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1861: The Civil War Awakening Paperback – February 21, 2012

4.3 out of 5 stars 181 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Goodheart, a historian and journalist who will be writing a column on the Civil War for the New York Times online, makes sophisticated use of a broad spectrum of sources for an evocative reinterpretation of the Civil War's beginnings. Wanting to retrieve the war from recent critics who dismiss the importance of slavery in the Union's aims, he reframes the war as "not just a Southern rebellion but a nationwide revolution" to free the country of slavery and end paralyzing attempts to compromise over it. The revolution began long before the war's first shots were fired. But it worked on the minds and hearts of average whites and blacks, slaves and free men. By 1861 it had attained an irresistible momentum. Goodheart shifts focus away from the power centers of Washington and Charleston to look at the actions and reactions of citizens from Boston to New York City, from Hampton Roads, Va., to St. Louis, Mo., and San Francisco, emphasizing the cultural, rather than military, clash between those wanting the country to move forward and those clinging to the old ways. War would be waged for four bitter years, with enduring seriousness, intensity, and great heroism, Goodheart emphasizes. 15 illus. (Apr.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


A New York Times Notable Book

Praise for Adam Goodheart’s 1861
“Exhilarating. . . . Inspiring. . . . Irresistible. . . . 1861 creates the uncanny illusion that the reader has stepped into a time machine.”
The New York Times Book Review

“A huge contribution. . . . Hardly a page of this book lacks an insight of importance or a fact that beguiles the reader.”
The Boston Globe

“Adam Goodheart is a Monet with a pen instead of a paintbrush.”
—James M. McPherson, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Battle Cry of Freedom
“Goodheart writes with precision, beauty and understanding. The books will renew one’s excitement about reading history.”
The Albuquerque Journal

“Rich, multitiered history.”
The New York Review of Books
“Goodheart shows us that even at 150 years’ distance there are new voices, and new stories, to be heard about the Civil War, and that together they can have real meaning. . . . He takes what is known, breaks it down to its elemental parts and rearranges it, giving us a different view entirely of something we thought we understood entirely.”
The Boston Globe
1861 is the best book I have ever read on the start of the Civil War. . . . Penetrating, eloquent, and deeply moving, this is a classic introduction to the nation’s greatest conflict.”
—Tony Horwitz, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and author of Confederates in the Attic
“Eloquent. . . . Gripping. . . . Goodheart gives readers a sense of what it was like to have been there.”
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Marvelous. . . . Goodheart brings us into the world of mid-nineteenth-century America, as ambiguous and ambitious and fractured as the times we live in now, and he brings to pulsing life the hearts and minds of its American citizens.”
The Huffington Post
“Exceptional historical reporting. . . . Enlightening, insightful, and yes, entertaining.”
The Tucson Citizen
“Doing what David McCullough’s 1776 did for the American Revolution, Goodheart’s book delivers a remarkably original and gripping account of the year the Civil War began.”
—History Book Club
“Goodheart is an elegant writer and this is a highly readable introduction to America’s great civil conflict.”
The Seattle Times
“A compelling look at the country’s dawning realization that this would be much more than a quickly resolved conflict over slavery, through the experiences of a fascinating cast of characters given short shrift (if any shrift at all) in previous Civil War books.”
The Star-Ledger
“Goodheart’s book stands out . . . for the author’s deft narrative style and vivid description. . . . [He] conjures a remarkable cast of individual Americans—from slaves and foot soldiers to the occupant of the Oval Office—using their stories to evoke a national watershed.”
The Times-Picayune
“An impressive accomplishment, a delightful read, and a valuable contribution that will entertain and challenge popular and professional audiences alike.”
Harvard Magazine
“With boundless verve, Adam Goodheart has sketched an uncommonly rich tableau of America on the cusp of the Civil War. The research is impeccable, the cast of little-known characters we are introduced to is thoroughly fascinating, the book is utterly thought-provoking, and the story is luminescent. What a triumph.”
—Jay Winik, author of April 1865 and The Great Upheaval


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (February 21, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400032199
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400032198
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (181 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #71,551 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By James Hiller VINE VOICE on April 27, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Normally, this is a book that I would pass up on the history shelf; me, an avid non-fiction reader and Civil War history buff. Why? Usually, books on the "years" of the Civil War are merely recountings of the events, maybe with an unique fact thrown in here and there, but nothing really new. How many times do I have to read about Lincoln's agony of whether or not to defend Ft. Sumter? However, after reading an insightful review in the "New York Times Book Review", this book found itself in my hands, and after reading it, it's become one of my new favorites. "1861: The Civil War Awakening" by Adam Goodheart is destined to become an often read introduction to this terrible, turbulent time.

