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April 1865: The Month That Saved America Hardcover – Unabridged, March 20, 2001

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

There are a few books that belong on the shelf of every Civil War buff: James M. McPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom, one of the better Abraham Lincoln biographies, something on Robert E. Lee, perhaps Shelby Foote's massive trilogy The Civil War. Add Jay Winik's wonderful April 1865 to the list. This is one of those rare, shining books that takes a new look at an old subject and changes the way we think about it. Winik shows that there was nothing inevitable about the end of the Civil War, from the fall of Richmond to the surrender at Appomattox to the murder of Lincoln. It all happened so quickly, in what "proved to be perhaps the most moving and decisive month not simply of the Civil War, but indeed, quite likely, in the life of the United States."

Things might have been rather different, too. "What emerges from the panorama of April 1865 is that the whole of our national history could have been altered but for a few decisions, a quirk of fate, a sudden shift in luck." When Lee abandoned Richmond, for instance, his soldiers rendezvoused at a nearby town called Amelia Court House. There, the general expected to find boxcars full of food for his hungry troops. But "a mere administrative mix-up" left his army empty-handed and may have limited Lee's options in the days to come. Or what if Lee had decided not to surrender at all, but to turn his resourceful army into an outfit of guerrilla fighters who would harass federal officials? National reconciliation might have become impossible as the whole South turned into a region plagued with violence and terrorism. For the Union, "there would be no real rest, no real respite, no true amity, nor, for that matter, any real sense of victory--only an amorphous state of neither war nor peace, raging like a low-level fever." One of Lee's officers actually proposed this scenario to his commander in those final hours; America is fortunate Lee didn't choose this path.

Winik is an exceptionally good storyteller. April 1865 is full of memorable images and you-are-there writing. Readers will come away with a new appreciation for that momentous month and a sharpened understanding of why and how the Civil War was fought. Let it be said plainly: April 1865 is a magnificent work, surely the best book on the Civil War to be published in some time. --John J. Miller

