470 of 484 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If you only read one book about the Civil War
make it this one.
I read this book after having read two other books on the Battle of Gettysburg. I found that I wanted to know more about the circumstances surrounding that battle, the situation of the two armies, the generals, the politicians, and the state of the economies of the two sides engaged. But I was daunted by the plethora of information on the American...
Published on July 18, 2000 by Ned K. Wynn
196 of 242 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Best One Volume Civil War History
This is probably the best one volume civil war history there is. I'm giving it two stars only so that this review appears alongside some of the genuine two star reviews. As far as I can tell, pretty much all the people who don't like the book object to its political position: it isn't sufficiently pro-southern for their tastes. (Even the reviewer who complains about the...
Published on November 18, 2009 by Andrea Simpson
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470 of 484 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If you only read one book about the Civil War,
make it this one.
I read this book after having read two other books on the Battle of Gettysburg. I found that I wanted to know more about the circumstances surrounding that battle, the situation of the two armies, the generals, the politicians, and the state of the economies of the two sides engaged. But I was daunted by the plethora of information on the American Civil War. I had no desire to immerse myself in some three or four volume 2000-page work because, aside from believing myself unable to keep everything in perspective and not to get bogged down in minutiae, I reasoned that plain laziness and attention span problems would keep me from ever finishing anything like that. Plus I had to admit that it was the battles that interested me the most, and I despaired of having to read a separate book or two on each of the dozens of battles that are considered "major" during those four years.
Then I found this book: a single volume that encompasses the entire conflict from its military and political antecedents to the economic and sociological ingredients that forced the Union to enter into a war that would change forever the face of democracy. And this book did not give short shrift to the battles. To the contrary, the battles remain central and are accompanied by helpful maps.
I took a chance on this book and now that I have finished it I have to say that it is all that I could have hoped for.
Battle Cry of Freedom does what would appear to be the impossible: it includes virtually everything of consequence about the war and continues to hold the reader's interest. There are periods, especially when delving into some of the voting and politicking, the changes of party affiliations, voting data, etc., that get somewhat tedious. But if the reader is willing to work his way through these chapters he finds that he will come out the wiser, and that the next chapter, perhaps one on the next military campaign, will be better understood in itself because the larger context has been appreciated.
How James McPherson (no relation to the Union general of that name) was able to do this is nothing short of astonishing, a kind of scholarly and artistic legerdemain that allows so much to be packed into so short a space. If you want to know as much as your head can comfortably hold, and you do not want to read an entire shelf of your local library to do it, then this book is a must. My wife and I read large portions of this book out loud to one another (heartily recommended) and had our own discussions about it. We also read, concurrently, a shorter book, "Decisive Battles of the Civil War" as a companion piece to get another concise overview of the military engagements themselves.
McPherson has a definite Northern bias, but he is always fair about giving the other side its time in court. It is, after all, the North that won, and our country is what it is today because of that. The South's many disadvantages were built into its culture and ideology. Nonetheless, we intend to read Shelby Foote's three volumes to get a Southern perspective. I would not have had the gumption to go further if McPerson had not made the whole terrible period more understandable in the first place.
Do not be afraid to take the plunge.
169 of 180 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellently written account with superb breadth of vision,
As a British reader, McPherson's book was an introduction to Civil War history for the purposes of coursework, and I found it superb.
The initial three hundred pages provide a sweeping overview of the social and political pressures that led to war. There is then a hundred or so pages that vividly paints the attitudes of a nation faced with war, and finally the military narrative kicks in.
McPherson writes with exceptional poise, balancing the chronological and thematic threads of his work to near perfection. Events in the west, east and political spheres of the war are detailed with the intricate interconnections intact due to excellent arrangement. This narrative is well scattered with analysis and presentation of different viewpoints, as well as sections of broad thematic interest eg. POW camps. There are more than enough quotations, both from primary and secondary sources.
As for bias, I happened to think the bravery of the Southern soldiers, and the pride of the Southern people, came across well. Some reviewer's comments lead me to believe they had read a different book to me!
"nothern soldiers...had no love for slavery. They fought for the Union and against treason...whilst some Yanks treated contrabrands with a degree of equity...the more typical response was indifference, contempt or cruelty."
The reader is constantly reminded of the vein of racism of Northern society, ranging from the poorest immigrant fearing for his job, to the Democrat politicians who persisted in playing the 'race' card until the very end. The leftward shift of Lincoln is also noted. As for Southern motives:
"slavery and independence were each a means as well as an end in symbiotic relationship with each other, each essential for the survival of both"
In no way does McPherson cite slavery as the lone cause, he (sensibly) notes that it was the clash (via all the issues eg. Kansas, California, Dred Scoott which he details in the early chapters) that was at the centre of the "perceived nothern threat" to "preserve (the South's) vision of the republic of the founding fathers - a government of limited powers that protected the rights of property."
