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.
©2012 Oxford University Press (P)2013 Audible, Inc.
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"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. ( )
"The worst part of this book is it's title"
So right off the bat let me say this is an excellent general overview of the Civil War - but not of Reconstruction. The book is around 20 hours long and he don't even get to Reconstruction until the last hour and a half. So know that coming in and you shouldn't be disappointed.
OK now for the review.
At this point I've read and listened to probably more than a hundred of Civil War books, this would rank near the top of them. This would be a great book for someone that doesn't know much about the Civil War as it is not a military history of the war and it's not in great depth, instead it more or less is a narrative that provides atmosphere and gives you all the fundamentals you need to understand what happened and why. At the same time I still found it interesting as a refresher since it's easy to listen to and well structured. There wasn't a lot of new material in there but the other does a good job of keeping the story moving and not going back over the same material you've read in other history books 100 times. He does bring new narratives to the story, personal accounts and such that I have not heard before and that helps great for the Civil War buff.
Another review said that the book has a southern bias and that's ridiculous, I've read enough Civil War material to know what is biased and what isn't, this clearly falls into the non-biased category.
The reader does an excellent job as well.
So in closing I'd highly recommend this book to people who want to begin to have an understanding of the Civil War and want it in an interesting and easy to read (listen to) format. If you're just starting out this book should be interesting to you and hopefully will work as a bridge to get you into more in-depth reading (listening) later.
Also I very much believe anyone already interested in the Civil War that might want a refresher or just wants a good narrative of the war will enjoy this as well.
I do NOT recommend this for anyone that want's an understanding of Reconstruction as it's breezed through way to quickly to be of any use. If you can get past that this is very very much a 5-star book.
"History of the Civil War but not Reconstruction"
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.
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.
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.
"Disorganized and problems with facts & conclusions"
I was very disappointed in this book after reading the positive reviews. I have read a lot about this period of American history and found that the author had many factual problems which made we question everything he claimed. The example that I can remember at this point in time is he claimed that Jefferson founded the Democratic party. That is so amazingly wrong. Jefferson and all of his like minded friends described themselves as Republicans. Only later did they also say sometimes about being democrats. The first two political parties in this country's history were Federalists and Jefferson Republicans, which are frequently called Republican Democrats. They are not Jefferson Democrats.
An example of a very poor conclusion he drew was that he claimed that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court during the Civil War, Roger Tawney, was a strong supporter of secession and wanted to do everything to prevent Lincoln from stopping it. He is the only person who I have read that has claimed this. I feel, it is more like Tawney had a different viewpoint of the law than Lincoln. After all, we still wonder about if Lincoln was correct to refuse the Writ of Habeus Corpus. Other calls were just different interpretations of the law not that he was trying to thwart Lincoln.
I gave it two stars, because I did learn some things about that period of time, like about more detail on the volunteer soldiers and how the weapons performed despite the claims of their accuracy. The problem is that I question how truly accurate he was in his description now.
I thought the narrator was very good though.
"Fascinating history of the Civil War."
Yes. The Audio version adds drama to the print version.
Fascinating history of the Civil War narrated very well.
There are many excellent civil war history books. What I like about Guelzo's book is that it doesn't stop at Appomattox or Lincoln's death but continues through Reconstruction. He gives the reasons why the war was won by the North and why many things didn't change after 1865. A fascinating read.
"Good historical overview!"
Well read synopsis of the entire war and reconciliation of American history. Just enough to entice the listener to expand ones investigation to specific sectors of the war. Tells enough to make excellent points of the various aspects that occurred. Nice work!
"Great overview of the Civil War"
Read this to complement the material used in a college class. It's a broad summary of the war, it's antecedents, important events, and figures, as well as the reconstruction period that followed it.
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