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The American Civil War

3.70  ·  Rating Details  ·  898 Ratings  ·  132 Reviews
The greatest military historian of our time gives a peerless account of America’s most bloody, wrenching, and eternally fascinating war.

In this long-awaited history, John Keegan shares his original and perceptive insights into the psychology, ideology, demographics, and economics of the American Civil War. Illuminated by Keegan’s knowledge of military history he provides a
ebook, 416 pages
Published October 20th 2009 by Vintage (first published 2009)
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Nov 12, 2009 Donna rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: military history buffs
I started this book with great enthusiasm. As I was reading there were things that started bothering me about the text, though I couldn't put my finger on what exactly was wrong. Then I read McPherson's review in the New York Times
in which he lists a number of factual errors in the book. Now I'm just a Civil War buff, not a historian; but I've read enough Civil War literature to know that something was wrong here.

Secondly, the book just didn't seem to be
Feb 06, 2011 Ed rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone looking for a clear history of the U.S. Civil War
Shelves: history, reviewed
Excuse my naivete but I'm shocked that one of the best histories of the U.S. Civil War has been written by an Englishman. Granted that I'm a Keegan fan and thought his history of WW I helped me understand that war for the first time. Nevertheless, I would have thought that there was no room for new insights into the Civil War until I read this book.

His ability to show the impact of geography on the conflict was outstanding. His analysis of the economic aspects of the conflict was clear. His expl
Bookmarks Magazine
In his broad, single-volume history, Keegan offers an outsider's view of the American Civil War, providing fresh insights from a bracingly impartial perspective. However, though critics were quick to voice their admiration for Keegan's previous works, they were deeply disappointed by The American Civil War. His narrative is lamentably riddled with inaccuracies, including the dates, locations, and events of major battles. He incorrectly attributes well-known quotes, presents disproved myths as fa ...more
Steven Peterson
John Keegan is a major military historian. His book, "The Face of War," is a fascinating examination of major battles from a very different perspective. But his one volume history of the Civil War disappoints.

On the one hand, this is a standard one volume history of the Civil War. It takes a largely chronological view of the war, with some concluding chapters on very specific aspects of the war, such as naval battle, black soldiers, the war at home, Walt Whitman's role in and view of the war, an
Sep 04, 2015 Maitrey rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
I picked this book up as a complete Civil War novice. One day I realized, I've absolutely no idea about any of the battles (apart from Gettysburg) that were fought and hardly any of the personnel involved. John Keegan comes with an impeccable background as one of the foremost military historians of our times, so I thought, why not, this will be illuminating.

I think I've got a good grip of the timeline, and some of the major battles that were fought (according to one count, there were something
Bill Rogers
I bought this book expecting to be impressed. I was, but not in a good way.

Some time in the past, I don't know when, I read Keegan's single volume histories of World War I and World War II. I liked these, so when I saw he had also done a book on the US Civil War I jumped on it. I expected this to be as good. Unfortunately, while there are many things to like about this book, it wanders and is sloppily written.

On the good side of the ledger, Keegan emphasizes the practical issues of the war, whil
Donna Davis
This was a disappointment. Keegan's history of World War I was outstanding, and likewise he did a brilliant job with World War II. In contrast, his treatment of the American Civil War is nothing special. His sources are secondary; he hasn't spent countless hours sitting in local and regional libraries reading collections of letters or rare documents. The man lives in England, and as far as I can see, he may have written this book from there. His maps are insufficient, and the ones he does use ar ...more
James (JD) Dittes
Keegan is simply the best military historian writing today, and his "American Civil War" gets the perspective just about right. American history buffs are used to seeing dozens of new books about the CIvil War come out every year, focused on individual battles, specific regiments, letters, etc.

It took an outsider--and a Brit with no less than Keegan's military expertise--to write a definitive book like this. Keegan has made a close study of American geography (his account of the assault on Vicks
John Bianchi

John Keegan remains the most exciting military historian currently writing, and I had looked forward to The American Civil War. Keegan could have benefitted from a more active editorial hand; several passages, which were key points in what is essentially an expanded essay, were repeated nearly verbatim several times over the course of the argument when a simple reference would have sufficed. Not a narrative and therefore not as engaging as James MacPherson's single-volume history, Keegan's effo
Dec 03, 2014 Roger rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
What a strange and disappointing book. John Keegan was a well known military historian; one of his books, The Face of Battle, broke new ground in the description of the experience of fighting, from generals to the humble private. Unfortunately, the book under review does not attain the standard of that earlier work.

