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)
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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.