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Publisher's Summary

The Civil War: A Narrative, Volume I begins one of the most remarkable works of history ever fashioned. All the great battles are here, of course, from Bull Run through Shiloh, the Seven Days Battles, and Antietam, but so are the smaller ones: Ball's Bluff, Fort Donelson, Pea Ridge, Island Ten, New Orleans, and Monitor versus Merrimac.

The word narrative is the key to this extraordinary book's incandescence and its truth. The story is told entirely from the point of view of the people involved in it. One learns not only what was happening on all fronts but also how the author discovered it during his years of exhaustive research. This first volume in Shelby Foote's comprehensive history is a must-listen for anyone interested in one of the bloodiest wars in America's history.

Bonus: In partnership with Audible and Playtone, the television and film producer behind the award-winning series Band of Brothers, John Adams, and The Pacific, this audiobook includes an original introduction written and read by acclaimed documentarian Ken Burns. For more from Audible and Playtone, click here.

©1986 Shelby Foote (P)2011 Blackstone Audio

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  • Overall

Storytelling brilliance

Shelby Foote is a brilliant storyteller, and his history of the Civil War is a masterpiece. Other histories give you the view from a thousand feet; Foote shows you what it must have looked like to the birds in the trees. It's often said that he's biased toward the South, but I think that's an exaggeration. He may not be overly fond of Grant, but he lavishes praise on Abraham Lincoln. His "bias," such as it is, comes partly from the narrative device of trying to give equal time to Jefferson Davis, as if he were in the same league as Lincoln. (Sorry, Shelby, but Jeff was a pill and even you can't make him sympathetic.)

I like Grover Gardner's narration a lot. There is some variation in audio quality, as others have noted, but for the most part Gardner is clear and forceful, and the story unfolds almost effortlessly. I can listen to it for hours at a time without fatigue.

The only drawback to listening to this, rather than reading it, is the absence of maps. Foote's book is peppered with maps, large and small, strategically placed throughout the text, and they support the narrative descriptions with economy and precision. I was fortunate in having the book at hand and could follow the maps. Wikipedia also has a number of excellent Civil War maps that can be used for this purpose.

89 of 90 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

One of the great literary achievements of all time

Yesterday I finished listening to the final volume of this series, and am left feeling somewhere between awe over the sheer value and magnitude of this amazing work and depression over what seems a bit like the loss of a dear friend.
In fact, I'm tempted to start the series over!
Listening to these books while making some independent study of what I've learned from them has been, without doubt, the most personally enriching project I've ever undertaken. My understanding of every aspect of these key years in American history is unlike any other -- including years I've personally experienced.
Given the intense level of detail consistently manifest in this book, I had to continually remind myself that Foote's wasn't actually there to personally document these events.
That said, I should point out that this series is not for everybody. Unless you're serious about really understanding *everything* that happened during the US Civil War, you'll probably grow bored, very quickly.
If, on the other hand, you value deep context and objective examination based on eye-witness accounts and the assessments of noted historians, you'll adore this series.
And then you'll probably buy the print version, like me.
Again, I cannot begin to heap enough praise on this work.

40 of 40 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Jeanne
  • Brentwood, TN, USA
  • 10-02-04

The best

This is the most sweeping history of the American civil war. It is almost impossible to describe the depth, feeling, and excitment of his triology(Audible, get the other 2 volumes quickly).

I read the books in 1990 and 1991. Yes, it took that long to enjoy the writing. Grover Gardner does an outstanding job as narrator.

Just listen to the sample. I think that will hook you. This is a long audio book, and everyone interested in our Civil War must listen. The book read like a novel, and on audio it is superb.

91 of 94 people found this review helpful

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  • Tim
  • Fremont, NE, United States
  • 03-21-05

Astounding detail, but novices beware!

First of all, let me say that this is truly a classic. However, like classes in college that require prerequisites before enrolling, make sure you have some background knowledge before diving in.