I picked up this book after watching the film Lincoln, which I enjoyed immensely. I realised while watching the film that my knowledge of the American Civil War was pretty sketchy at
John Pyrce
May 16, 2015 John Pyrce rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
American Civil War from a military viewpoint. Three sections: background and forces leading to the war, history of campaigns especially from the view of generals and strategies, and finally a reflection on various facets of the conflict. The bulk is the middle section, but that is the least interesting (to me) since its often a list of names and places I don't know. Important factors for Keegan was that battles were extremely bloody often with 30% causalities, and many battles (some estimate 25 ...more
Mar 17, 2014 Greg rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
John Keegan is a brilliant military historian, and he turns his attention in this book to the Civil War. There is, in truth much to like about this book. First, unique among Civil War historians, Keegan does fair justice to Montgomery Meigs, the “supremely competent and incorruptible” officer who erected the dome of the Capitol, built Washington’s water supply, and most importantly for the North, ensured the strategic use of transport capabilities to keep the Union army well supplied throughout. ...more
David Roberts
Mar 04, 2014 David Roberts rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The book I read to research this post was The American Civil War by John Keegan which is an excellent book which I bought from kindle. This book must be one of the if not the definitive books on the American Civil War and I can't praise it enough. It reads almost like a thriller and goes into almost every aspect of the war in great detail. Over a million people died in this war so in terms of casualties it is one of the worst wars ever on a par with the 2 world wars. The Union & the Confeder ...more
Mar 08, 2015 Jeffrey rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I'm only giving it 2 stars because it is sometimes (way too rarely) insightful and I'm not giving it 1 star because it isn't the worst book on the Civil War I've read.

He's a lifelong and famed writer, so I expected the writing to be better than it was. However, I'd have given up any level of purple prose to hear the thoughts of the foremost British Military Historian on the war. A kind of unbiased eye by which to judge my own biases.

Instead I got a mishmash attempt to recap the whole war. This
Lars Sønderskov
Meget skuffet. Kegan er den bedste militærhistoriker, men denne bog er tung og ustruktureret.
Jul 05, 2015 Mark rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had very little knowledge of the American Civil War before reading this book, so for me it was a good introduction and helped explain a key part of American history - in particular the differences between North and South and how racial segregation persisted in the South even after the end of slavery. The nature of the war itself was also remarkable - why and how hundreds of thousands of men were able to stand in close order and shoot at each other at close range and not run away, and this happ ...more
May 09, 2012 Florent rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Très plaisant à lire, un auteur agréable qui approfondi l'aspect humain et social du plus grand conflit des USA. Seules réserves, les évenements sont abordés par théatres et non chronologiquement, ce qui est parfois un peu difficile quand on n'a qu'une vague connaissance initiale du sujet, et la cartographie est un peu faible.
Keegan returns again with a single volume military history of an epic war. While not his strongest work (the factual errors are highlighted in various other outlets), the book is generally strong and highlights Keegan's penchant for finding geography to be the primary determinant in most warfare. Beyond that general focus, it's a straightforward, and fairly brief, history of the war. One fact that surprised me, even as a moderately knowledgeable Civil War reader was Keegan's claim that there wer ...more
Rupert Matthews
Apr 01, 2015 Rupert Matthews rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I fond this to be a good, solid introduction to the subject. I've been a bit hazy about the war and thought this was a useful book to explain who was who, what they were doing and why they did it. My only real complaint is that it was written very much from the Unionist side. I don't mean the author was biased, but that we heard a lot more about the plans of Union generals, the political situation in the North, correspondence between Unionists and learnt a lot about the characters of the men on ...more
Jul 05, 2015 Margaret rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mark Skates
Apr 13, 2011 Mark Skates rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A interesting perspective on the political and geographical influences on the War.
Feb 18, 2016 Dave rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
John Keegan offers a decent if uneven history of the Civil War (parts of the book had appeared earlier in history magazines, so the narrative is disjointed at times). While not as good as his earlier histories on the World Wars, Keegan brings a different perspective to the war as a British historian; he also brings to light the role geography played in the war, something not often found in other Civil War histories. Perhaps not the best Civil War history ever written, but a solid book nonetheles ...more
Sep 01, 2014 Darren rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was impressed with Keegan's in depth review of the American Civil War. It was detailed, well organized, and pretty thorough. He pulls heavily from McPherson's works and at times this seems like a retelling of "Battle Cry of Freedom". However, it is hard to compare the two works (this one and McPherson's masterpiece) in fair regard. To give such a detailed description of this era of American history in one volume is going to take on a similar characteristic feel to any preceding attempt, assumi ...more
Matthew Trevithick
Dense but good read on the American Civil War. Written by a Brit, so some distance from the topic, at times startling (the book opens with, more or less, 'The South never had a chance' - strong words even for a Northerner like me) but on the whole appreciated. He weaves in references to comparable European wars and battles, which I liked. Little hard to pin down at times, he slides around time periods with ease and it's occasionally a little tricky to follow - one page we're reading a detailed a ...more
Mar 01, 2014 Kyle rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This was probably not the best choice for my first history book about the American Civil War. It is less of a chronicle of events than it is an analysis of several arguments about why the war turned out how it did. As a result, Keegan jumps around with his coverage of events and theatres of war to make conclusions about his theses. He also breezes over some major events in order to talk more about the results than the process. Having very little exposure to the details of the Civil War myself, t ...more
Ben B
Feb 09, 2011 Ben B rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Keegan is always brilliant in his analysis and description. This book seemed unevenly edited -- there were repetitions that seemed unintentional, and some of the material seemed unorganized. But overall it was an excellent read.

