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America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation
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America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation

3.87  ·  Rating Details ·  320 Ratings  ·  62 Reviews
In this spellbinding new history, David Goldfield offers the first major new interpretation of the Civil War era since James M. McPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom. Where past scholars have limned the war as a triumph of freedom, Goldfield sees it as America's greatest failure: the result of a breakdown caused by the infusion of evangelical religion into the public sphere. A ...more
Hardcover, 640 pages
Published March 15th 2011 by Bloomsbury Press
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James Thane
Feb 16, 2013 James Thane rated it really liked it
This is an outstanding contemporary overview of the Civil War era, beginning in the 1830s and concluding with the nation's centennial celebration in 1876.

All of the familiar characters are here, and what distinguishes Goldfield's treatment of the period from that of earlier historians, is his emphasis on the importance of evangelical Christianity in bringing on the crisis that produced the war. In essence, he argues that evangelical Christians, especially in the North, increasingly saw many of t
Geoff Sebesta
May 29, 2012 Geoff Sebesta rated it really liked it
The first and best thing about this book is that it absolutely explodes the myth that the Civil War has anything to do with anything but slavery. It was about slavery, people. First, last, and always.

In this review, I sort of mix the compliments and complaints together. I want to give this book five stars but I can't. It's an absolutely arresting work. Goldfield has a fascinating perspective on the Civil War, and this book pulls you in like few other pure histories I've ever read. This book is v
Jul 24, 2011 Carol rated it really liked it
I thought this book was informative and instructional. Do we really think things are much different these days. It seems as if politics have not changed so much over the years. Politicians and Congress are still standing on a religious bandbox leaving no room for other religions or tolerance in some instances.

I was dismayed about the settlement of the west. The people wanted only white settlers there was no room for any other race, because they were inferior to whites. Like Horace Mann said "Edu
Keith Akers
Dec 03, 2011 Keith Akers rated it it was amazing
This book is a great historical work with an anti-war perspective on the Civil War. Somewhere early on in the book (I can't find the quote now) the author says something like, "I am anti-war, and especially against the Civil War." I read the book looking for evidence that neither side was especially justified in fighting, and found it in abundance.

Most people, including me, have certain romantic notions about the Civil War, even though we know they're not entirely true. Armies in battle, cavalr
Lauren Albert
Apr 29, 2011 Lauren Albert rated it really liked it
Shelves: history-american
Goldfield's belief is that religion was a primary cause of the Civil War. But I think he may have made more of a case for the belief that religious rhetoric created a situation in which compromise was unlikely. And these are not the same things, I think. As other writers have shown--in the case of the the Founding Fathers, for instance--one can get trapped in one's own rhetoric. It can be humiliating to be shown to be contradicting one's own words. And "religion" is often brought into an argumen ...more
Jan 14, 2013 Dan rated it it was amazing
Overall, a superb book. I thought it glorified the North immediately following the war just a bit much, and I don't think the destitution in the South that the war left behind got the attention it deserved. Otherwise, it seemed to be a well-balanced look at America between 1830-1880.

It's heart wrenching to think of the hundreds of thousands of people that died. And for what? Slavery ended, but it took another century for full enfranchisement, and we fight our prejudices to this day.

An excellent
Aug 01, 2014 Caroline rated it really liked it
This book is billed as a major new interpretation of the Civil War, but to be honest I'm not sure how 'new' an interpretation it really is. It focuses more heavily on the evangelical religious impulses interwoven through antebellum America society than perhaps other histories have done, and certainly those religious revivals played a more important role than has hitherto been acknowledged, but I'm not sure that entirely qualifies as a whole new interpretation of the War.