This is NOT a criticism - just an observation for those who may not realize the depth & breadth of the book. As an example, cities, towns, rivers and other geographic locations are mentioned - often without reference to the states in which they reside. Generals and military leaders are discussed at times without stating which side they are on - the reader must figure it out by context.

However, for those who have at least a working knowlege of the civil war and/or a general knowlege of the geography of the states involved, this is a great read. The biographies of Lincoln, Jefferson Davis and Grant are fantastic! The story of the first naval battle with ironclads and the effect on naval warfare was fascinating, as were all the stories regarding naval battles. The detail regarding letters between the two presidents and their generals was also insightful.

This is a great book, but if all you know about the Civil war is that the North won and that the major characters were Lincoln, Davis, Lee & Grant, you may want to read a more general account of the Civil war or watch Ken Burns' PBS special before starting. On the other hand if you have an interest in the civil war, there is an incredible amount of detail about the generals and politicians involved and the battles of the war, both major and minor. And, on top of this, it's a bargain for a 32 disk audiobook (and this is the shortest of the three parts!). And the narrator is great!

101 of 105 people found this review helpful

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  • Henry
  • Rapidan, VA, USA
  • 03-24-09

Not a Civil War Buff

I was drawn to this book after years of living in Virginia and passing signs every 30 seconds mark some major (or often minor) event in the Civil War. Even from that perspective this book is a masterpiece. It is so well written and informative that you can't put it down (or I guess press stop(?)) Be prepared for the second and third volumes, because you won't want to miss them.

26 of 27 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Narrative history at it's finest

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.

21 of 22 people found this review helpful

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As a black American who grew up in Washington, DC, I never had ANYTHING good to say about the Confederacy. Reading this series only proved my personal credo "Racism is born out of ignorance". Guess who was a hypocritical, ignorant racist? ME!!! I discovered that I knew about as much about the Civil War as I was taught in school about African-American and black Americans - NOTHING!!! Oh, we got a smidgen on George Washington Carver, Booker T. Washington and Frederick Douglass but only enough to fill a thimble. Although my family home was just 3 blocks from Fort Stevens where the Confederate army almost took Washington and where President Lincoln was almost killed by a Confederate army, we never learned the amazing story behind the fort which we used as a playground.

This series of books covers the Civil War from "A to Z". They are extremely well-researched, providing little-known information about this historical fight. I came away with a new respect for the South for fighting and dying for a cause in which they believed in totally. I learned that the Civil War wasn't about white people hating black people (although there were quite a few whites who held the ridiculous belief that we weren't even humans). The war between the North and South was more about the economic necessity for cheap labor to maintain America's dominance in agriculture which fueled Europe's dominance as an industrialist giant. And the proof was in the South's total destruction after the Emancipation Proclamation. Rich plantation owners were broke, busted and bankrupt. No cotton or sugar - no money.

I have a new-found respect for Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson, and Robert E. Lee and the multitudes of Confederate soldiers who lost their lives fighting to maintain their way of life. Of course, as a descendant of slaves, I'm glad that the North prevailed. It's just unfortunate that the South couldn't see past their noses and let over 20,000 skilled black artisans (carpenters, blacksmiths, seamstresses, etc.) leave for the North instead of revamping the South by becoming the nations center of furniture makers, ironworks, and purveyors of clothes for the rich and poor. To compound the country's total lack of vision, the alleged Northern abolitionists lost out also because it gave these new black citizens jobs as cooks, maids, nannies - actually, let's just call "a spade a spade: "Mammies" - butlers, house boys, and manual laborers.

That said, Shelby Foote gives a well-rounded objective insight into a much misunderstood war that didn't really advance America's narrow-minded view of the people it brought to these shores in bondage and oppressed for more than a century after this horrible conflagration. But I thank him for helping me see the Confederacy from a different and enlightening perspective. I had lived in Atlanta, GA for 15 years when I read this book. My northern family and friends couldn't understand how I could stand the "racist South" with its "good ole boy" attitude. That is something I have never experienced in Georgia. I don't worry about the Confederate flag or the hero leaders of the Civil War which are carved in the side of Stone Mountain, like Mount Rushmore. In all my years there, I was never called a "nigger" not once. Yet, after moving to Phoenix, AZ, I was called "nigger" four times in my first six months here. Has this country learned nothing? I still consider myself a "Georgia Peach".

