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"The Civil War defined us as what we are & it opened us to being what we became, good & bad things...It was the crossroads of our being, & it was a hell of a crossroads: the suffering, the enormous tragedy of the whole thing."- Shelby Foote   When the illustrated edition of The Civil War was published, The NY Time hailed it as "a treasure for the eye & mind." Ward's history "The Civil War defined us as what we are & it opened us to being what we became, good & bad things...It was the crossroads of our being, & it was a hell of a crossroads: the suffering, the enormous tragedy of the whole thing."- Shelby Foote   When the illustrated edition of The Civil War was published, The NY Time hailed it as "a treasure for the eye & mind." Ward's history interweaves the author's narrative with the voices of those who lived thru the cataclysmic trial of nationhood: not just Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass & Robert E. Lee, but genteel Southern ladies & escaped slaves, cavalry officers & common foot soldiers who fought in Yankee blue & Rebel gray. The Civil War also includes essays by historians of the era: Don E. Fehrenbacher, on the war's origins; Barbara J. Fields, on the freeing of slaves; Shelby Foote, on the soldiers & commanders; James M. McPherson, on the political dimensions; & C. Vann Woodward, assessing the America that emerged from the war's ashes. Introduction: The crossroads of our being 1861: A house divided Why the war came/ Don E. Fehrenbacher 1862: Forever free Who freeds the slaves?/ Barbara J. Fields 1863: The universe of battle Men at war: an interview with Shelby Foote 1864: Most hallowed ground War & politics/ James M. McPherson 1865: The better angels of our nature What the war made us/ C. Vann Woodward


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"The Civil War defined us as what we are & it opened us to being what we became, good & bad things...It was the crossroads of our being, & it was a hell of a crossroads: the suffering, the enormous tragedy of the whole thing."- Shelby Foote   When the illustrated edition of The Civil War was published, The NY Time hailed it as "a treasure for the eye & mind." Ward's history "The Civil War defined us as what we are & it opened us to being what we became, good & bad things...It was the crossroads of our being, & it was a hell of a crossroads: the suffering, the enormous tragedy of the whole thing."- Shelby Foote   When the illustrated edition of The Civil War was published, The NY Time hailed it as "a treasure for the eye & mind." Ward's history interweaves the author's narrative with the voices of those who lived thru the cataclysmic trial of nationhood: not just Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass & Robert E. Lee, but genteel Southern ladies & escaped slaves, cavalry officers & common foot soldiers who fought in Yankee blue & Rebel gray. The Civil War also includes essays by historians of the era: Don E. Fehrenbacher, on the war's origins; Barbara J. Fields, on the freeing of slaves; Shelby Foote, on the soldiers & commanders; James M. McPherson, on the political dimensions; & C. Vann Woodward, assessing the America that emerged from the war's ashes. Introduction: The crossroads of our being 1861: A house divided Why the war came/ Don E. Fehrenbacher 1862: Forever free Who freeds the slaves?/ Barbara J. Fields 1863: The universe of battle Men at war: an interview with Shelby Foote 1864: Most hallowed ground War & politics/ James M. McPherson 1865: The better angels of our nature What the war made us/ C. Vann Woodward

30 review for The Civil War: An Illustrated History

  1. 5 out of 5

    Mikey B.

    This is the companion volume to the ground-breaking PBS TV series “The Civil War” by Ken Burns. I have watched this a few times since it was released in 1989 and it really is superlative. If you are to have one book on the U.S. Civil War this would be it. The remarkable photographs and text illustrate vividly the characters and the background to the Civil War. The personalities range from the mighty (Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas) to the lowly foot soldiers whose diaries the writers used This is the companion volume to the ground-breaking PBS TV series “The Civil War” by Ken Burns. I have watched this a few times since it was released in 1989 and it really is superlative. If you are to have one book on the U.S. Civil War this would be it. The remarkable photographs and text illustrate vividly the characters and the background to the Civil War. The personalities range from the mighty (Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas) to the lowly foot soldiers whose diaries the writers used to give details on the daily life during this era. One gets, from the many pictures in this book and the myriad portraits, a perspective of the turbulence of this time period. As Shelby Foote said the Civil War is the ultimate event in U.S. history. There was the America before the Civil War and a different America after the Civil War. It resounds to this day.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Roy Lotz