I was struck by comparisons to the Napoleonic wars and World War I. In the former the standard infantry weapon was a musket with an accurate range of 50-100 yards and a rate of fire of 2-3 rounds per minute. In the latter the standard infantry weapon was a repeating rifle
Jul 17, 2012 Robert rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The American Civil War is a fine book by an accomplished British military historian who has the range of knowledge necessary not only to give a detailed account of the Civil War but also to compare it to other wars in other places at other times. For example, he notes that on entering the war both sides had the idea of a decisive Napoleonic battle in mind, a kind of Austerlitz, which would settle things quickly.

But that didn't happen. Keegan offers one major reason why not: Neither side was equi
Frédéric Bey
Keegan nous offre avec cet ouvrage une excellente synthèse sur la Guerre de Sécession. Son style vif et le plan de son ouvrage, qui n'oublie aucun des aspects de cette guerre fondatrice, rendent la lecture très agréable. Keegan règle aussi son compte à la "cause perdue" (page 460) : "Savoir si le Sud aurait pu remporter la guerre est devenue l'une des questions les plus débattues après le conflit. La réponse est non."

Il dresse des portraits tout en psychologie des plus grand généraux de la guerr
Daniel Bratell
After reading a book about Vanderbilt I became eager to know more about the American Civil War so this book became the next one on my reading list.

I now know much more about the American Civil War (previous knowledge was: lots of dead people, end of slavery) but not as much as I had hoped. The American Civil War: A Military History is more or less what it says, a lot about the military, especially the generals and not very much about anything else. And still, for a 3-5 year long war it only scra
Apr 01, 2010 Mark rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: civil-war
It's fascinating to look at a familiar story from an unfamiliar perspective. Having been into Civil War history for a significant part of my life, I would have thought that a general survey of the military aspects of the war would hold comparatively little additional interest for me; yet I found myself glued to John Keegan's masterly treatment of the American Civil War. I'd read his "Six Armies in Normandy" some years ago, so I expected clear analysis and interesting writing, and I was not disap ...more
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Sir John Desmond Patrick Keegan OBE was a British military historian, lecturer and journalist. He published many works on the nature of combat between the 14th and 21st centuries concerning land, air, maritime and intelligence warfare as well as the psychology of battle.

More about John Keegan...

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