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The Civil War: A Narrative (The Civil War #1-3)

4.56  ·  Rating Details  ·  5,145 Ratings  ·  274 Reviews
The Civil War: A Narrative (Hardcover, 3 Vol. Gift Set)

A stunning literary and historical achievement, the three volumes of Shelby Foote's THE CIVIL WAR vividly bring to life the four years of torment and strife that altered American life forever. Presented in a handsome boxed set, these three beautifully bound hardcovers are an essential addition to every American histor

Hardcover, 2934 pages
Published May 2006 by Random House (first published October 12th 1963)
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The Killer Angels by Michael ShaaraGone with the Wind by Margaret MitchellBattle Cry of Freedom by James M. McPhersonThe Civil War by Shelby FooteCold Mountain by Charles Frazier
Best Civil War Books
4th out of 576 books — 656 voters
John Adams by David McCullough1776 by David McCulloughTeam of Rivals by Doris Kearns GoodwinA People's History of the United States by Howard ZinnBattle Cry of Freedom by James M. McPherson
Best American History Books
19th out of 1,203 books — 1,632 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Mar 12, 2012 Monty rated it it was amazing
Shelves: american-history
Shelby Foote was commissioned to write a concise narrative of the American Civil War in 1958, following his great success with the book, Shiloh. The project grew beyond the bounds of the original plan from Random House, and blossomed into one of the greatest works ever written about the war. Foote was born in Mississippi, but was later transplanted to Memphis. His was the first Southern voice to describe the Civil War in more than a generation. In spite of his background, he is no disciple of th ...more
Aug 31, 2014 John rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
May 3, 2011
3 volumes, 1000 pages each; this is going to take a while. But I've just finished Volume 1 - Fort Sumpter to Perryville and -- since at this rate I won't finish the whole thing for another year -- I thought I'd make some initial notes. Basically -- this is glorious. I'm not a Civil War buff, and I'm certainly not interested in getting down into the weeds of whether Foote gets this or that detail exactly right, or is fair or unfair to this or that general. The things that impress here
Apr 20, 2009 Susan rated it it was amazing
I couldn't find a listing for just Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox which I finished this year. Last year I read the first two volumes.

This is the last volume which covered Grant arriving in Washington to take up duties as commander—and looking like a scruffy nonentity who was offered a room in the attic of Willard’s Hotel until the clerk saw his name—to the death of Jefferson Davis (Foote is a southerner after all). Really great work—it’s taken me a couple of years to read it.

There I think Fo
Ryan Holiday
Jun 22, 2012 Ryan Holiday rated it it was amazing
Having read and enjoyed Shelby Foote's novel Shiloh (which I highly recommend), I was motivated to attempt his magnum opus, the one million-plus word trilogy The Civil War. The books are surprisingly readable, come in a bright box set and are great for flipping through. if you have any background with the Civil War, I suggest reading the introduction and then skipping around and reading about the battles or figures you're interested in. For me, that included William T. Sherman, Nathan Bedford Fo ...more
Jul 05, 2008 Allen rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, war
I have read this set half a dozen times -- for a while there I re-read them every summer. Foote was a novelist before he was a historian, and it shows in his style. The books give a fairly even-handed treatment of the military history of the American civil war, using actual quotes to flesh out the interactions among the characters to a surprising extent. One of the best histories I've ever read.
Bill Rogers
Jul 01, 2013 Bill Rogers rated it it was amazing
Shelby Foote was the silver-haired gentleman with the Robert E. Lee beard who had such interesting anecdotes to tell during Ken Burns's documentary series The Civil War. How do you think he got that job? By writing this trilogy, that's how. Umpty-ump thousand pages, and he did it on paper. With a dip pen no less. He said, in an interview I saw, that he got a better rhythm that way.

I believe it. Often I find myself turning to pen and paper too, although I've never gone so far as dip pens.

Aug 03, 2007 Paul rated it it was amazing
Still have a couple hundred pages in the last volume because I got waylaid with other books to review for actual money -- but Foote's Civil War is a true masterpiece. His friend Walker Percy famously called it "an American Iliad," which description I cannot dispute.
Mar 28, 2012 Edward rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Over many years I have read about many Civil War battles, and the problems that Lincoln faced, but this is the first time I have learned in any detail about what the South thought was going on. Without claiming sympathy with the motives of the Lost Cause, Shelby Foote presented a number of speeches and other denunciations of Yankee tyranny, barbarism, cruelty, and alleged racial inferiority from Jefferson Davis and various political and military figures of the Confederacy, and their claim to be ...more
Jan 08, 2012 John rated it it was amazing
This magisterial work is the best book that I've read on the Civil War. Incredibly well researched, but if you're looking for something with a lot of footnotes for your own work or research, this isn't it; however, if you're an American history buff or simply a fan of good writing, you should read these books.

