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April 1865: The Month That Saved America

4.14  ·  Rating details ·  10,971 ratings  ·  397 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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Sep 22, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, non-fiction
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
Jun 24, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
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
Michael VanZandt
Jan 02, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american-history
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
Feb 23, 2009 rated it really liked it
Beautiful example of a work that treats Lee's surrender at Appomattox as an example of American exceptionalism. He argues that the United States was able to do what few other countries have been able to do after Civil War...reconcile and unite.

I actually take exception to this argument, but I cannot say this book is not is.

Read this and Appomattox: Victory, Defeat and Freedom at the End of the Civil War by Elizabeth Varon back to back for well argued perspectives on both side of
Jul 29, 2013 rated it liked it
A dramatic, vivid, and mostly well-written narrative history of one of America’s most dramatic months. Winik's style is dramatic and his argument is fairly fresh, but the narrative is often interrupted by unbearable and irritating tangents, and a lot of it just seems like filler.

The first event Winik describes is the fall of Richmond, and his rendition of the event is particularly dramatic. Lee’s retreat and Grant’s pursuit is also interesting, and Winik points out how seemingly out of character
Mark Russell
Jan 20, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
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
Dec 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
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
Erik Graff
Oct 09, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Americans
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: history
Written with an eye to current events by an author with governmental experience, April 1865's theme deals with how the United States managed to avoid perpetual civil strife upon the defeat of the Confederacy in May of that year. Focused as it is on the last weeks of the war, this book gives details not found in more broadly focused books on the subject, details about the surrenders of the various armies, about the death of Lincoln, about the last-minute addition of freed blacks into the armies o ...more
Mar 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Todd Stockslager
Jun 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Winik's account of April 1864 could serve as a textbook example of how to write narrative history. He uses the events of the month as a framework within which to draw together the great historical threads that he posits were resolved that fateful month:

--The conception of America as one nation, the transition to "the United States" as a singular, not plural noun.

--The long history of threatened secession from all geographical and political quarters of the country in its brief history, and the lo
Justin Cordova
Oct 31, 2018 rated it really liked it
Initially 3.5/5, but it got much better. I love the subject matter, but at times it seemed like the author was too focused on grandiose literature than on the story being told. Maybe that was the point, but the subject matter itself was phenomenal. He expands the month of April 1865 and shows its impact upon our history. He also gives great detail in the histories of each historical figure, briefly describing the history and character of figures like Sherman, Lee, Grant, Lincoln, and many others ...more
Apr 15, 2018 rated it liked it
Jay Winik's strength is his ability to provide vivid descriptions - his discussion of the condition of Lee's army as it prepared to leave the trenches of Petersburg, VA, gives you a real sense for the challenges that Lee and his army faced. The problems begin when Winik tries to place events in context. Winik seems to think that the history isn't dramatic enough and needs to pump it up. For Lee's effort to escape the trenches of Petersburg, Winik decides the best comparisons are Hannibal crossin ...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
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
Apr 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
April 1865, the Civil War is dragging to a close and Southerners are threatening to take to the woods and hills to continue the fight. Abraham Lincoln feared this enough to talk to his generals about welcoming their Southern brothers back into the Union. Talking about forgiveness and ending the fighting. His foresight and leadership changed the history even after his death. Robert E. Lee's surrender also shaped the peace and kept it during the upheaval of Lincoln's assassination.

Why I started th
Aug 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book is the absolute BEST book I've ever read about the Civil War. I didn't want it to end, so much so that I purposely set it aside to make it last longer. It was riveting even as I knew the outcome. I learned so much that was either forgotten or never taught to me. Insights into a few generals and leaders made me change long-held beliefs I had, many for the better. I was also brought to tears many times with his description of battles, hardships or individual people on both sides of the w ...more
Sep 03, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: usa, history, nonfiction, war
An interesting concept for a book, and one that seemed to be a refreshing take on the end of the Civil War. Does a good job at illustrating the circumstances around the Civil War, and provides good mini-biographies of many of the major players.

However, the author has made some egregious factual errors (two general Longstreets?), which detract from the book as a whole. Some interpretations of events are also suspect.

