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North and South is the first novel in a trilogy dealing with the American Civil War, and it is truly a remarkable work; well worth reading. I myself have read the novel many times over the past twenty years. The novel focuses on two families--the Hazards of Pennsylvania, and the Mains of South Carolina--during the period from approximately 1840 through the beginning of the Civil War. These two families, bound by close ties of friendship (the sons of each are best friends at West Point and serve in the Army together during the Mexican War) and marriage, find these ties tested by the powerful forces of political and social strife that rocked the country during this period, ultimately leading to civil war.
This is a great story. Author John Jakes does a tremendous job of transporting the reader into the period immediately before the Civil War. The country was torn by political strife that could not be resolved by the ordinary institutions of civil government, and Jakes does a masterful job of explaining this within the format of a novel, and showing how this atmosphere affected ordinary people, and their friendships and relationships. The Hazards and the Mains are unforgettable. Jakes shows how decent people (as well as people not so decent) interacted with the institution of slavery on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line.
One of the best parts of the novel deals with the period during the 1840s when the two main protagonists are classmates together at West Point. This is a well-researched tale that is very insightful as regards life and strife at the military academy during a pivotal period of American history. It helps the reader understand the important role that West Point played in the nation's history during the Mexican War and, of course, the Civil War. And perhaps today.
This novel rates the overused label of "classic" and in my opinion represents one of the very best novels of the Civil War. It is, incidentally, the best novel of Jakes" "North and South" trilogy.
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on January 5, 2001
I just finished North and South and can't wait to move on to Love and War. When I first picked up the book, I didnt realize the book was almost entirely taking place in the years that led up to the outbreak of war. I absolutely loved the prologue, the story of Orry and George at West Point, life in the south at Mont Royal, and Charles and Billy becoming so similar to their brothers. This book was great in that not only did you learn about what the times were like but you also get a fantastic fictional story out of it. The characters and storylines are so strong you can almost feel what it was like to live in both the north and the south and you can commiserate with the characters. I liked the way Jakes writes: it flows and is an easy read. This was the first book I read by Jakes and I look forward to finishing the North and South series and also beginning the Kent Family series. I recommend this one highly.
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on August 1, 2006
I was happy to discover that the first book of Jakes's Civil War trilogy, North and South, is cast very much in the same mold as The Kent Family Chronicles. The book follows the story of two friends who enter West Point in 1842. Orry Main is a tall, skinny son of a South Carolina rice planter. George Hazard is the tough, stocky scion of a Pennsylvania iron fortune. Bound together by the common trials and tribulations of cadets, they become fast friends. Little do "Stick" and "Stump" suspect that the forces that will tear apart their boyish friendship and the nation they're both sworn to serve.

North and South is all about conflict. Jakes does not rely soley on the onrush of the Civil War and the sectional conflict over slavery to provide the juice, but sets up innumerable flashpoints in both and between both families. Both men come from large families with troubles of their own, and a number of family members are major characters in this big fat novel. Both loving romance and sexual obsession have their roles to play, as well as matters of honor and questions of loyalty to friends, lovers, principles, and country.

Memorably, both men are afflicted with evil sisters, one a fanatical abolitionist who ends up joining John Brown's violent attempt to overthrow the government, the other a scheming sex-crazed witch obsessed with power. But the main villain is Elkanah Bent, a repulsive fellow officer who swears eternal enmity to Orry and George back in their West Point days, and continues to plague them through the Mexican War and right up to the outbreak of the Civil War, where this volume ends.

Bent is very recognizable as a typical John Jakes villain to fans of the Kent series, right down to his homosexual proclivities (which are not balanced out by any positive portrayals of gays, BTW) and his incredible, Spy vs. Spy doggedness in pursuing his hatred of the heroes to the point of perpetrating misdeeds on the next generation of their families.

But never mind. The characters may be drawn with broad strokes, but the main figures are touched with enough flawed humanity to make you care deeply about what happens to them even as you shake your head at the improbability that so many catastrophes could befall two families. North and South is a great good time of a read that will satisfy anyone who likes their history with a whopping dose of thrills.
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on October 30, 2007
I frantically devoured John Jakes' opening salvo on the American Civil War, a behemoth 735-page hardcover entitled NORTH AND SOUTH (published in 1982). Its sequel, LOVE AND WAR, clocks in at 1,078 pages and I've already started it. Not since Elizabeth Chadwick's LORDS OF THE WHITE CASTLE have I found a book so unputdownable as Jakes' NORTH AND SOUTH. Deftly weaving factual events and people in American History with fictional characters and storylines, this astutely impartial novel sets the stage for the Civil War (1861-1865). Our tale here begins on June 1842 when two youngsters from opposing regions and contrasting opulent families (one family from the industrial north, the other from the plantation south) commence their turbulent friendship at West Point, and climaxes on April 12, 1861 when Confederate soldiers led by Brigadier General Beauregard opened fire on Union-held Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina, marking the onset of a bloody American Civil War which claimed over 620,000 lives (more than all the wars in American history combined).