Don't be deterred by the length. It's well worth it. The book is written (obviously) as a narrative, not in the sense of historical fiction, but in a prose style most people don't typically
Mowena Glunch
Dec 18, 2011 Mowena Glunch rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This is probably the leading complete history of the Civil War, which for me means there is a great opportunity for someone to write something better.

Good things:
1. Good turn of phrase.
2. Good ability to paint a full personality.

1. Too strong a bias in favor of South.
2. Too strong a bias in favor of covering less important western action.
3. Too much filler. Could have trimmed 25%-33% of total words.
4. For me, needed more and better maps, with dates and times on them.
5. Would have benef
Carl R.
May 15, 2012 Carl R. rated it it was amazing
It’s finally over. I turned the last page of Shelby Foote’s (You may remember Foote as the gentlemanly, professorial presence in Ken Burns PBS series.)
monster “narration” of the civil war. Close to 3000 pages detailing every military and political battle in those horrendous four-plus years of slaughter that stand as a monument to human obstinacy and idiocy. Why I needed to do this, when I’ve already read so much about all this over the years, I can’t possibly explain. Probably a 12-step program
Jun 27, 2012 Mike rated it it was amazing
The first book I purchased in this trilogy was the middle book. I was so caught up in the writing I read on the pages I'd skimmed in that Walden Books (or some other long-gone purveyors of mass printed books) that I had not noticed that fact.

This was the almost late 1980s. I'd somehow become dawn to read Civil War history (this was before Ken Burns' PBS series made its initial run).

When I realized it was a trilogy, I decided to go on to volume three. From there, I went to the first volume and re
Ben Hallman
Feb 22, 2013 Ben Hallman rated it it was amazing
I wander back into Shelby Foote's Civil War trilogy every few years, partly out of an enduring love for the work, partly from five years or so having to pass for the entirety of its contents to have dribbled out of my sieve-like mind.

Out of all the books I've read, I can't think of another series that leaves me in such a state of awe, both at the history told and the historian who tells it. No amount of hyperbole conveys my love for Foote's masterpiece. These books are history at its best, not
Dec 14, 2014 Brent rated it it was amazing
I read these years ago, not long after Mr. Foote appeared on the excellent Ken Burns Civil War documentary. As a full-time engineer and a part-time grad student I allowed myself to read one of these books per summer. The last two summers - as the books got bigger - my time to read them got smaller with my extra duties as a new parent.

The books are very well written, but I often found myself reading fairly slowly as I flipped back and forth between maps and the narratives of the battles. One par
Nov 16, 2009 Erin rated it it was amazing
Shelves: bestreads, canon, history
Foote's 3 volume narrative history of the Civil War is considered the definitive history for a very good reason: it is almost unbelievably complete and, at the same time, wonderfully charactered. Foote finds aspects of personality and upbringing that cast every major figure of the civil war in almost an entirely unique light. Plus his recounting of politics, warfare and national character as all three evolved throughout the course of the war really helps you understand why understanding the civi ...more
Aug 14, 2012 Katherine rated it it was amazing
This is the first of many volumes on the Civil War, this one covering the time from Lincoln's election through secession to Fort Henry. I like the author's style, relating the events from the viewpoint of both the Southern and Northern states. It is not a fast read, but definitely fascinating. I knew very little about the Civil War other than a few things I remembered from American History many years ago. I was amazed at the problems, mistakes, rivalries, and misjudgements that occurred on both ...more
Gerry Huntman
Jan 23, 2011 Gerry Huntman rated it it was amazing
Forgot about this trio - so I will add a few words...

I am fascinated by the US Civil War and it doesn't take much to get my interest flowing, if the topic is covered. Then there is Shelby Foote's masterpiece.

I don't want to quibble over detail, not that there is much to quibble over, and it can be left to the hard core historians, but Shelby's work is huge, and easy to read - it is a narrative history, after all. It is immense in size and had to be so, as it covers material - not only the handfu
Nov 20, 2008 William rated it it was amazing
The best book I've read recently is "The Civil War: A Narrative" by Shelby Foote. It is kind of a commitment--three fairly hefty volumes. But it is far more entertaining than one expects. I bought it at a used book store after seeing him (Foote) on a dvd of the PBS series, "The Civil War". The series was outstanding in large part because of Foote's contributions, so I thought to myself, "I really liked listening to this guy talk, so maybe I'll like reading his book".

I did, and very much so. He m
Aug 21, 2012 Steve rated it it was amazing
Just read this series of books for the second time. If anything, the first time was five stars, and this time was better. All History should be this well researched, and this well written. As a bookend for Grant's memoirs it can not be beat.

This has been called a Masterwork, and it is. Shelby foot may not have written too many books, but it is clear he understood the art and craft of writing, and brought that approachability to over 20 years of research. Its a history book that I was sorry ended
Jul 07, 2009 Ogreboy rated it it was amazing
I don't buy books much anymore; blame the library right around the corner for that. This million-page history is good enough to read every couple years. So I put Vol. 1 on my Christmas list, and by next Christmas, I will probably have read Vol. 2 and will ask for the final bloody volume.