The most I would concede that he could perhaps hammer home the state rights point a tiny bit more, but I cannot credit that he paints a polarised picture as suggested by some other reviews. In fact, some of the counter-arguments look to me as though they have been lifted straight from 'Battle-Cry of Freedom's text!
My only (minor) complaint was that the epilogue, an analytical overview, was so useful and interesting it should have been a lot longer!
This is one of the best historical works I have ever read and was supremely useful to me.
105 of 112 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The BEST single book on the Civil War era,
By A Customer
McPherson has done an extraordinary job of presenting the history of a complex time period, the Civil War era (including the events leading up to the war). While literally tens of thousands of books have been written on this subject, "Battle Cry of Freedom" is unsurpassed in its ability to clearly explain the best current understanding of what took place, in language that will captivate the reader, covering all aspects of the times in just the right amount of detail. The author strikes a careful balance, treating all sides in the conflict honestly and perceptively. The quality of the research that underlies this book is impeccable.
This would be the one single book I would recommend most strongly to anyone who wanted to learn about the events leading up to the war as well as the war itself. It is easily understandable by the novice, yet also quite worthy of reading even by one who is already an expert on the history of this period. If you could read only one book on American history, this should be it!
97 of 104 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You Too Can be a Buff,
This book is colossal, in size and scope, in depth and breadth, in text and tincture. James McPherson touches on all aspects of the Civil War all within 862 pages. I know what you maybe thinking to yourself..."This isn't a casual read," or maybe, "History can be pretty dry especially 862 pages worth." Ease your foreboding thoughts though; McPherson's "Battle Cry of Freedom" keeps you engaged with interesting detail, personalities, and cause and effect without ever becoming bogged down. It's just good writing anyway you look at it.
Once upon a time I developed quite an appetite for all things Civil War. McPherson whetted that appetite in one book. To learn as much would have taken a small library. If you read this along with Michael Shaara's Killer Angels, you too will be well on your way to Civil War buff-dom-ship. Good read.
35 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A history book that reads like a thriller!,
By A Customer
This book has been universally acclaimed since its publication and won the author a Pulitzer Price. After only a few paragraphs its easy to see why. If only all history books were written like this! It may be a cliche but this book really does read like a thriller. This is one of the very few books on any historical subject that I return to again and again - even now I regret having to put it down. The one quality that makes this book so good and so unique is the lucid writing of the author. It is a huge pleasure to read a book about such a complex subject written so simply and clearly. And yet McPherson does it - and by some distance. All the facts are there. The analysis is first rate. The structure of the book is ideal. In short, for civil war "novices" this is an ideal starting point. For civil war "nuts" its an ideal book to return to again and again. It should be essential reading for every American and for everyone else wishing to learn about the United States. James McPherson has done his profession and his country a service. If you should only ever read one book about the Civil War make it this one. Read it and enjoy! Never can learning have been made such a joy.
34 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A truly enthralling single volume history,
Because of his two great trilogies, Bruce Catton has been my favorite Civil War historian. Along with Foote and Nevins, multi-volume works have set the standard for excellence in histories of the great conflict between the states. James McPherson's one volume history has joined these others as a great classic in Civil War literature. True, Catton authored "This Hallowed Ground." but the multi-volume works are what made him the great historian he was. McPherson joined the ranks of greatness in just one magnificent volume. He covers so much within just two covers. The first 250 pages or so covers the coming of the war....prior to Ft. Sumter. There is less military history than in other classics because he ao wonderfully covers social and political history of the era. Nonetheless, there is sufficient military history to make the work comprehensive. However, I recommend a Catton trilogy (out of print thus you must purchase second hand) or Foote, in conjunction with McPherson, to get a full understanding of military events. The book is informative, readable and (I believe) accurate. I recommend it without reservation.
35 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 'Down With the Traitor, Up With the Star!',
When I first came into contact with this volume over ten years ago, I thought the hype of it being 'the best single volume treatment of the Civil War' just a little too much. I thought back to all that I had read by Bruce Catton, and thought, 'no way.' After reading it and keeping it in my library, however, the hype was correct, it is the best one volume history of the War of the Rebellion and a thoroughly enjoyable read.
I still am partial to Catton, as he knew the veterans he writes about from his boyhood in Michigan, and Mcpherson does not really capture the heartbreak of the gigantic losses (to put these in perspective, if a similar event happened today, losses would be over 5 million dead, based on population percentages), nor does he capture the agony, chaos, and exhilaration of combat. However, it is still a most valuable volume and his treatment of the political side of the war is nothing short of superb.