What drew me in was the prologue. How often had I read about Maj. Robert Anderson's brave defense of the fort from Confederate shelling, and how he gave in honorably. What I didn't know what that Anderson originally was chosen to defend in Fort Moultrie. When South Carolina voted to secede, his small but valiant group of men (including a brass band!) constantly pressured him to move to Sumter, which was more easily defended from attack than the "park-like" Moultrie. Anderson wanted to go, but felt compelled to follow his orders. It wasn't until a telegram arrived that asked him to defend the "forts" (note the plural S) that he felt finally like he had permission to move. So he did, sneaking over to Sumter, all because of the letter S. The rest is history.

In fact, that is what Adam Goodheart truly understands; that history is all about story; the story of a person or of people. Much gets lost in the endless recitation of battle facts and ennui, which is important to remember, but there is so much more. It's the stories that drive the war.
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Format: Hardcover
With the 150th anniversary of the start of the American Civil War I wanted to add a series of books to my reading list to compliment this fact. To be honest with you, I was only somewhat excited about this literary endeavor, having already read a multitude of books on the Civil War over the years - including the Shelby Foote trilogy, Shaara's "The Killer Angels", and too many more to list here. I really didn't want to simply rehash the many famous battles that took place during this great conflict unless some new and intriguing data could be added. With that in mind, I struck out on Adam Goodheart's "1861". While I plan on reading a few books over the sesquicentennial, I am very glad I started with this book.

Bottom line: this book offered me a take on the Civil War that was entirely new and interesting to me. Goodheart started with a research question: How does a nation of real people go from a relatively peaceful state to a willingness to engage in bloody civil war in just a short matter of time? What changed within the minds of individuals, never mind the political and military figures, that allowed for this to happen? It is a question worth asking when you consider the price that was paid and the sacrifice required to bring the war to an end over the course of four years. The answer to this question offers guidance for us to this day.

To answer the research question, Goodheart chose to look at the lives of several individuals, who, at least in my case, were relatively new case studies to the American Civil War. The timeframe essentially takes place from the Presidential election of 1860 through First Manassas.
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Format: Hardcover
For any followers of the NYTimes' "DISUNION" blog [...] we've been looking forward to this book's release for a long time.

150 years later and the Civil War is as relevant and interesting as ever, and Goodheart focuses this book around that first year, 1861, and how the Civil War REALLY came about.

In this beautifully packaged (deckled/uneven pages!) book, Goodheart spins a well crafted and accurate non-fiction narrative of the story of the start of our country's divide and brings our troubled political past alive in a story that reads unlike any other history book I've read.

It's the rare entry point to the Civil War that can delight any Civil War buff who thinks he knows everything already as well as captivate and interest the vaguely curious and cautious non-historian.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The author uses personal histories of famous and peripheral historical figures to create a slice of life account of the nation in 1861. He creates a broader context for the main historical events of that year by explaining the spiritual, political and philosophical movements of the time. He also describes incidents in which one person's choices or actions had broad consequences concerning the outcome of the war. He weaves all of these elements together seamlessly into an very readable account.
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Format: Hardcover
Goodheart's portrait of key Americans at the opening of the Civil War has all the electric energy of Augustus Saint-Gauden's memorial to Robert Shaw and the famous Massachusetts African-American regiment. Like the sculptor, Goodheart breaths life into a remarkable number of finely drawn portraits, all in order to convey a collective movement, the stakes of which are evident on every face.

I grew up in the 1960s in what had been a border state, and 1861 sheds plenty of light beyond its one year to illuminate my own experience -- explaining, for instance, why my nonagenarian friend across the street still cherished a daguerreotype of Elmer Ellsworth and how that same Ellsworth was connected to Mose, the mythic fireman on my grandfather's slightly racy theater poster. It also casts a contemporary light on attitudes toward the Civil War that were still, in my childhood, remarkably entrenched.

Goodheart propels his narrative with speed and wit. This is a lively and enlightening read.
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