My favorite history of the Civil War is Allen Nevins’ Ordeal of the Union, an epic masterpiece even if it is a bit dated. Unfortunately, at eight volumes in length this not likely to be the first choice of many modern readers. When I started writing my web series The Immigrants’ Civil War, I wanted to re-read one of the classic overviews of the war. I did not have the three months it would take to re-read Nevins, and I’ve never been that fond of Shelby Foote’s three volumes which I read soon after he starred in Ken Burns’ Civil War. I decided on James McPherson’s one-volume history and settled in to the pleasures of a book of challenging analysis set within a flawlessly flowing narrative.
The two decades since this Pulitzer Prize-winning history were written have only confirmed McPherson’s sagacity. The book blends a thorough understanding of the economic and political underpinnings of the war with insightful descriptions of military campaigns.
And it is a great read!