John Jakes balances factual events and people, fictional families, friendships, poignant characterizations, love, lust, extremist fanaticism, and politics all under the shadow of slavery and racism which ripple even to this day. This book's primary intent? Entertainment. Although factually bloodier and darker than Bernard Cornwell's Arthurian Warlord trilogy, a glibly melodramatic fictional plotting characterizes Jakes' NORTH AND SOUTH, and this book definitely seemed lighter (than Cornwell's Warlord trilogy). Although consisting of some tense episodic plotting, all of our fictitious protagonists survive in this opening installment, albeit with some wear and tear. I actually wanted Charles Main to die. I didn't necessarily like the decidedly Southern focus of the novel, or some of the soap-opera-ish, melodramatic fictional plotting which just prompted questions of idiocy towards some of the characters. Half the time, I felt like I was reading a more intense version of the 80s TV serials Dallas or Falcon Crest about rich families. You remember those, don't you?

I thought NORTH AND SOUTH skillfully portrayed the factual events, politics and fervid extremist views on both sides which embroil this conflict. Jakes convincingly illustrates how a sectional storm of extremist malevolence could wipe away reason and good intentions. Personal ambitions and desires drive much of the extremist views. Anti-slavery, antagonistic northern views seems to put the South on the defensive, and Jakes magnificently captures how even reasonable men from the south against slavery fight for the South because of prevalently generalized anti-southern sentiments. The book conveys many factual legislation, people, politics, writers and authors during this time period, all of which widens the sectional schism and races the country to an unnecessary yet imperative conflict (the paradox that Jakes speaks of in his afterword). Jakes deftly realizes West Point, its cadets and its curriculum, an Academy which produces most if not all the brilliant Civil War officers on both sides. The book adeptly highlights the contrasting economies between the industrial North and the agricultural South, an economic contrast symbolized by the very appearance of our fictional families: the stocky, blue-collar ironmasters the Hazards from Pennsylvania, and the tall, aristocratic rice plantation owners the Mains from South Carolina.

There's quite a bit of love and romance in this novel. We have the emotionally-charged, angst-filled and impossible romance between Orry Main and Madeline LaMotte lasting the entire novel. There's the rushed romance between George Hazard and Constance receiving very superficial treatment. There's the romance between Cooper Main and Judith, and that was a sweet one actually. Finally, and my favorite, we have the romance between Billy Hazard and Brett Main sealing the connection between the two families, and representing the potential for love between North and South during a time of turmoil and conflict.

You might think a novel about the American Civil War would focus more on the North, right? Not so in this opening installment, I thought Jakes skews the bulk of the perspective from the South and the Southern family Mains. The Mains are a lot more fleshed out: Tillet Main the father, both his sons Cooper and Orry, and both his daughters Ashton and Brett. I'd be remiss not to mention Tillet's nephew and Orry's cousin the reckless, yet incredibly handsome Charles Main whose adventures and character development probably outshine that of any other character in terms of sheer page count (his early reckless brawling and whoring ways, his development into a gentleman when he prepares for a duel with a Smith, and finally his leadership as a soldier after he's stationed at Texas). By contrast, the northern Pennsylvania industrialists the Hazards receive, at best, a perfunctory treatment: the patriarch William Hazard perishes in the first part of the novel, Stanley the eldest son isn't nearly as interesting as Cooper Main, and consequently, doesn't receive nearly as much attention. Orry's perspective and love story easily overshadows George Hazard's (Orry and George are the two second sons who meet and become friends at West Point in 1842, remember). Cousin Charles Main's character development and adventures eclipses Billy Hazard's, the youngest Hazard brother, and for that matter, eclipses that of every other character as well. And of course Ashton and Brett Main are far more evident than the irksome, fanatic Hazard daughter, Virgilia. Furthermore, Orry's love interest Madeline LaMotte is a lot more fleshed out than George Hazard's love interest Constance.

Although I enjoyed Charles' characterization in the very beginning as a reckless 7 year-old boy, I really disliked him the more he grew and the more the book focused on him. For instance, NORTH AND SOUTH spent a seemingly pointless 7 chapters (over 60 pages!) exclusively on Charles' adventures in Texas with the pernicious Captain Bent. I found the entire ordeal with Charles and Bent in Texas pointless and exhausting. Even portions at the end seemingly about Billy Hazard and Brett involved Charles as he flies to the rescue at a rigged duel between Billy Hazard and Forbes LaMotte.