Shelby Foote is clear, cogent, and even-handed. And pretty smart. The action in the West is well-documented. The progression of the war is easy to follow and Foote used primary sources extensively from what I co
Paul O'Leary
Nov 08, 2015 Paul O'Leary rated it it was amazing
An amazing read that took me over a year to get through(all three volumes), but completely worth the investment. This is historical narrative, so no footnotes litter each page; just Shelby doing what Shelby does so well: telling the complete story of the American Civil War. Absolutely delightful. History for the mainstream at its best.
Aug 01, 2012 Molly rated it it was amazing
When we moved to DC in 1990 (and then Arlington in 1992), I went on a civil war kick, since we were in the heart of so many battlefields, and as an homage to my Dad, who was fascinated with the Civil War (his grandfather was a boy when Sherman marched through his town of McDonough, GA). I read a ton of books on the subject - this 3 volume series is, I think, my favorite series on the War. Lots of great detail, plus interesting asides, personal stories, and all well written. I was sorry when I wa ...more
Mark Lederer
Mar 18, 2015 Mark Lederer rated it it was ok
Despite its very positive rating, I was rather disappointed with Foote's voluminous narrative. While I confess, that military history is not a particular interest of mine, I felt that Foote suffered in comparison to other histories of the Civil War I've read. Foote's coverage of virtually every military encounter, without providing a sense of importance or size, gives a misleading sense that the war went very well for the Confederates until the very end when, mostly, Sherman, and Grant bludgeone ...more
Colin Darby
Feb 01, 2015 Colin Darby rated it it was amazing
This review will stand for all three volumes of Foote's Civil War history, as a simplification.

Foote achieved the near-impossible in creating a three-volume history of the Civil War that was as difficult to put down at its beginning as it was at its conclusion. Often, knowing that there are five thousand pages before any sort of payoff is enough to prevent one from reading; in the case of Foote's history, this is not the case, or at least it wasn't for me. His background as a novelist shone thro
May 29, 2014 Mary rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
It took me about three years of stopping and starting the reading of this series to get through it but definitely NOT for lack of interest or because of the writing. It's just very hard to carry around large hard cover books.

As a Civil War history buff, I appreciated both the narrative style and the detail with which Mr. Foote writes. He focused not just on the dry battle strategy (although there are many maps and descriptions to provide that information). He focused on the people. And not just
Doug Vanderweide
Read over the course of a summer several years ago; purchased for a song from the B&N bargain shelves.

"Comprehensive" doesn't cover it. You'll never hold all the names, notables and nuance in your head; don't bother trying.

One of the few histories of the Civil War that lends the appropriate weight to the Western campaigns; the only one I've read that got the story of Little Round Top right.
Paula Hebert
Sep 19, 2009 Paula Hebert rated it it was amazing
I first discovered shelby foote while watching ken burns' civil war. I am fascinated by this period of history, anthese three volumes are the ultimate detailed record. they describe the battles, politics, biographies, and much of the human reaction to war, soldiers and people warred upon. great stuff if that's your interest.
Jim Hale
Jan 13, 2014 Jim Hale rated it it was amazing
Shelves: civil-war
Simply the greatest reading experience in my life. We probably won't ever have another historian who can write like this. Every volume is breathtaking. The battles play out in such detail and emotional depth you will think you are there. Don't miss out!
Aug 08, 2008 Jgolek rated it it was amazing
Great way to kill a year of your time. As I remember it, Foote does an excellent job writing history forward rather than backwards. Tells the stories of all the major players invovled in the war: this isn't just a Grant vs. Lee history.
G.M. Lupo
Jun 13, 2014 G.M. Lupo rated it it was amazing
Shelby Foote came to the attention of most of America as one of the expert commentators in Ken Burns' Civil War on PBS. He most likely came to the attention of the producers because of this three-volume set. Extensively researched and exhaustively detailed, this story spans the entire panorama of the war to highlight every side of the conflict. It's a sweeping narrative that takes the reader into the tents and trenches, from Washington to Richmond and all points South and West. Highly recommende ...more
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Shelby Dade Foote, Jr. was an American novelist and a noted historian of the American Civil War, writing a massive, three-volume history of the war entitled The Civil War: A Narrative. With geographic and cultural roots in the Mississippi Delta, Foote's life and writing paralleled the radical shift from the agrarian planter system of the Old South to the Civil Rights era of the New South. Foote wa ...more
More about Shelby Foote...

Other Books in the Series

The Civil War (3 books)
  • The Civil War, Vol. 1: Fort Sumter to Perryville
  • The Civil War, Vol. 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian
  • The Civil War, Vol. 3: Red River to Appomattox

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“The Civil War defined us as what we are and it opened us to being what we became, good and bad things... It was the crossroads of our being, and it was a hell of a crossroads.” 13 likes
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