I would say that this book doesn't really offer any new perspective on the causes of the war, which is what I was initially looking for. I will also say that I am not a proponent of the apotheosis of Lincoln. The North undertook total war in the modern sense against the South and, in my opinion, only tyrants do such things. Homespun eloquence cannot erase the horror of this.
However, the book is fascinating because you are totally immersed socially, politically, and reflectively in a two day moment in history up close and personal with many of the important players. The writing is vivid and you come away feeling and thinking almost as if you had actually been there. Mr. Achorn stands back enough to let many of the players speak for themselves without editorializing. The intensity of this seminal time in American history comes through clearly. You come away feeling that you have actually met many people you know of from history and a number of others you may not have heard of. The human element is quite palpable.
I think the book is important because it reveals the complexity and fervor of opinion that marked the era. If anything the book does shed some light on why it may have been impossible for the states to agree together on a program to peacefully wean the nation from slavery. The war didn't eliminate the fact that this would necessarily be a long and costly project. The cost of the war in blood and treasure still seems an outrageous waste. I have been noticing now that whenever the topic of the war comes up people are inclined to think of it only in the simplistic, one-dimensional, and ignorant racial political narratives that are mindlessly stoked in the present. This is not helpful. The prefatory years, the war, and the aftermath are a very profound study in human nature and politics. Americans should know the history of this time well because it continues to define us in many ways. It is a time that will always demand our careful and sober reflection. This book is a worthwhile contribution to our national memory.