Goldfield's central thesi
Jay Perkins
May 21, 2013 Jay Perkins rated it really liked it
David Goldfield argues that uncompromising evangelical rhetoric was one of the main reasons why the Civil War was not averted. His thesis is very convincing. How could either side lay down their arms in what he calls a holy "crusade"? But "America Aflame" includes more than that. The cracks of antebellum America to the failures of Reconstruction are explored and discussed. Topics like the post war failure of civil rights in the south, the fall of evangelical influence in the north while it rose ...more
Mar 18, 2013 Ruth rated it it was amazing
I have zero interest in the Civil War. In the first 50 pages of this book I was almost ready to hang it up. And then....I was hooked. So many amazing stories I hadn't a clue about. And Goldfield has a great sense of humor. I was turning these pages like an addict, and then I was so disappointed when I had turned the last one. I should add that the author is very balanced in his assesments of the many tricky issues involved in this story. You can trust him not to have an agenda. Reading this book ...more
Aug 30, 2012 Cristina rated it it was ok
Shelves: civil-war
Interesting read, but the thesis is hidden. He talks too much about the influence of evangelical extremists and how it aided the start of the Civil War, yet his overall thesis seems to be how the Civil War brought about the era of a new nation. The first 1/3 of the book is well written and succinctly done, only to have it seemingly fall apart as the book progresses. Eh.
Jun 16, 2011 David added it
When I picked this up, based on an internet controversy, I looked at it and thought, "532 page book about the Civil War? I'm not so sure." The first few chapters are quite engaging and interesting, and the perspective is new, to me. There are many questions I would ask about economics and class, but the emphasis on the Evangelicals is quite interesting. Not so much new under our national sun.
Apr 15, 2011 Anthony rated it it was amazing
An excellent history of the Civil War and its prelude and postlude. What is particularly interesting is the role that narrow-minded religious and political zealotry played in tearing the country apart. Should be a lesson for Americans to heed today.
Joe Marshall
Apr 17, 2011 Joe Marshall rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone with an interest in history or politics.
Recommended to Joe by: NYT Review
Good summary of the events and ideas that lead to the Civil War, the War, and the aftermath. Lots of parallels to now worth noting. If you're interested in current political events read this book.
Jan Underhill
Jan 26, 2013 Jan Underhill rated it it was amazing
Dense and absorbing, this account of the Civil War brought the events and issues to life for me.
Todd Stockslager
Jun 04, 2015 Todd Stockslager rated it liked it
Shelves: history
Review title: Evangelical Christians started the Civil War, and it was a great disaster
That is the these David Goldfield proposes, which wasn't what I was expecting based on the subtitle "How the Civil War created a nation". I had hoped, based on that phrase, to learn more about how Lincoln's daring assumptions of political power in the name of preserving the union after the conflict translated into the radically new (not just renewed or restored) concept of the "United States" after the war.

Nov 28, 2012 John rated it liked it
An informative and engaging work from Goldfield. I am no expert on the Civil War, nor on its literature. I was drawn to this book for its reputation of incorporating in a more rigorous fashion the influences of religion (and especially evangelical Christianity) during the Civil War era. The book indeed includes numerous references to religion. Though at times religion disappears for lengthy periods, Goldfield is clearly interested in the ways that evangelical Christianity influenced the nation i ...more
John Kelley
Aug 06, 2011 John Kelley rated it really liked it
In the introduction Goldfield wrote, "The Civil War not only tells us a great deal about Americans at that time, but if offers numerous insights into our nation today." I did not overlook that important point, but events of this year have re-focused me back onto America Aflame. Thus, I need to revisit Goldfield's study to uncover in more detail a usable past for today's growing crisis. Another Great Awakening and the arrival of Roman Catholic Irish is a product of the strife Goldfield presented ...more
Terry Earley
Nov 27, 2012 Terry Earley rated it really liked it

This was a very revealing treatment of the US Civil War. Evangelical abolitionists really did have much to do with bringing the slavery question to a head. Southern politicians reacted, compromises made the situation worse (think Fugitive Slave Law), and all sides were certain that God was on their side. As he wrote in his introduction:
It is good, of course, to be righteous against slavery. I am not arguing that the death and destruction of the Civil War o
Sam Diener
It's not really fair for me to put a rating on this, as I couldn't get through the first section. As a pacifist and anti-racist, I wanted to like this book - which claims to be an anti-war perspective on the civil war. That was exciting to find, and I applaud the author for making this intellectually audacious attempt. But then he puts forward the thesis that it was entrenched slaveholders AND anti-slavery evangelical Christians that he claims were too doctrinaire in opposition to slavery that c ...more
Nov 09, 2014 Doug rated it liked it
The best aspect of this one-volume history is that it is not merely a history of the Civil War, but it looks beyond the timeframe of the war to include Reconstruction, as well as events prior to the war.

The inclusion and discussion of 19th Century political cartoons by Thomas Nast is a good mark, allowing the current reader to see what galled or pleased periodical readers of the time.

The chapter on 'political science' is especially interesting, regarding the influence of Darwin's theories on wh
Jan 20, 2013 Reid rated it it was amazing
I though it was great, one of my favorite accounts that I've read thus far regarding the Civil War time period (not necessarily the war itself). James McPherson's Battle Cry Of Freedom is still the best account of the war itself (that I've made it to so far), and while that book certainly detailed the lead up to those events well, I liked that that was specifically the focus of America Aflame.

