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April 1865: The Month That Saved America

4.15 of 5 stars 4.15  ·  rating details  ·  6,109 ratings  ·  276 reviews
One month in 1865 witnessed the frenzied fall of Richmond, a daring last-ditch Southern plan for guerrilla warfare, Lee's harrowing retreat, and then, Appomattox. It saw Lincoln's assassination just five days later and a near-successful plot to decapitate the Union government, followed by chaos and coup fears in the North, collapsed negotiations and continued bloodshed in...more
Paperback, 512 pages
Published August 15th 2006 by Harper Perennial (first published January 1st 2001)
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Siobhan
More books have been written on the Civil War than any other topic, and yet there is always more to learn. I'm not one to find glamor in war, but the Civil War really does seem set apart in many ways. Its effects are still very much with us today; the crucible of the Civil War defines us.

Author Jay Winik does a masterful job of not just tracing the events of April 1865, but also of providing the context for those events. He examines the role of slavery in American life and the fact that many pe...more
Jim
This book had its moments, but more than a few times I felt like puttiing it aside. I had some strong reservations, which I detail below.

Jay Winik's book is an account of the final month of the Civil War and the significance of those events in US history, particularly regarding ideas of national identity. Winik contends that the United Sates, at its founding, was something of an artificial creation. It was not a nation in the European sense, one that developed organically, based in a common eth...more
Mark Russell
A probing look at arguably the most pivotal month in American history. As we have learned many times since, wars are easy to start, but incredibly difficult to wrap up. Too many times the treaty that ends one war is the cause of the next.

As the Civil War drew to a close, the outcome of the conflict was certain, the fate of the nation was anything but. Our ability to come back together as one nation after such an acrimonious struggle hinged upon many variables. How would Lincoln regard the south...more
Michael VanZandt
Although I do think that Jay Winik does a nice job of providing context for this period, I object to nearly every other part of this undertaking. Mr. Winik clearly is not a trained historian, and so emerge the glaring faults of this book. In the past decade or so, historians have begun to engage in the restoration of the Civil War from its post-war nostalgia that wiped away the primary cause: slavery. Such nostalgia paved the way for "lost cause" mythology (i.e. Gone With the Wind and now-lesser...more
Steven
I heard a lot of great things about this book, but I found it a bit disappointing. I thought the whole focus of the book would be about...well, April, 1865. But Winik was all over the place with his topics. It seemed as though he intially gathered information about just that month, discovered that it was not enough, and tacked on other tidbits about the war.

Also, I think he had a little too much fun with adverbs (at least I think they're adverbs. I could mean adjectives, but you be the judge). F...more
Patrick Sprunger
I suppose the greatest challenge for an author writing about the Civil War is that four out of five readers are already fairly versed on the subject. Of those, perhaps a great many even feel they are more knowledgeable about the subject than the author. A Civil War history, in many cases, is essentially a test for authors, to gauge to what extent their opinions conform with the predjudices of the readers.

By preferring Lee to Grant and Davis to Lincoln, as the author has done, he undoubtedly cour...more
Louis
If the American Civil War ended the way most civil wars end General Robert E. Lee and other high-ranking Confederate officers would have been hanged for treason, other lower level members of Confederate army sent to prison, and the residents of the Confederacy supporting states would have lost their rights indefinitely.

Jay Winik’s April 1865 is a fascination exploration into why the American Civil War did not end in this way: no one in the Confederate Army was executed or sent to prison, nor we...more
Mike
A fascinating book on the last month of the Civil War. There were dozens of nuggets from this book that I will take with me as nice stories to share with my students. My favorite chapter was easily the one that dealt with the surrender of Lee's army and the meeting of Lee and Grant. The author writes with grace and puts you into the house at Appomattox. The level of respect these two men had for each other after spending months trying to defeat the other is incredible. Great stuff.

My main critic...more
Mickey
Jay Winik’s April 1865: The Month that Saved America is a well-researched and well-written book about the last month of the American Civil War. This is a book that should not be missed by anyone who enjoys reading about history.

