The American Civil War

A Military History
Narrated by: Robin Sachs
Length: 16 hrs and 32 mins
Categories: History, American
4.5 out of 5 stars (200 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

For the past half century, John Keegan, the greatest military historian of our time, has been returning to the scenes of America's most bloody and wrenching war to ponder its lingering conundrums: the continuation of fighting for four years between such vastly mismatched sides; the dogged persistence of ill-trained, ill-equipped, and often malnourished combatants; the effective absence of decisive battles among some two to three hundred known to us by name.

Now Keegan examines these and other puzzles with a peerless understanding of warfare, uncovering dimensions of the conflict that have eluded earlier historiography.

While offering original and perceptive insights into psychology, ideology, demographics, and economics, Keegan reveals the war's hidden shape - a consequence of leadership, the evolution of strategic logic, and, above all, geography, the Rosetta Stone of his legendary decipherments of all great battles.

The American topography, Keegan argues, presented a battle space of complexity and challenges virtually unmatched before or since. Out of a succession of mythic but chaotic engagements, he weaves an irresistible narrative illuminated with comparisons to the Napoleonic Wars, the First World War, and other conflicts.

The American Civil War is sure to be hailed as a definitive account of its eternally fascinating subject.

©2009 John Keegan (P)2009 Random House

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

A Novel Approach (As Opposed to Novelistic)

I had to listen to this two or three times with half an ear before I appreciated Keegan's cunning arrangement of the story. It is not a straight narrative, does not compete directly with the 119-course meals of Shelby Foote and Bruce Catton. It does not arrange the story in a linear timeline like a choo-choo train (THIS happened and then THIS happened...). No, it's done in the style of a digressive essay, like a long book review. Keegan spends most of the first half dilating upon the topics that most interest him: 19th Century American culture in general, Southern civilization vs Northern, the variances in technological development, the astounding spottiness of topographical knowledge (basically, maps that were poor or nonexistent), the prosperity and ease of the old-stock middle class, and in general how strange and novel American civilization appeared to those from the Old World.

Perhaps only an English military historian could handle this with the detachment that Keegan shows. This is not to say he shows no biases at all; he definitely faults the South for being technologically deficient and maybe culturally backward; and he thinks the world of Abraham Lincoln. But this is just a function of using a book-review idiom, in which one accepts the conventional outlook overall, while reserving creative insight for one's one narrow and favorite specialties. Thus when discussing strategy in the many theaters of war, Keegan comes back again and again to his own pet methodologies, analyzing the problems of managing a war over a vast terrain that no one comprehended very well, and comparing the topographical problems of waging battles in Tidewater Virginia versus the campaigns in the trans-Appalachian West. Again and again it's mainly an issue of good maps and efficient geopolitical outlook, much as in the First World War.

The performance is pretty good. The mispronunciations of place names (mainly "Po-to-mack" for Potomac) is amusing and forgivable, given the British actor during the narration.

13 people found this helpful

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Missing pages

What would have made The American Civil War better?

If the latter portion of page 124, the entirety of page 125 and the first portion of page 126 had been included in the audio. Instead, we're left with a comment about Grant being great at math and then he's suddenly confronted by Fort Donelson, with the entirety of his early career skipped (it's in the book, just not the audio).

Would you ever listen to anything by John Keegan again?

Yes

8 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars

An excellent look at the American Civil War

John Keegan is one of my favorite authors of military history and I have read many of his books, including his biography of Winston Churchill which was a bit of a change for him. All were excellent - well written, interesting and informative - and this book is no exception. It was one of many histories of this period that I have read, but it had its own unique approach and much that I had not seen in other books.

In particular I found his analysis of the generalship of the various commanders extraordinarily interesting and something that I had not seen in other books. As a young boy growing up and attending public school I always heard about how great a general Robert E Lee was and how poor a general Ulysses Grant was and it has been interesting to see how the more recent books on the US Civil War have changed that view. As I read more books on the subject my view of the generalship of the various figures in the war changed and it became clear to me how the earlier views taught in public schools were generally uninformed.

Mr Keegan covers all of the major battles of the war and the political background of both the North and South and as a military historian he explains why this or that action was important and what effect it had. He also covers the use of freed slaves by the North and their proposed use by the South as well and how Grant's overall strategy was the only war winning strategy proposed by any general or politician during the war. His comments on Grant, Sherman, Lee, Jackson and others are especially interesting.

The narration is excellent and I recommend this book to anyone interested in reading about the US Civil War, regardless of whether they know much or little of the war.

2 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Another outstanding effort

Everything by Keegan is outstanding and this is no different. Well worth a listen if you have any interest at all in the subject.

4 people found this helpful

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An amazing analysis of our Civil War from outside!

A dedicated student of the Civil War, I was fascinated & intrigued by Keegan's different view of the many events I've read & studied... hearing a different set of questions & discussions about a "known event" was amazing... yes, I listened to it 3 times in a row to scratch my head & research to points he discusses & I overlooked.. Wish I found it sooner!!

1 person found this helpful

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Excellent overview of the Civil War.

Keegan does an admirable job of capturing the political and military circumstances that led to the outbreak of hostilities between north & south. He also discuss major battles and prominent individuals with enough detail to giver the listener/reader a good grasp of their character.

1 person found this helpful

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Excellent

Very much enjoyed it. Good perspective and insights. The chapters are well constructed and to the point.

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One of the best voices

This is a great book to listen to if you and a non-American perspective and summary of the Civil War. The speaker’s voice is one of the best that I have heard.

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not that gôod

Not well put together. Was expecting a more description of actual events. Did not understand the constant relationships to WW1

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Excellent perfomance and enlightening book

Another enlightening John Keegan book that was thorough and easy to follow. The narrator was good.