Customer Review

September 20, 2009
As a general political history of the Antebellum and Civil War era, this book might have gained four stars, but that's not what the book was advertised to be. Mr. Engel appears to have tried really hard to have a unique "economics caused the Civil War" narrative, but he doesn't deliver on that. I'm not convinced. He talks in great detail about the economic differences between -- and within -- the sections, but there's not enough analysis on why these differences were so central to why the war happened. The debate over ending slavery in the states was much different than the issue of ending slavery in the territories, but Engel doesn't really distinguish the two. Also, he barely mentions a central event of the era: The split in the Democratic Party in 1860, a split caused by the debate over slavery in the territories, not economics. With a united Democratic Party, Lincoln likely would have lost. John Brown, an ignitor of disunion, didn't care about economics, he cared about freeing slaves.

Engel tries to argue that the slavery restriction debate was economic, and there's some value to that, but is he really dealing with semantics? He doesn't doubt that slavery restriction was a great reason for the sectional divide, but says it was more about economics than principle. I disagree. Lincoln and Douglas argued about slavery restriction for 7 debates in Illinois, and said very little about economics. And the Declarations of the Causes of Secession stressed the south's need to maintain slavery on principle, not just for economic motives.

I was really interested in Mr. Engel's thesis, and wish I liked this book more. He researches thoroughly and writes well. But this book leaves me with an empty feeling. I just can't go along with his central points.
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