I also found much of the fictional plotting involving these two families ridiculous, convoluted and too soapy. It just seemed like these characters were stupid letting the antagonists repeatedly foment conflict and tension. For example, consider Virgilia Hazard's singular purpose in the novel: disrupt the delicate friendship between the Mains and Hazards. Repeatedly, Virgilia causes problems between the two families and yet idiotically, George Hazard seems to allow it every time. For example, Virgilia Hazard shows up every time Orry Main is visiting the Hazard home in Lehigh Station, Pennsylvania, to provoke and antagonize. And George just allows it every time without taking any steps to at least isolate Virgilia when Orry is visiting. Earlier, George agrees to allow Virgilia to accompany the Hazards down south to the Main home despite knowing Virgilia's inflammatory and antagonistic disposition condemning all white Southerners and despite knowing her desire to indiscriminately eradicate every single one of them. Dumb, on George's part. Later, when marriage to Billy seems finally possible, Brett Main rushes to share the news with her older, prettier sister Ashton Main first despite knowing from a very early age Ashton's avariciously ambitious nature. Why would you do that, Brett, when you're aware of Ashton's sick and twisted mind?
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on August 16, 2013
The story was interesting and what kept me reading. The writing is just this side of bad. I was shocked when I realized that this author is widely read and has been for years. I thought it was a first time novel. A cardinal rule of writing is to show don't tell what is happening. This author writes as though the reader is a child and couldn't possibly understand any feeling, thought, emotion unless he spells it out for them. Very irritating. Anyway I will never read another book by him, at least intentionally. (I never look at the author I just read a few chapters and see if I like) If you don't want to have to think at all then this is a book for you.
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on March 1, 2003
No matter what you are into North and South is for you. This is one book that has everything a person could want in a book. If you like action-its there, romance-there, you will find it a tough book to put down!
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on November 25, 2014
I have long been a fan of Historical Fiction because I hated history in formal classes because of the memorization required to pass tests. Historical fiction enables learning history in an enjoyable way, without a test looming.

John Jake's North & South has taught me so.much about the circumstances that led to the Civil War, the thoughts and feelings of the PEOPLE on both sides through the eyes of the two families he portrays as examples of both the North and the South, the Hazard and Main families. But like in real-time life, both sides have detractors, schemers, folks determined to have THEIR OWN way rather than what is best for the whole country (sound familiar, almost like today's congress and other governmental forces).
The character I most disliked and never understood his role in the novel was the one who held a grudge for years and was BENT on destroying both families. Now that I finally understand why and how Fort Sumter was the start of the War Between the States, I must read Jakes' next two books in the series.
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on January 29, 2001
I picked this book up on a whim. Boy was I surprised! I don't usually like "War" novels, but this book is wonderful. The dialogue is good, the plot draws you in & you really come to care about the characters. I felt like I got to know George, Orry, Madeline, Constance, Billy & Charles, Brett & Ashton.
The only downfall I could find with this book is that I feel like I was reading EVERYTHING about every day of their lives. It makes the book richer, yes, but it also can be very draining to read.
In fact, instead of just launching myself into the 2nd book (which is what I usually do), I am taking a break. The topics covered in N&S are so deep that you almost have to do that in order to bring yourself back to the current time.
With all that, please pick up this book & transport yourself to a different time, where everything WASN'T black & white.
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on December 9, 2013
I can honestly say I did not care and did not pay attention to anything History related while in school. Now that I am older I have more of an interest in American History. This author and his books were recommended to me by a good friend. This is the first book I chose to read by John Jakes. I have to say I really enjoyed reading this book. It reminded me slightly of Gone With the Wind. It is hard to write a review on this book without giving away the whole plot of the book as I don't want to ruin it for other readers. The story is about the war between the Northern and Southern states and during the 1800's. During this time slavery was a widely debated topic for each side. The book focuses on two families, one from the North and one from the South. It spans many decades and covers multiple characters from each family. There are ups, downs, secrets, tragedies, arguments that make you feel as if you are right there living it yourself. Highly recommended! I already downloaded the Part Two!
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on February 3, 2014
I enjoyed many aspects of the book. The historical fiction uses a good plot to examine the growing divide in the country. Using West Point as a place where North and South meet was both interesting and smart. However, I have major concerns about John Jakes description of women. The female characters are flat stereotypes. Additionally, to suggest that the character that is a single women is interested in the abolition movement to find an African-American husband portrays racist propaganda from the Civil War era as factual. After reading this section I question all of John Jakes' interpretation of history and his understanding of women. I strongly recommend that anyone (including John Jakes) that believes it to be true should read Sue Kidd's The Invention of Wings. She knows women, understands their motivations, and addresses the same propaganda.
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