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The American Civil War: A Military History Hardcover – Deckle Edge, October 20, 2009

93 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

American scholars tend to write the Civil War as a great national epic, but Keegan (The First World War), an Englishman with a matchless knowledge of comparative military history, approaches it as a choice specimen with fascinating oddities. His more thematic treatment has its shortcomings—his campaign and battle narratives can be cursory and ill-paced—but it pays off in far-ranging discussions of broader features: the North's strategic challenge in trying to subdue a vast Confederacy ringed by formidable natural obstacles and lacking in significant military targets; the importance of generalship; the unusual frequency of bloody yet indecisive battles; and the fierceness with which soldiers fought their countrymen for largely ideological motives. Keegan soars above the conflict to delineate its contours, occasionally swooping low to expand on a telling detail or a moment of valor or pathos. Some of his thoughts, as on the unique femininity of Southern women and how the Civil War stymied socialism in America, are less than cogent. Still, Keegan's elegant prose and breadth of learning make this a stimulating, if idiosyncratic, interpretation of the war. 16 pages of photos, 12 maps. (Oct. 21)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

In his broad, single-volume history, Keegan offers an outsider's view of the American Civil War, providing fresh insights from a bracingly impartial perspective. However, though critics were quick to voice their admiration for Keegan's previous works, they were deeply disappointed by The American Civil War. His narrative is lamentably riddled with inaccuracies, including the dates, locations, and events of major battles. He incorrectly attributes well-known quotes, presents disproved myths as facts, and repeatedly contradicts himself. Critics also bemoaned the brevity of the book, which muddled the repetitive descriptions of battles and troop movements, and Keegan's obscure asides. "He's loath to leave any of his erudition off the table," opines the New York Times. Critics expected more from this eminent historian, and readers may be similarly disappointed.

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This Book Is Bound with "Deckle Edge" Paper
You may have noticed that some of our books are identified as "deckle edge" in the title. Deckle edge books are bound with pages that are made to resemble handmade paper by applying a frayed texture to the edges. Deckle edge is an ornamental feature designed to set certain titles apart from books with machine-cut pages. See a larger image.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (October 20, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307263436
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307263438
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.4 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (93 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #805,900 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John Keegan's books include The Iraq War, Intelligence in War, The First World War, The Battle for History, The Face of Battle, War and Our World, The Masks of Command, Fields of Battle, and A History of Warfare. He is the defense editor of The Daily Telegraph (London). He lives in Wiltshire, England.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

176 of 183 people found the following review helpful By John Wark on November 5, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I'm a big John Keegan fan. I'm also a serious reader of Civil War history. On both counts I'm very disappointed in this book. Keegan is usually an insightful historian and a solid writer. This book falls short in both areas. I can't recommend the book even for serious Civil War buffs as, at best, there's nothing new here. The book has annoying factual errors (doesn't anyone fact check anything anymore?) and is very poorly edited to the point that it's almost incoherent in several sections.

The factual errors tend to be related to details, e.g. on page 321 Keegan states that Winfield Scott was 85 years old at the beginning of the war while Scott's actual age was 75 or on page 218 the Confederates are described as making preparations to escape from besieged Vicksburg by crossing to the "eastern shore" where in fact Vicksburg was on the eastern shore of the Mississippi River. This doesn't distract necessarily from Keegan's larger point but it's highly distracting to any reader who has background in the period. These types of factual errors are scattered throughout the book and their accumulation eventually undercuts belief in the larger picture that Keegan attempts to paint.

But even more seriously the book is almost unreadable in a number of sections. The quality of the editing in this book is nothing short of appalling. There are serious problems with continuity throughout the book. There is significant repetition in the book. These problems seems to occur much more frequently in the sections describing the war in the "west" (i.e. Tennessee, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama).
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73 of 79 people found the following review helpful By David W. Nicholas on November 13, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I'm a big fan of John Keegan. I first read The Face of Battle in the late '70s, soon after it was published. It convinced me he was going to be one of the more important historians of the last part of the century, and for the most part that's proven correct. He has since produced a large library of interesting, intelligent books, the content of which has been interesting. I can't say I agree with everything the author writes and advocates, but I can say that he's generally thought-provoking and intelligent. Which is why the current book is such a disappointment.

The American Civil War is perhaps one of the more written-about wars in world history. This is, of course, because the market for American history is so large, because there are so many Americans. It's also got something to do, I suspect, with the size of the conflict and its course. There's a tradition of foreign interest in the war (the current standard history of the Confederate Navy was written by an Italian historian, and then translated into English) and British historians have especially been fascinated by it. One of the older biographies of Stonewall Jackson was written by a British soldier, G.F.R. Henderson, in the late 19th Century, and early in the 20th J.F.C. Fuller and B.H. Liddel Hart wrote extensively about the war from various perspectives. Liddel Hart's biography of Sherman still has some followers; he made some good points.

Keegan has written about the American Civil War in the past. In his partially autobiographical book Fields of Battle, he recounts that he first came to America as a grad student with a grant to study the Battlefields of the American Civil War, what has to be 50 years ago or so.
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46 of 50 people found the following review helpful By Mick McAllister on November 24, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I've been a fan of John Keegan's work since The Face of Battle, so I grabbed this book the moment I saw it on the shelf and went home to discover The Feet of Clay.

This is an extraordinarily bad book, with many special flavors of badness. First off, and most irritating, it is unedited. Calling the result "badly edited" is like calling Canyonlands "badly ploughed." At one notable point, I was puzzled (but, because it was well into the book, not surprised) to read a revised version of the sentence I had just finished reading. That's how ludicrous the repetition is, and it can't be accounted for by recalling that many chapters are badly connected journal and magazine articles (like the jarring "Walt Whitman and Wounds").

Secondly, and a bit shockingly, Keegan doesn't appear to have anything interesting to add to what's already been said about the Civil War. I'm not a buff, but I don't think "The Civil War was protracted because of the Napoleonic myth of 'the decisive battle'" is an earth-altering discovery. One begins early in the book to wonder why Keegan thought we needed THIS book, and the answer seems to be "because it was easy for him to write."

Finally, the book does not serve the casual reader. I've read McPherson, Catton, Sandburg, and Foote, so I'm not that reader. I've played computer simulations of at least a dozen of the key battles of the war. But even with that background, Keegan's narratives of battles are so chaotic that I couldn't make head or tail of most. And I wasn't especially tempted to, since the battles are reported with narrative blandness you could get from a high school history book. The chapters appear to be a chronology, and yet we keep looping back to explain things that were already explained in previous chapters.
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