The author seems to be one of those rare writers who can convey both small details and overviews equally well. The small details create the important element of time and place to the story. It’s the weather, the typical social calendar of the upper crust of Richmond socie...more
Chuck Leonard
I Just found this book in an old briefcase ... just recording it now after having read it in 2006. I found it a very interesting and fascinating read about a period of the Civil War that has been at least reviewed in most Civil War books but never in this detail. While I read this many years ago my recollection is that Wink offers a thesis accompanied by some evidence that Grant and Lincoln were of the same mind when it came to how best to manage the peace once the war ended... (I believe that e...more
Ted L.
An excellent book filled with factual information about the Civil War including detailed biographical sketches of the main characters, Lincoln of course but also Lee, Grant, Benjamin Davis and several other generals and political leaders of the time.

The main premise is the credible thesis that the decisions made by Lincoln and implemented by Grant, Sherman and others to make peace on charitable terms, most history buffs are aware of the surrender terms and provisions which allowed southern soldi...more
Dale
This is how history should be written!

Winik asserts that the month of April 1865 was the single most important month in the history of the United States due to the confluence of historical events and decisions that came with the end of the Civil War.

The decision include Lincoln's plan for a "soft" peace rather than a vengelful one. Lee's decision not to opt for guerrilla warfare but rather surrender and urge his men to become good citizens for their country (meaning the USA), Johnston's similar...more
John Parisi
History was the one subject I absolutely couldn't stand in college, buy Jay Winik makes the epic battle between north and south read like a novel, with outstanding insight into the character of Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant and so many more.
Ladiibbug
Hands down the #1 Best Book I Ever Read

Non-Fiction - read approx. 10 years ago

This fascinating, unputdownable book in highly engrossing, suspenseful, heartbreaking, and educational. This book painted a picture of the desperation and horror of this war (or any war) like nothing I'd seen or read before. The utter destruction of towns, villages, cities -- how desperate the lives of the women and children not fighting -- shocking and heartbreaking.

Abraham Lincoln has always been history's most intri...more
Mark Lacy
Most people know that Lincoln was assassinated in April 1865, and that Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox that same month. What most people don't know (but I learned from Winik's excellent book) is that the military and political leadership of both the Union and the Confederacy were involved in momentous decisions in April that helped bring the war to an end, and bring the country back together. These were decisions that, had they been made differently, could've resulted in catastrophe for o...more
Robin
Civil War history fascinates me. I read the majority of this book before I ever knew I would one day visit Appomattox, and tour the home where Grant and Lee met to sign an agreement ending the war. Having read this account it made the place become all that more real for me. Much happens in a relatively short amount of time that April, the war ends, Lincoln is assassinated, John Wilkes Booth is hunted down, captured and killed, just to name a few. Winik gives great insight into this period in his...more
Joe
Oct 07, 2014 Joe rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: history
It's not possible to say enough good things about this book. It is very readable. The subject matter is compelling. The insights open up a whole new perspective on the importance of the men that fought and won and fought and surrendered in April 1865.

For my whole life I had assumed that when Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox it was the end of the Civil War. It was the event that ended the Civil War, but there was still a lot of fighting and issues that had to be resolved before the South w...more
Bill
Aug 03, 2011 Bill added it
Chronologically taking apart the month of April, 1865 is not a linear task. Each significant event in the month - the final skirmishes and battles between two weary armies just before the surrender of Lee's army to Grant at Appomattox, the assassination of Lincoln just days later, the succession of a new President, and the capture of Lincoln's assassin - demands generous portions of back story. Each backgrounder encompasses many smaller stories.



Author Jay Winik is more than up to the task of sh...more
John Maniscalco
This was an excellent book. While it claims to be a book about the end of the civil war it is so much more than that. It shows how time and time again, the fragile peace that was about to come as a result of the conquest of the Confederacy, could have at almost at point unraveled but for the honorable and exemplary actions of men from the north and south. In short, this book will make you proud to be an American.

What is perhaps most interesting about this book is that it makes clear that not onl...more
CD
Perhaps it is ironic that I finished reading this book on this anniversary! The uncanny parallels of the turmoil in the country at this time to April 1865 border on eerie.

Jay Winik, the author, sums up the books style and presentation well in his Notes at the end of the book by calling it, and I paraphrase, 'An interpretive and analytic narrative of the events of April 1865'.