According to Shelby Foote's amazing account, the south has nothing to be ashamed of for fighting for what it believed was right at the time. Now if the whole country can learn from past mistakes and move forward as a COMPLETE country - white, black, brown, red, yellow or purple with pink polka dots - we will be ready as a nation to defend our shores from foreign threats. Reading this book is the first step in the right direction,

84 of 91 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

The Civil War: A Narrative, Volume I (Unabridged

Not for the timid, this is a long detailed "narrative" on the Civil War. It is well done and mixes information from published history, historical letters and newspaper articles in a manner that gives the tone and mood of both the union and confederate sides of the War thoughout all three books. It ranks of one of the best non-fiction audible titles I have listened to and one of the few where I was "stuck in the driveway" waiting for things to happen many times.

17 of 18 people found this review helpful

  • Overall


This sweeping history of the Civil War took Foote, who died in 2005, 20 years to write, and it took me over 4 months of listening during my 1-1/2 hour round trip commute to my office. The three volumes represent over 136 hours of listening, every minute of which provides fascinating insights. I found myself actually eager to make my commute and get back to the story. I was sorry when it came to its end. I will undoubtedly listen to it again in the future.

I have been a student of the Civil War all of my life. My great-great grandfather rode with Nathan Bedford Forrest and two of his brothers were killed in the battle for Atlanta where I live among historic markers that tell the story of that struggle that was fought here over 140 years ago.

Every American should read or listen to this epic narrative told by a Mississippi story-teller. His is a balanced account, neither pro-North nor pro-South, a quality sadly lacking in the revisionist histories being produced today.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • Eric
  • Philadelphia, PA, USA
  • 02-20-05

Excellent listening, great book

I read all three volumes twenty years ago and enjoyed them immensely. I never thought I read them again until I got an iPod and found I've gone through the first book in a little over two weeks, reading it the first time took over two months. I like the reader's voice, although he doesn't realize how some names should be pronounce (i.e., Cairo is pronounced 'kay-row' in southern Illinois). I look forward to listening to the other two books.

10 of 11 people found this review helpful

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  • Overall
  • V. Wilson
  • 09-06-06

Brilliant But Not For The Faint Hearted

I have just completed the marathon quest of listening to all three volumes of Shelby Foote's masterpiece narrative of the American Civil War (Approx 139 Hours). Coming to this trilogy, I thought I possessed a basic knowledge of the events of those four years which tore an infant nation apart and set brother against brother; quite literally in many cases. The Civil War trilogy has served to royally demonstrate to me just how much I did not know about this fascinating and bloody four years of American history. If you are an amateur historian wishing to really understand the polotics, characters, battles and progression of the war, this is the book for you. It isn't however, a book which could reasonably used as an introduction to the subject. There are many more concise accounts which can be read to see if you get the taste for more, at which time Shelby Foote's epic will be waiting.

This will also probably be an ideal information source for serious gamers of Civil War battles as every skirmish and major conflict is included in detail.

11 of 11 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • John
  • 07-18-06


These comments relate to all 3 volumes of this work.

It appears almost like a tragic epic novel capturing the unimagined scope of the conflict, the carnage and destruction, the fine detail of the principal characters, and a wealth of comtemporary comment whether it be from reporters, soldiers, wives, family members or politicians to give some perpective to the undoubted horror. It is a wonderful history and geography lesson and it is beautifully written. It covers the defining event in the development of the United States and the importance of that is done full justice here. It is no turgid recitation of facts but a wonderfully constructed, evenly balanced and finely tuned account of the tragedy upon tragedy which led the the strengthening of the Union and which put in place the foundations of the modern day power house democracy.

Grover Gardner does full justice to the text in his low key, faultless rendition.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Martin
  • 12-31-14

Great book, fantastic narrator, inconsistent sound

Fascinating book with a listenable narrator. Weak sound quality in parts though. Will definitely be listening to Volumes 2 & 3

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Freiburg
  • 05-10-13

A commitment but well worth it.

