Fateful Lightning

  • by Allen C. Guelzo
  • Narrated by Brian Holsopple
  • 26 hrs and 24 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

The Civil War is the greatest trauma ever experienced by the American nation, a four-year paroxysm of violence that left in its wake more than 600,000 dead, more than 2 million refugees, and the destruction (in modern dollars) of more than $700 billion in property. The war also sparked some of the most heroic moments in American history and enshrined a galaxy of American heroes. Above all, it permanently ended the practice of slavery and proved, in an age of resurgent monarchies, that a liberal democracy could survive the most frightful of challenges.
In Fateful Lightning, two-time Lincoln Prize-winning historian Allen C. Guelzo offers a marvelous portrait of the Civil War and its era, covering not only the major figures and epic battles, but also politics, religion, gender, race, diplomacy, and technology. And unlike other surveys of the Civil War era, it extends the reader's vista to include the postwar Reconstruction period and discusses the modern-day legacy of the Civil War in American literature and popular culture. Guelzo also puts the conflict in a global perspective, underscoring Americans' acute sense of the vulnerability of their republic in a world of monarchies. He examines the strategy, the tactics, and especially the logistics of the Civil War and brings the most recent historical thinking to bear on emancipation, the presidency and the war powers, the blockade and international law, and the role of intellectuals, North and South.
Written by a leading authority on our nation's most searing crisis, Fateful Lightning offers a vivid and original account of an event whose echoes continue with Americans to this day.


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

A New History

I read a very good book by this author about the battle of Gettysburg last year and was looking forward to this volume. I was somewhat disappointed at first but as I got a better idea what the author wrote instead of what I expected I enjoyed the book and learned a great deal.
I was expecting a narrative survey history of the era similar to Battle Cry of Freedom. Instead I learned that what is "new" about this book is the author's approach to the history of the era. This book contains a more diversified discussion of various topics written with a broad brush emphasizing social and cultural issues over the military history of the war. The military history of the war is most often seen as a result of the political and social events and not so much the cause of them. When I say broad brush I mean that the author wrote about what he felt was important without feeling compelled to make sure that he provided all of the details of a particular subject. Several times he mentioned Robert E. Lee riding his horse without ever telling the reader that the horse was named Traveler. Most books I have read included that information either because the author was showing off or they felt that those types of details were necessary for a thorough historical record. For this book that was an insignificant detail.
Instead of those types of details the author has several discussions on different aspects of the role of women in the history of the Civil War era. He goes far and wide to include women of all walks of life and their participation in different events. I cannot recall another history of this era that mentioned the Seneca Falls convention and its importance. I was not aware that because of his support of women's rights the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison lost control of the American Anti-Slavery Society. This happened in 1840 and is part of a lengthy discussion of the political changes that led up to secession. Guelzo describes in some detail the problems that confronted women when all of the men left home to go to war. Many women joined the work force or had to learn how to manage a 50 acre farm with all of the physical labor that was required.
The political events in the South are given equal time with those of the North which means they receive greater attention than is usual. One of the ongoing themes is the changes that took place in the Confederate government in its fight to survive. The Southerners began by founding a nation and then turned to creating a nation-state whose principles were in many ways contradictory to the state's right ideals they began with. The South began military conscription before the North did and like the North suspended the writ of habeas corpus to deal with internal dissension. The Southern Vice-President was highly critical of the government and spent the last years of the war out of Richmond living in his home in Georgia. Most significant was the enlistment of slaves as soldiers by the Southern army in the last months of the war.
The author provides some insightful criticisms of mistakes made by the South in their handling of the war. The informal embargo on the sale of cotton at the beginning of the war deprived the South of the wealth from their prime economic asset when it was critically needed to build up their army. Their attempt to finance the war by printing money led to inflation which destroyed the economy. At one point in the book the author worked the name of Immanuel Kant into a discussion of the effect of the ideas of the Enlightenment and the Romantic movement on the culture of the South. The discussion focused on the unrealistic and self destructive qualities of Southern political ideology.
The emphasis in this book is not on narrative history but analysis of the people and events which provides some new insights. This is not a book written for someone interested in details about the military or political history of this era. The author has turned away from the standard chronological narrative. He sought new understandings and explanations for what happened and why during this portion of the continuing American revolution. I feel he has made a valuable contribution to a "new" history of of the subject. ( )
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- W. F. Rucker "eclectic reader"

History of the Civil War but not Reconstruction

Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

This is a well written history of the Civil War. It contains a good overview of the events and a general analysis of the events. However it doesn't really provide any "new" insights as the title suggests and it does not cover Reconstruction at all. If you're looking for a thoughtful and reasonably engaging retelling of the story of the Civil War this is a fine choice. But if you are looking for a new perspective on the events of the Civil War or if you are interested in Reconstruction history you will be disappointed.

What other book might you compare Fateful Lightning to and why?

Shelby Foote's "The Civil War" remains probably the best choice for a solid narrative history of the Civil War which is also an engaging military history. It lacks meaningful analysis, but as the name states, it is intended as a narrative and Foote writes the story in a way that engages the readers and makes you feel as if you understand the characters and events. Foote's perspective is slightly skewed towards retelling events from the Southern point of view, but is a very fair and balanced book.

Bruce Catton's "The Centennial History of the Civil War" is also a solid narrative history of the Civil War. It contains a traditional analysis of the events and is very well written.

James McPherson's "Battle Cry of Freedom" is another narrative history of the Civil War, but is outstanding for its coverage of the events that lead to the Civil War and their analysis. McPherson also does an excellent job of telling how African Americans played their role in the Civil War.

Any additional comments?

The lack of meaningful content of the Reconstruction was disappointing, the name of the book is a bit misleading. But it is a good history of the Civil War.

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- Timothy "Geek Hippie Teacher Techie. Love history, Fantasy, classic SciFi, Science books, and short stories."

Book Details

  • Release Date: 05-17-2013
  • Publisher: Audible Studios