It doesn't come until Part 2 (more on that below), but there's a short mention of two enemy armies camped on opposite sides of the river, singing and laughing with each other, knowing quite well what would happen at sunrise. Like the Christmas Truces of WWI, these really show the humanity of both sides' soldiers.
I have one minor qualm with this book, both related to the audiobook formatting rather than the writing or content. First, some of the chapter breaks are oddly placed. In general, each chapter in the print book is broken into two or three sections, and most of the audiobook chapters follow this pattern. However, there are some chapters that begin in the middle of a thought, e.g., "But the bluejackets soon got some rams of their own." This means that chapter breaks are not necessarily good stopping points. If you're listening in short shifts, such as during your commute, you may need to skip back a minute or two for context.
Also -- and this is a note for prospective buyers rather than a criticism -- although the book itself is a single volume, the audiobook is split in two. This volume covers up to Chapter 13 of the print version, which is roughly Fredricksburg (1862). Volume 2 goes from there to the war's end. Given the book's size, I think that's reasonable. However, I think it's important to note that the single-volume print version and the two-volume audio version are the same.
I have a hard time reading/listening to true fiction books. I think this is because my main reason for reading is to learn and not necessarily just for enjoyment, although I do read many historical fiction books. Favorites history/biography books and science/tech info books.
Great book. Lots of good interesting facts and a great overall history of the war from an unbiased perspective. Should engage anyone looking for a good history of the civil war.
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