This is a comprehensive account of the war based on primary sources, with lots of detail. The personalities shine through in the coverage, which is primarily concerned with military affairs and battles (although the socio-political backdrop is addressed more than some critics have said). I have given 5 stars overall for these three volumes that make up the whole. But only four for performance, as the narrator is often dreary and jaded and has a clipped accent like the character Hannibal Lector in the Silence of the Lambs. I must admit that I would be jaded after reading this amount of text aloud, so maybe the producers should have broken it up with alternating readers, one with a north-east Yankee accent and one with a southern accent. Or someone who sounds like Shelby Foote did, the author now deceased, who had a mild educated southern lilt (interviews with him are on You Tube). But overall, this book is magnificent and well balanced and accessible. And the audio version is fair, and well worth the effort. I came to some new conclusions about Lincoln, the South, and the United States. A note on the medium: It is hard to take it all in unless you concentrate, but often you don't do that when listening to a book. So you have to re-play parts over and over again if something takes your attention away (like a 13 year old daughter asking for a lift or a wife coming home while you are preparing supper - both of whom complained, fairly, about the narrator's drone). Or you can only listen while painting a room or at the gym or in the car on your own. Or you can buy the books, which, if they include maps, would also prevent you having to look out relevant maps on the internet - but must weigh a ton!

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Quincy
  • 02-23-15

Overall a very good audiobook

What three words best describe Grover Gardner’s voice?

Normally great, in this work he sounds depressed, I think he looked at the length of the work in front of him and became discouraged

Any additional comments?

I was very unfamiliar with the American Civil War and this is a significant disadvantage to fully enjoying this excellent book. I found that the author (not unreasonably) expected the reader to know some general facts about the conflict. I sometimes forgot which General's were on which side of the conflict and who was advancing on which position and doing what.

This is more my fault than the authors and this three volume work is perhaps the finest of its kind

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Mr
  • 07-08-13

Epic, deep and personal

Would you listen to The Civil War again? Why?

Quite simply an evocative journey through a disturbing conflict. Foote combines a large narrative scope with individual accounts, letters, memoirs and newspaper accounts to give the definitive Civil War book. Outstanding.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Frank M
  • 02-05-18

Best Civil War published work ever

My wife got me the set when we were just going out together many years ago and they immediately became my favourite books about the war.
when I saw them on Audible, I immediately got them.
The books have lost none of the thrill from when I first read them and if anything, have gained from the reading.
Can't fault at all.

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  • Ralph
  • 08-30-16

A Classic

A classic American Civil War History that was well narrated.
Given the subject matter I thought I would struggle with its sheer length but the narrator kept my interest throughout.
One volume down, two to go. Bring it on!!

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  • Mr S.M.R.Plocki
  • 01-03-16

Majesterial in scope

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

I would recommend this to anyone interested in Military and Political History. The scope of the (three) books is huge in fitting with the events. Not yet an enormous list of chronological facts which would reduce the books to a very dry tome. There are lessons for the present day in this series.

Who was your favorite character and why?


What about Grover Gardner’s performance did you like?

Delivered with gravitas throughout but there was humour, sensitively handled.

If you made a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

I would dare tamper with any part of these books.

Any additional comments?


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  • Patrick
  • 03-23-15

This is a monumental treatise

This most readable of histories is brought to life by Grover Gardeners reading. Mr Foote's work is telling and well told

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  • Benjamin
  • 11-29-15

A Wonderful Overview

This narrative provides a wonderful overview of the first 18 months or so of the Civil War. It has greatly helped me but the various campaigns & battle into a better perspective.

Given it was written almost 60years ago the language is noticeable not of this era but that is to be expect. He seems to gloss over the horrors of war so if feels a little unreal but is the detailed overview I was wanting.

I think a great place to start for anyone interested in this incredibly turbulent time in U.S. History. I am now moving onto volume 2.