He proves, for example, with documentary evidence from both sides, that while the war was waged by the north to restore the Union, the root cause of the war itself was slavery, its maintenance, and its resumption as an international trade. While the rank and file southerners did not join the army to fight to maintain slavery, and only ten percent of the southern population owned slaves to begin with, that ten percent controlled ninety percent of the wealth in the south and ran the new Confederacy. Reading the book and checking McPherson's references is interesting and quite enlightening.
This volume is a monumental achievement and should be on the shelf of every Civil War enthusiast. It is highly readable and highly recommended.
47 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best Political History of the Civil War,
This review is from: Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Hardcover)
James McPherson's "Battle Cry of Freedom" is the best work on the politics of The Civil War available. For example, McPherson spends nearly the first three hundred pages of the book on the events, political and otherwise, leading up to the firing on Fort Sumter. As a result, his book gives the war a proper context that is lacking in many other works. His descriptions of the battles themselves tend to be brief overviews rather than extensive studies. But there are countless other volumes by other authors available for those whose interest primarily lies with the shooting war itself. McPherson would rather focus on why the North ans South decided to fight it out and once they did, how the war evolved slowly from an attempt to put down an insurrection to a holy quest to end slavery.
No other period in American History has seen as many political changes of earthquake proportions as The Civil War. This fact often gets lost in the tales of epic battles, almost mythical generals and incredible sacrifice. What McPherson has done is place the great painting of the war in a proper frame to give one the whole picture. As such, it is vital reaading for anyone interested in the War and its effect on American History.
26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A GREAT EXAMPLE OF WHAT CAN BE DONE WITH WORDS,
I've just put my battered, first edition [British] copy of the Battle Cry of Freedon down, having read it for about the twelth time in as many years. I have a Masters in History with Distinction from the London School of Economics. I have read thousands of history books on every conceivable subject from Ancient Sumeria to post-cold War Africa, taking in the economics of canals in England and the role of sex in the fall of the British Empire along the way. None of them compare to The Battle Cry of Freedom. It is quite simple the single most impressive book I have ever read. It combines comprehensive knoweldge, Solomonic judgement and an easy narrative style into an extraordinarly effective whole.
Just as the Ken Burn's 'Civil War' was a masterpiece of television, rather than a history of one particular conflict, so McPherson shows what can be done with words married to knowledge. Admittedly the subject matter, the American Civil War, is unusally rich with triumph and tragedy, high ideals and low politics, heros and villans. But McPherson brings the very best out of them.
It gets a 5 because there is no button for six. Read this book or miss out on an extraordinary experience.
27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great with Minor Frustrations,
You know you have just read a great book when you are angry you have reached the last page. Having missed the significance of "Civil War *ERA*" when I picked this book up, I was at first deeply frustrated over the 250 page wait before Lincoln was elected. At first, that is, because those 250 pages were full of great insights and facts completely unknown to me, including several American attempts to conquer Cuba (in true Bay of Pigs style, no less!), and bloody massacres in Kansas that rival the outrages being committed today throughout the world.
McPherson truly hits his stride with the commencement of hostilities. His narrative of the war itself is nearly masterful, covering all of the major campaigns and showing how each campaign affected the moral of both governments and civilian populations.
Unfortunately, the book ends as soon as the war does. We are given a great build-up for the Reconstruction, having watched Lincoln's political maneuverings between moderate and radical Republicans, then get shut out in the cold. We come to admire and respect Lincoln, but do not get to experience the shock and grief of his assasination. Allegedly those topics are covered in the "next book in the series," but what that book is (or, for that matter, what the series is) is not revealed in this edition.
A brief observation for those who complained about a bias in this book. I, too, noticed McPhersons previous writing credits. Frankly, I appreciated the perspective his previous works gave him. I do not believe the South came out looking any worse than the North in this work. On the contrary, the North did not look good at all. From what McPherson relates, very very few Northerners supported the war (initially) to end slavery; racism was every bit as rampant north of the Ohio as it was in the South - the campaign platforms of the Democratic party in the 1860, 1862, and 1864 were utterly appalling and yet not without success. Those who have complained about a "Northern bias" seem to be doing so because McPherson dares to say that the South fought for slavery. Well, didn't it? As McPherson observed, the only "states rights" issue that truly mattered to people in the 1840s through 60s was slavery. Moreover, McPherson makes the interesting claim that the Northerners were the true "rebels," that the South was fighting to preserve what had been theretofore been the true America.
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Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era by James M. McPherson (Hardcover - February 25, 1988)