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Publisher's Summary

For the past half century, John Keegan, the greatest military historian of our time, has been returning to the scenes of America's most bloody and wrenching war to ponder its lingering conundrums: the continuation of fighting for four years between such vastly mismatched sides; the dogged persistence of ill-trained, ill-equipped, and often malnourished combatants; the effective absence of decisive battles among some two to three hundred known to us by name. Now Keegan examines these and other puzzles with a peerless understanding of warfare, uncovering dimensions of the conflict that have eluded earlier historiography.
While offering original and perceptive insights into psychology, ideology, demographics, and economics, Keegan reveals the war's hidden shape - a consequence of leadership, the evolution of strategic logic, and, above all, geography, the Rosetta Stone of his legendary decipherments of all great battles.
The American topography, Keegan argues, presented a battle space of complexity and challenges virtually unmatched before or since. Out of a succession of mythic but chaotic engagements, he weaves an irresistible narrative illuminated with comparisons to the Napoleonic Wars, the First World War, and other conflicts.
The American Civil War is sure to be hailed as a definitive account of its eternally fascinating subject.
©2009 John Keegan (P)2009 Random House
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
5 out of 5 stars
By margot on 11-18-12

A Novel Approach (As Opposed to Novelistic)

I had to listen to this two or three times with half an ear before I appreciated Keegan's cunning arrangement of the story. It is not a straight narrative, does not compete directly with the 119-course meals of Shelby Foote and Bruce Catton. It does not arrange the story in a linear timeline like a choo-choo train (THIS happened and then THIS happened...). No, it's done in the style of a digressive essay, like a long book review. Keegan spends most of the first half dilating upon the topics that most interest him: 19th Century American culture in general, Southern civilization vs Northern, the variances in technological development, the astounding spottiness of topographical knowledge (basically, maps that were poor or nonexistent), the prosperity and ease of the old-stock middle class, and in general how strange and novel American civilization appeared to those from the Old World.

Perhaps only an English military historian could handle this with the detachment that Keegan shows. This is not to say he shows no biases at all; he definitely faults the South for being technologically deficient and maybe culturally backward; and he thinks the world of Abraham Lincoln. But this is just a function of using a book-review idiom, in which one accepts the conventional outlook overall, while reserving creative insight for one's one narrow and favorite specialties. Thus when discussing strategy in the many theaters of war, Keegan comes back again and again to his own pet methodologies, analyzing the problems of managing a war over a vast terrain that no one comprehended very well, and comparing the topographical problems of waging battles in Tidewater Virginia versus the campaigns in the trans-Appalachian West. Again and again it's mainly an issue of good maps and efficient geopolitical outlook, much as in the First World War.

The performance is pretty good. The mispronunciations of place names (mainly "Po-to-mack" for Potomac) is amusing and forgivable, given the British actor during the narration.

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11 of 11 people found this review helpful

2 out of 5 stars
By Ian on 04-15-13

Missing pages

What would have made The American Civil War better?

If the latter portion of page 124, the entirety of page 125 and the first portion of page 126 had been included in the audio. Instead, we're left with a comment about Grant being great at math and then he's suddenly confronted by Fort Donelson, with the entirety of his early career skipped (it's in the book, just not the audio).

Would you ever listen to anything by John Keegan again?


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5 of 6 people found this review helpful

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