Not a bad book, but one that could use some revision and improvements.
John Parisi
Jun 20, 2008 rated it really liked it
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.
Nathan Albright
Jul 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: challenge2017
This book has been on my radar to read for a long time. I am no stranger to reading books or pondering about the end of the Civil War [1] and the importance of that gracious ending on the well-being of the United States. Not only that, but this book is one that is frequently held up as a particularly excellent book, and one well worth reading. People have been encouraging or nagging me to read this book for a long time, for quite a few years in fact, and at length the time came for me to read it ...more
eric j mcquiston
Excellent Book

I really enjoyed reading this book. I learned about so many different things that I didn’t know before. A lot of in-depth information!
Jan 29, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this book directly after James Swanson's "Manhunt" since it seemed a nice extension of that topic, but in hindsight I should've read the two in reverse order. Whereas "Manhunt" is tightly focused around its topic--the search for Lincoln's killer and his accomplices--"April 1865" is more of a general survey or overview. This was the main problem I had with the book. It purports to focus on the events of April 1865, which is a good premise. There was certainly plenty going on during that ti ...more
Jun 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
A very good book about the Civil War that dispels the myth created by hindsight that the Civil War was always going to end as it did. When people look back at this crucial month it usually just reads that, "Lee surrenders, Lincoln dies, end of story." But while the Union had surely won the conventional war there was no certainty that it would end peacefully or without far more bloodshed and this is the principle theme explored by Winik.

The book mainly focuses on the two major Confederate surren
Martin Burrows
Jul 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Throughout my life I've read quite a few books about the Civil War. Many of them were excellent, but if I had to pick one that described the most significant aspect of the war, that aspect more important than any single campaign, or battle....the ending; it would be Jay Winik's "April 1865". First of all, as with any book that I judge as 5 star, it's very well written. It holds your attention as well as any novel.
This is a book that is about the last month of the Civil war, and exactly how that
Joe Keefhaver
Oct 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The author's basic premise that the American Civil War ended reasonably well -- given the years of bloodshed and destruction -- and that key people on both sides rose to the occasion and helped the North and South begin the reconciliation process. Based on what had happened in other civil wars, there was no reason to think reconciliation of any kind would be possible. Some of these key individuals included Lincoln and Union generals Grant and Sherman, who were magnanimous when they accepted the ...more
Jun 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The Month the Civil War Stood Still

The title of Jay Winik’s April 1865 notwithstanding, his book actually covers a much broader swath of Civil War history. Nonetheless, there does emerge a focus and purpose to his title. Winik’s book captures the fragility of the war’s conclusion and drives home the fact that circumstances could have turned out differently had Lee not surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox.

It is often stated that Lee could have opted to disperse his troops and
Jun 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
"August 1865" altogether was very good. Mr. Winik traces the causes of the Civil War, slavery obviously, no matter how much the South argued that it was for state rights. But he does make the point that states rights was the issue that prevented the united states from being the United States. Prior to the Civil War the south considered the US a confederation of states that pursued their own interests individually (slavery, the Whiskey Rebellion) but sought united protection when there were threa ...more
Erin Bottger (Bouma)
Oct 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book makes a really convincing case that April 1865 was, maybe, the most important period in American history. By focusing on the events in that month, and the personalities who shaped it, Winik portrays a crossroads as the Civil War comes to a halting and painful end, Lincoln is assassinated and throws the U.S. government into turmoil, and the future tone of the nation comes together.

This book is so compellingly written, with a strong narrative, that this "Civil War Saga" manages to cover
Bill Palmer
Jun 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
I didn't go with 5 stars here because I felt that there was some redundancy and a little overstatement to some of the writing. But for extra context and background detail to the ordinary recitations of Civil War events it can't be beaten. One example: I'd had no idea of the late April interview given by Lee to the New York Herald, in which he strongly denounced the assassination of Lincoln, urged resumption of loyal U.S. citizenship by Southerners, and welcomed the end of slavery. That was at a ...more
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Jay Winik needs an editor 5 58 Feb 12, 2014 06:34AM  
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A New York Times best-selling author and American historian. He had a brief career in the U.S. government's foreign policy, involving civil wars around the globe, from the former Yugoslavia to El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Cambodia, including helping to create the United Nations plan to end Cambodia's civil war. In 1991, he took up writing history full-time.
“Most civil wars, in fact, end quite badly, and history is rife with lessons that how wars end is every bit as crucial as why they start and how they are waged.” 2 likes
“Freeing negroes seems to be the latest Confederate government craze … [but] if we are to lose our negroes we would as soon see Sherman free them as the Confederate government,” insisted one Southern woman. “Victory itself would be robbed of its glory if shared with slaves,” 1 likes
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