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1861: The Civil War Awakening Hardcover – Deckle Edge, April 5, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Goodheart, a historian and journalist who will be writing a column on the Civil War for the New York Times online, makes sophisticated use of a broad spectrum of sources for an evocative reinterpretation of the Civil War's beginnings. Wanting to retrieve the war from recent critics who dismiss the importance of slavery in the Union's aims, he reframes the war as "not just a Southern rebellion but a nationwide revolution" to free the country of slavery and end paralyzing attempts to compromise over it. The revolution began long before the war's first shots were fired. But it worked on the minds and hearts of average whites and blacks, slaves and free men. By 1861 it had attained an irresistible momentum. Goodheart shifts focus away from the power centers of Washington and Charleston to look at the actions and reactions of citizens from Boston to New York City, from Hampton Roads, Va., to St. Louis, Mo., and San Francisco, emphasizing the cultural, rather than military, clash between those wanting the country to move forward and those clinging to the old ways. War would be waged for four bitter years, with enduring seriousness, intensity, and great heroism, Goodheart emphasizes. 15 illus. (Apr.)
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"Exhilarating ... inspiring ... irresistible ... 1861 creates the uncanny illusion that the reader has stepped into a time machine." 

      --New York Times Book Review (cover review)

"In his marvelous book...Goodheart brings us into 19th-century America, as ambiguous, ambitious and fractured as the times we live in now, and he brings to pulsing life the hearts and minds of its American citizens." 
     --Huffington Post

"Riveting and thought-provoking narrative." 
       --Library Journal (*starred review*)

"Hardly a page of this book lacks an important insight or a fact that beguiles the readers. ... Goodheart shows us that even at 150 years' distance there are new voices, and new stories, to be heard about the Civil War." 
    --Boston Globe

"Beautifully written and thoroughly original--quite unlike any other Civil War book out there." 
      --Kirkus Reviews (*starred review*)

advance praise for Adam Goodheart’s 1861

1861 is the best book I have ever read on the start of the Civil War. Sumter, secession, and Lincoln appear in a wonderfully fresh and illuminating light, supported by a cast of extraordinary players that few Americans know about.  Penetrating, eloquent, and deeply moving, this is a classic introduction to the nation’s greatest conflict.”
            —Tony Horwitz, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and author of Confederates in the Attic
“Combining a master historian’s sure command of original sources and a novelist’s deft touch with character and narrative, Adam Goodheart has produced the young century’s liveliest book about how a generation of remarkable and ordinary Americans alike variously provoked, resisted, and endured the dissolution of their country and the tragic march toward civil war. Major and minor characters, political movements, and whole towns and villages come alive under Goodheart’s expert scrutiny. The result is that rarest of history books: a work of remarkable original scholarship crafted into an irresistible read.”
           —Harold Holzer, chairman of The Lincoln Bicentennial Foundation and author of Lincoln President-Elect
“Adam Goodheart brings to this book a rare combination of talent: passion and precision as a historian, grace and generosity as a writer. 1861 puts us in the young nation that was about to shed its skin and begin life as something new.”
            —Richard Ben Cramer, winner of the Pulitzer Prize
“No one could capture Whitman’s ‘hurrying, crashing, sad, distracted year’ more vividly than Adam Goodheart has done in this magnificent book.  1861 isn’t merely a work of history; it’s a time-travel device that makes a century and a half fall away and sets us down, eyes and ears wide open, right in the midst of the chaos and the glory.”
            —Anne Fadiman, author of The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award

“With boundless  verve, Adam Goodheart has sketched an uncommonly rich tableau of America on the cusp of the Civil War. The research is impeccable, the cast of little-known characters we are introduced to is thoroughly fascinating, the book is utterly thought-provoking, and the story is luminescent. What a triumph.”           
           —Jay Winik, author of New York Times best-sellers April 1865 and The Great Upheaval

“Adam Goodheart is a Monet with a pen instead of a paintbrush. Like an impressionist painting, 1861 reveals layers of meaning and beauty as one studies it closely.”
            —James McPherson, author of Battle Cry of Freedom

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 481 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1ST edition (April 5, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400040159
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400040155
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.7 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (173 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #467,003 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Adam Goodheart is a historian, journalist, and travel writer. His articles have appeared in National Geographic, Outside, Smithsonian, The Atlantic, and The New York Times Magazine, among others, and he is a regular columnist for the Times' acclaimed Civil War series, "Disunion." He lives in Washington, D.C., and on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, where he is director of Washington College's C. V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