From Publishers Weekly

Though the primary focus of this book is the last month of the Civil War, it opens in the 18th century with a view of Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson. Winik (whose previous book, On the Brink, was an account of the Reagan administration and the end of the Cold War) offers not just a study of four weeks of war, but a panoramic assessment of America and its contradictions. The opening Jeffersonian question is: does the good of the country take precedence over that of the individual states? The question of civil union or civil war is the central question of this new work. Winik goes on to describe how a series of events that occurred during a matter of weeks in April 1865 (the fall of Richmond; Lee's graceful surrender to Grant at Appomattox, and Grant's equally distinguished handling of his foe; Lincoln's assassination), none of them inevitable, would solve Jefferson's riddle: while a loose federation of states entered the war, what emerged from war and Reconstruction was a much stronger nation; the Union had decisively triumphed over the wishes of individual states. Winik's sense of the dramatic and his vivid writing bring a fitting flourish to his thesis that April 1865 marked a turning point in American history: "So, after April 1865, when the blood had clotted and dried, when the cadavers had been removed and the graves filled in, what America was asking for, at war's end, was in fact something quite unique: a special exemption from the cruel edicts of history." Winik's ability to see the big picture in the close-up (and vice versa), and to compose riveting narrative, is masterful. This book is a triumph. (Apr. 4) Forecast: Popular history at its best, this book should appeal widely to readers beyond the usual Civil War crowd. Strong endorsements from a group of noted historians, including James M. McPherson and Douglas Brinkley, along with a 10-city author tour, should also help both review coverage and sales.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 1 edition (March 20, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060187239
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060187231
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.4 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (310 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #226,634 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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81 of 84 people found the following review helpful By Joanna Daneman #1 HALL OF FAMETOP 10 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 19, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I watched Jay Winik give a talk about April 1865 on C-SPAN's Bookspan. WOW! We just HAD to get this book after listening to this incredibly articulate author. I didn't think anyone could really put a new (non-revisionist) set of ideas about the Civil War, but Winik really focuses on the men and the time of April 1865 and how the events of that month were such a pivotal time in our history.
The section on the Booth plot revealed facts I'd forgotton or didn't know (the attack also included Seward, Secretary of State and was as devastating in its time as the attack on the WTC.)
The insights about Lee are fascinating. Lincoln held Lee in great esteem and Lee's gentleman-soldier qualities probably saved the United States from a protracted struggle and ultimate destruction. If Lee and his men had gone guerilla, as had been suggested to him, we might never have survived the Civil War and would have been easy pickings for European powers. Lee literally determined the course of history during that fateful month.
If you are a history fan, you will of course be interested in reading this fresh view on a well-trodden subject. If you aren't normally a history fan, but have recently gotten more interested in American history and patriotic subjects due to the recent attacks on the US, you will find valuable insight into our national character and background in this book. Highly recommended.
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104 of 111 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 15, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Wish I could give this book 4.8 stars. I do agree with the bulk of the praise given it, and I especially like the author's ability to view the end of the war and reestablishment of our nation from his professional and modern perspective. The book doesn't lack for insight. Still, there are times when jarring errors pop up. Winik treats Gen. James "Pete" Longstreet as 2 men, James Longstreet and Pete Longstreet. Even gives them seperate index listings. When he goes into reverant and affectionate nicknames Lee's troops had for him, he lumps such derisive ones as "Granny" and "King of Spades" (from when he assumed command in 1862 and his men were less than impressed)as among the compliments paid him. Winik also bites on LaSalle Pickett's creation of deep friendship between Lincoln and George Pickett. The bulk of current opinion is that the relationship is one of the myths Gen Pickett's widow created about him. My view is that any historian who wishes to present that relationship as factual should state what he bases his movement against the tide upon. Winik doesn't.
My overall view is that Winik did an exceptional amount of research outside his area of specialty and did the bulk of it very well. The book is both enjoyable and important. Much so because of his professional assessment of the unstable state of our nation in April of 1865. For that reason it transcends small issues such as the ones raised above. At the same time, the fact that such issues can be raised, suggests to me that while his range and scope are impressive, other matters of nuance and context might also have been missed or misstated as well. His attempt to make his end notes more 'readable' make it difficult verify some of his assertions.
This remains an excellant book.
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160 of 180 people found the following review helpful By LW on April 18, 2001
Format: Hardcover
My great grandfather, a poor farmer in Bedford County,Va., was NOT a slave owner. At age 30, he joined the Confederate army, not returning to his wife and 5 children for 4 long years. After reading the amazing Wall Street Journal review that called April 1865 "magnificant" I had to get a copy. April 1865 is so moving and so splendid that the review can not possibly do it justice. I read April 1865 with tears streaming. Author Jay Winik has an amazing grasp of American history and he makes it come alive. This is a healing book, one that fully explains the reasons for the Civil War. April 1865 made me appreciate for the first time how the decisions of people like Lincoln, Lee and Grant saved America from the terrible fate that has befallen other countries afflicted by Civil War - countries like Bosnia and Northern Ireland. Most importantly, the writing is incredible. You will stay up at night to finish it and will end it feeling proud and humble to be American - with all the blessings this country offers.
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48 of 51 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 26, 2001
Format: Hardcover
When I saw an ad for April 1865, with lavish praise from Doris Kearns Goodwin, James McPherson, and Paul Johnson, I thought this must be a pretty good book. Well, it's even better. Winik's "April 1865" is one of the best histories I've read in years. It reads like a grand story -- brilliantly constructed, filled with rich insights, and paced like a good page-turner. The book reminds me of one of those great histories that come along every once in a rare while -- in a class with Tuchman's Pulitzer Prize-winning "Guns of August" or McPherson's "Battle Cry of Freedom." Winik also has a knack for asking the questions that other historians never seemed to have thought of. He points out (rightly) that far too many civil wars end badly or are perpetually self-renewing -- think of the centuries old "Irish Question," or the ongoing bloodshed in the former Yugoslavia, or the horrors of Rwanda. Positioning America within the larger sweep of history, Winik then shows that America's Civil War could easily have ended just as badly -- but didn't. Why? Winik tells that fascinating story. I highly recommend this book.
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