This history of the critical time around the various surrenders of elements of the Confederacy, the assassination of Linc...more
Tim
Time after time as I listened to Winik read his overwrought prose I waited for an additional fact or argument to balance or complicate the things he said. But he is writing popular history and so overstatement and lack of subtlety are his bread and butter. I know the time period his is writing about, from the colonial period to Reconstruction, fairly well, and frankly I do not recognize it much in his writing. He has picked a few examples, bent them to his themes, and left the reader with his pa...more
Quinn Rollins
I'm a history teacher, but I have a curricular confession to make: I don't like the Civil War. Partially because of geography--in the Western U.S., I don't think we have the best understanding of what the Civil War was all about. Additionally, because the Civil War is taught at the end of the same course that teaches everything up to 1877, many teachers skim through it around Memorial Day. As a consequence, I feel like I made it through my secondary and college education without ever having an a...more
Laura
I'm a total closet history buff, and loved this book a little more than expected. From the Land of Lincoln, and specifically, the city that is world-known for being "Linoln's town" I imagined this book was be an insightful read. What I didn't expect when I picked it up, though, was all of the information on the changes occurring in the Civil War. Of US history, the Civil War is probably the one I am least familiar with, and I was worried that this book would be chock full of battle jargon and un...more
Kathryn
The month of April 1865 is arguably the most important month in the American Civil War; the author holds that it is more, and arguably the most important month in our nation’s history, as being the month that truly saw The United States (plural) as becoming The United States (singular). I very much enjoyed this book, and I am glad to have this book in my personal library.

The framers of the United States Constitution did not see a single nation; they saw a Federation of United States; and while t...more
Stuart
nice perspective, this put the Civil War into better perspective as it wrapped up the war's major themes. Hadn't thought of one of the book's main themes ... that the South was just steps away from turning to a guerrilla warfare that would have mired the country in decades of conflict (see Northern Ireland for a prime example).

First Lincoln, then Robert E Lee were among the first to recognize the end of the South and the need to quickly turn the country towards reconciliation.

I didn't realize th...more
Linda
By the first of April, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln knew that at long last victory over the Confederacy was at hand. He was relieved and elated, but also deeply worried. How would the south react to the defeat? How would the victorious north treat the southerners? How would the former slaves manage their freedom? And how could a new Union be forged?

In April, 1865, Jay Winik answers those questions, reviewing what could have been had different decisions been made by countless key individuals....more
Melissa
It’s unbelievable how much hangs on the simplest details. An error in a shipping order, an individual’s mood, these things can affect the fate of a nation. In April 1865 we’re given an in-depth look at the final days of the Civil War and the resonating effect they had on the USA.

One of the things that stood out to me was how vital the character of the leaders was. If Grant or Lee or some of the others had wanted the war to continue they could have made very different choices. They men on both s...more
Jamie VW
As far as pop history goes, this book is incredibly well written, though meandering at times. It plummets ratings wise because it suffers from the all too common syndrome of civil war history writing of ignoring larger issues of race and civilian life in order to expound on the great military minds and political maneuvers. Of course a book on this month of surrender, assassination and the beginning of reconstruction will touch on the key characters - Lincoln, Booth, Lee, Grant, Sherman, Davis, J...more
Joseph
Winik has written a very accessible account of the end of the Civil War, but I'm not sure that he lives up to his premise. Frankly, for a book that claims to be about one particular month, he seems to spend a lot of time talking about other topics. Clearly, context is necessary, but he seems to have written a book much broader in scope than you might expect from the title.

For example, one of his main arguments seems to be that the near-unanimous decision by the Southern generals to surrender, ra...more
Matt
Loved every page of this. The gripping narrative of the last month of the Civil War is made even more so by Winik's technique of pausing the action when a new character is introduced, and then taking readers back to the beginning of that character's story. In structuring the text in this way, Winik manages to turn the well-known outcome of the war into a series of cliff-hangers and mini-biographies.

Throughout, Winik's thesis is that the manner in which the war's end was brought about was just a...more
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Jay Winik needs an editor 5 50 Feb 12, 2014 06:34AM  
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