162 of 166 people found the following review helpful By James Hiller VINE VOICE on April 27, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Normally, this is a book that I would pass up on the history shelf; me, an avid non-fiction reader and Civil War history buff. Why? Usually, books on the "years" of the Civil War are merely recountings of the events, maybe with an unique fact thrown in here and there, but nothing really new. How many times do I have to read about Lincoln's agony of whether or not to defend Ft. Sumter? However, after reading an insightful review in the "New York Times Book Review", this book found itself in my hands, and after reading it, it's become one of my new favorites. "1861: The Civil War Awakening" by Adam Goodheart is destined to become an often read introduction to this terrible, turbulent time.

What drew me in was the prologue. How often had I read about Maj. Robert Anderson's brave defense of the fort from Confederate shelling, and how he gave in honorably. What I didn't know what that Anderson originally was chosen to defend in Fort Moultrie. When South Carolina voted to secede, his small but valiant group of men (including a brass band!) constantly pressured him to move to Sumter, which was more easily defended from attack than the "park-like" Moultrie. Anderson wanted to go, but felt compelled to follow his orders. It wasn't until a telegram arrived that asked him to defend the "forts" (note the plural S) that he felt finally like he had permission to move. So he did, sneaking over to Sumter, all because of the letter S. The rest is history.

In fact, that is what Adam Goodheart truly understands; that history is all about story; the story of a person or of people. Much gets lost in the endless recitation of battle facts and ennui, which is important to remember, but there is so much more. It's the stories that drive the war.
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52 of 54 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer VINE VOICE on May 10, 2011
Format: Hardcover
With the 150th anniversary of the start of the American Civil War I wanted to add a series of books to my reading list to compliment this fact. To be honest with you, I was only somewhat excited about this literary endeavor, having already read a multitude of books on the Civil War over the years - including the Shelby Foote trilogy, Shaara's "The Killer Angels", and too many more to list here. I really didn't want to simply rehash the many famous battles that took place during this great conflict unless some new and intriguing data could be added. With that in mind, I struck out on Adam Goodheart's "1861". While I plan on reading a few books over the sesquicentennial, I am very glad I started with this book.

Bottom line: this book offered me a take on the Civil War that was entirely new and interesting to me. Goodheart started with a research question: How does a nation of real people go from a relatively peaceful state to a willingness to engage in bloody civil war in just a short matter of time? What changed within the minds of individuals, never mind the political and military figures, that allowed for this to happen? It is a question worth asking when you consider the price that was paid and the sacrifice required to bring the war to an end over the course of four years. The answer to this question offers guidance for us to this day.

To answer the research question, Goodheart chose to look at the lives of several individuals, who, at least in my case, were relatively new case studies to the American Civil War. The timeframe essentially takes place from the Presidential election of 1860 through First Manassas.
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117 of 137 people found the following review helpful By Peter Knox on April 5, 2011
Format: Hardcover
For any followers of the NYTimes' "DISUNION" blog [...] we've been looking forward to this book's release for a long time.

150 years later and the Civil War is as relevant and interesting as ever, and Goodheart focuses this book around that first year, 1861, and how the Civil War REALLY came about.

In this beautifully packaged (deckled/uneven pages!) book, Goodheart spins a well crafted and accurate non-fiction narrative of the story of the start of our country's divide and brings our troubled political past alive in a story that reads unlike any other history book I've read.

It's the rare entry point to the Civil War that can delight any Civil War buff who thinks he knows everything already as well as captivate and interest the vaguely curious and cautious non-historian.
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50 of 59 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Weitz VINE VOICE on April 16, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
As a retired PhD in history, I can assure prospective readers that this is a superbly written, well-researched and thoroughly documented book. The author assumes that the reader has at least the basic knowledge of American History that we all should have; and concentrates on the private motives and inter-personal relationships that lay behind the scenes. While reading the book, you feel as if you are there; dodging the chestnut colored tobacco juice as it makes its way towards the floor. As you might guess, this book is atmospheric; without the true feel for the period you really cannot understand the beliefs, values and motives of the actors. I am looking forward to more works from the author.
My only complaint is that I feel the author is too kind to "Grandma Buchanan". Being inept may not ordinarily be a crime for the average person, but when you are the leader of a country during a crisis it surely is.
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