Molly's Reviews > 1861: The Civil War Awakening

1861 by Adam Goodheart
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's review
Jul 12, 2011

really liked it
Read in July, 2011

This is a beautiful, thoughtful, surprising portrait of the figures, grand and small, who helped shaped that fateful year before the first shots were fired at Fort Sumter. I have wanted to read about the Civil War for some time, but couldn't bring myself to commit a tome of battles, generals, etc. This book was perfect - a humanizing portrait of the events in the year up to the beginning of the war.

The divisions over slavery were especially revealing, in that the opinions didn't divide cleanly north and south of the Mason-Dixon: abolitionists v pro-slavery forces, yes, but also Northerners who wanted to preserve slavery to save the union and Southerners who privately detested the institution but couldn't be disloyal to the Confederate cause. It's also clear that there was no way to end such a brutal and hateful practice without violence. It wasn't going to quietly fade away.

In short, this is my favorite kind of history book (I've read books on the American Revolution, the founding of the colonies that had a similar approach), an intimate look at the real lives and passions that shaped the events so that I can understand the "why" in the hearts of individuals. Anyone who is interested in American history, should try to read something about the Civil War - it gives a great insight into who and what we are. And, this being its 150th anniversary, what better time to do so (it was fitting that I finished the book on July 4th- a symbolism of independence)!
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