Goldfield looks at the division between North and South both politically and religiously in the half cen
This was an excellent history of the American Civil War. Although long, it was full of interesting detail and analysis of the forces that resulted in the war and influenced it's conduct. It also helped me to understand the reconstruction period better than I ever have before.

Goldfield writes well. He seemed to alternate between detailed events and anecdotes and description of the reasons and effects of the occurrences. He also sometimes moved backward and forward in time in order to keep discus
Rick Harrington
Apr 01, 2013 Rick Harrington rated it it was amazing
Heard it on NPR. After, of course, watching Lincoln, the movie. It started a reading jag back to US history.

Well no actually, having to teach some about the development of education in the US to visiting Chinese scholars is what started that.

I'm glad to say that my read of this book affirmed my general sense of what happened when and why. America Aflame is especially insightful about the contributions and responses of religious debate and ferment to the pressures which led to war. Reading it de
Alan Fusco
Nov 27, 2012 Alan Fusco rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
America Aflame was a hard book for me to finish. It's not that it was poorly written, it wasn't. The subject matter was just painful. Even though I had no relatives in this country during the Civil War (My grandparents all came to America from Italy.), to read about the the racist attitudes of our country's forefathers, the religious intolerance and the massive death and destruction caused by it all was emotionally draining. Do you think religion and politics were nasty during the last couple pr ...more
Mar 27, 2011 David rated it liked it
Shelves: audio
A monumental work spanning US history from the early 1800s through the early 1900s centered on the Civil Wars (causes, results). Goldfield argues early in the book that religious dogma infected political discourse which made any compromise on slavery impossible. He further asserts that, if politics had remained separate from religious belief, the War might not have been fought. The book clearly demonstrates the former idea but remains silent on the latter. Very disappointing. Even so, Goldfield ...more
Judy Rutledge
Nov 27, 2012 Judy Rutledge rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
Hundreds of sentences from this book parallel politics today. I was astonished more times than I can count; however, the beginning drew me into the narrative immediately. It is not my habit to read such scholarly nonfiction - 70 pages of citations and notes and a huge index - so the author's use of stories about everyday people kept me reading through some of the pages of detailed information. I marked many of the soldiers comments before, during and after the Civil War because they created a re ...more
Clark Maddux
Jul 04, 2014 Clark Maddux rated it liked it
While this study is useful for detailing the relationship of evangelical fervor to the rhetoric of rebellion and abolition, I find myself ultimately in agreement with some of my former colleagues at Austin Peay State University: I'm not sure that Goldfield ever really proves his point that the war was in the end unnecessary or that it might have been avoided had more enlightened minds prevailed. Though his distrust of religion in politics is clear, and the intransigence of the 19th century seems ...more
Henry Ramirez
Dec 08, 2013 Henry Ramirez rated it it was amazing
Amazing account of what fueled the war both in the north and the south, and it's aftermath Telling the the history of the war, along with stories of people who lived through it-from Walt Whitman, Frederick Douglas, Lincoln, Harriet Ward Beecher; to Gran , Lee, Hooker,Sideburn; and the plantation owners, wealthy northerns, poor southerners, middle class city dwellers, slaves, freedman, etc. It's incredibly how how Mr. Goldfield captures the diverse and, often conflicting, conscious of a nation.
Jan 22, 2013 Jukka added it
Shelves: recent-reads
America Aflame - David Goldfield

Very well done. Basically three parts: how the war came to happen, what happened to those who fought, and what was the result for the nation. My main study was with the first part.

Oddly framed sometimes focusing down on perspectives of a few individuals and topics. I am not convinced Goldfield has completely answered his questions, but it certainly does present some well formed and thought out idea. This is worth the read, not like many books with their own blatan
I just happen to be re-reading Battle Cry of Freedom at the same time. In all honesty, I don't see a whole lot new here concerning the origins of the Civil War. It does go into the Reconstruction / Redemption, but not enough compelling material to force me to look at that in a new way. It's well written and I hate to give it only 2 stars, but if you're going to write a Civil War history now, you should have something new to say.
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“The Republicans did not set out to establish a strong national state or to facilitate the industrial revolution. They believed strongly in the American dream of hard work and upward mobility. They saw no contradiction between capital and labor, between wealth accumulation and equality. Even in the exigencies of war, they directed their legislation to their political base, the farmers and the small-town merchants. Their vision assumed the virtue of rural and small-town America. The majority of Republicans who enacted the legislation grew up on farms. Yet they created an industrial juggernaut that flung railroads across the continent and grew great cities from seaboard to seaboard that attracted thousands from those small towns and farms. These results must be counted among the most sterling examples of unintended consequences in American history.18” 0 likes
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