Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
British historian Keegan (The Face of Battle, CH, Mar'77; The First World War, CH, Nov'99, 37-1696) has achieved a marvelous reputation as a military historian over the past half century. Here he turns his attention to the US Civil War, offering both broad analysis and intimate detail, with significant referencing to WW I and the Napoleonic conflict. The campaign and battle narratives are usually brief, and Keegan covers in detail ideas and topics seldom visited by standard Civil War histories. Beginning with the Keegan trademark review of geography, these include delving into the role of ideology; reasons why battles were so often bloody but inconclusive; the economics and psychology of the conflict; the growth of strategic logic; the key role of the generals, and why a few (especially Grant) were better than all the rest. Among the book's gems are sections on the home front, black soldiers, and a haunting look at the war's human cost. There are some repetitions in what might as easily have been published as a series of journal essays, but overall, the structure of Keegan's intriguing, well-written text does not detract from the opportunities it offers students and buffs to think about--or rethink--lessons from the war. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries. M. J. Smith Jr. Tusculum College
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American scholars tend to write the Civil War as a great national epic, but Keegan (The First World War), an Englishman with a matchless knowledge of comparative military history, approaches it as a choice specimen with fascinating oddities. His more thematic treatment has its shortcomings-his campaign and battle narratives can be cursory and ill-paced-but it pays off in far-ranging discussions of broader features: the North's strategic challenge in trying to subdue a vast Confederacy ringed by formidable natural obstacles and lacking in significant military targets; the importance of generalship; the unusual frequency of bloody yet indecisive battles; and the fierceness with which soldiers fought their countrymen for largely ideological motives. Keegan soars above the conflict to delineate its contours, occasionally swooping low to expand on a telling detail or a moment of valor or pathos. Some of his thoughts, as on the unique femininity of Southern women and how the Civil War stymied socialism in America, are less than cogent. Still, Keegan's elegant prose and breadth of learning make this a stimulating, if idiosyncratic, interpretation of the war. 16 pages of photos, 12 maps. (Oct. 21) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
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Award-winning British war historian Keegan brings his enormous talents for understanding the "face of battle" and the shape of war to what he calls "one of the most mysterious great wars of history." The American Civil War, to Keegan, was in many ways unique, especially because of the sustained intensity of combat, the importance of infantry and relative insignificance of artillery and cavalry in deciding battles, the voluntarism of the soldiers and their persistent willingness to fight, the complications of geography and topography, and the inability of either side to deliver a decisive military victory. Keegan follows such writers as T. Harry Williams and James McPherson in assessing generalship, and he offers little new about the place of the home fronts and politics in defining and sustaining the war effort, but he moves confidently across military terrain. VERDICT His emphasis on the role of military training, geography, the importance of entrenchments, the use of firepower and infantry tactics, and the technology of war gives Keegan's book a primary place in the annals of modern warfare. With only a few missteps, Keegan provides the single best one-volume assessment of the military character and conduct of America's ordeal by fire. In doing so, he shows why war was so terrible but also, in this case, so necessary. Highly recommended.-Randall M. Miller, Saint Joseph's Univ., Philadelphia (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.
*Starred Review* Keegan's formidable reputation as a premier military historian ensures great attention to this survey history of the Civil War. Comparable in breadth to James McPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom (1988), Keegan's work roams less among the politics and social passions of the war and dwells more on the conflict as a military problem confronting the leaderships of the North and the South. Strategic geography assumes primacy in Keegan's viewpoint, followed by transportation, supplies, and organization. The degrees to which these were understood and addressed animate Keegan's insights, as he explains how the answers of war leaders to their military puzzle--the Union, to quell rebellion; the Confederacy, to ward off invasion and obtain diplomatic recognition--met the exigencies of circumstances. In consequence, Keegan's sense of the war's most significant (as distinct from decisive) battles strays from popular perception: not Vicksburg and Gettysburg but Wilson's Creek and Perryville. Keegan is similarly independent in his critiques of generals: schooled in Napoleonic doctrine, most were not flexible about campaign strategy or battlefield tactics (excepting Robert E. Lee, a spectacular tactician), the war's only original thinkers being Thomas Stonewall Jackson and Ulysses S. Grant. So, for the South, was the cause bound to be lost? Keegan's reply of almost certainly scarcely detracts from his acuity about the war's myriad aspects, encompassing dramatic battles, appalling costs, and decisive historical results. This fascinating analytical narrative will resound with Civil War readers.--Taylor, Gilbert Copyright 2009 Booklist