    I think I understand what military fame is: to be killed on the field of battle and have your name misspelled in the newspapers. —William Tecumseh Sherman This documentary was long overdue. Aside from the basic overview, my knowledge of the American Civil War was embarrassingly sketchy; and I had also never seen anything by Ken Burns. Virtually everyone I know who has seen this documentary speaks about it in reverential tones. It lives up to the reputation. The eleven hours are packed with maps, d I think I understand what military fame is: to be killed on the field of battle and have your name misspelled in the newspapers. —William Tecumseh Sherman This documentary was long overdue. Aside from the basic overview, my knowledge of the American Civil War was embarrassingly sketchy; and I had also never seen anything by Ken Burns. Virtually everyone I know who has seen this documentary speaks about it in reverential tones. It lives up to the reputation. The eleven hours are packed with maps, dates, quotes, and most of all—stories. This is a history that focuses on individuals. A documentary about a war that happened a century and a half ago, beyond all living memory, could easily have become dry and distant. But Ken Burns and his team overcome this obstacle through the dual use of photographs and quotes. The Ken Burns Effect has already entered common parlance, and you can see it displayed to great effect with these old photographs: the slow pan and zoom recreating, somewhat, the feel of watching a film. Combined with quotes of the men and women involved—soldiers, statesmen, generals, diarists—brought to life using voice actors, the watcher enters a bewitchingly immersive experience. The war becomes, not merely troop movements on the screen, but an enormous catastrophe that our protagonists must live through. This gives the series an emotional force rare in documentaries. The horrors of war are the same as ever: seeing comrades fall, leaving children and widows behind, disease, malnutrition, homesickness, ghastly wounds, and the ever-present drudgery punctuated by moments of extreme terror. Some of the most disturbing images are of Yankee prisoners-of-war, totally emaciated through lack of food. Combined with this are the horrors of slavery, so central to the conflict, and the upheaval of the lives of so many civilians. Virtually everything is well-done. McCullough brings both seriousness and sadness to the narration. The voice actors are uniformly convincing and effective. The music, too, goes a long way in recreating the mood and atmosphere of the times. Most of the guests were, however, rather unremarkable, with the notable exception of Shelby Foote, who was an endless trove of amusing and touching anecdotes. I can see how the documentary catapulted him to fame. The series is not above criticism, however. Burns focuses most of his attention on the battlefield. This has the double benefit of being exciting and of avoiding the war’s most controversial issues. But I think the series should have delved far deeper into the causes of the war. I would also have appreciated far more about civilian life during wartime, rather than hearing mainly from soldiers and generals. Even Abraham Lincoln, though he makes his due appearances, is given far less space than a private in the Union Army. Such a wider scope would have made the documentary longer, more controversial, and perhaps more superficially boring; but as it stands the war’s immense political and historical significance is difficult to fathom from the documentary alone. We are left with a rosy picture of the elderly veterans embracing on Gettysburg, with the war as a bad dream or even a glorious affair. Indeed, our species has been struggling to reconcile the heroic and the barbaric aspects of war since Homer wrote The Iliad. And it seems we still have not been able to face the horrors without including some shades of the bravery, the camaraderie, the brilliant strategy, to brighten up the picture. But the truth is that every war is a moral collapse, and this one was compounded by the taint of slavery. It is an extremely depressing picture, which may get somewhat obscured by the folksiness of this documentary.

  3. 4 out of 5

    N.N. Light

    I eagerly watched the Series when it debuted on PBS last century and was blown away by the quality and became a fan of Ken Burns then. This book was never on my radar and I have a superb Civil War library but now I am proud to have this comprehensive history in a place of honor. This book does a superb job of telling the history of the Civil War chronologically. The book is more than that though because, like the tv series, this work comes alive with the words and feelings of men and women who I eagerly watched the Series when it debuted on PBS last century and was blown away by the quality and became a fan of Ken Burns then. This book was never on my radar and I have a superb Civil War library but now I am proud to have this comprehensive history in a place of honor. This book does a superb job of telling the history of the Civil War chronologically. The book is more than that though because, like the tv series, this work comes alive with the words and feelings of men and women who were there. There are new essays from amazing historians including Shelby Foote that help make this a must purchase for even those who know the TV series well. A fantastic read that will be on my re-read list and a candidate for a desert island. My Rating: 5+ stars This review first appeared on N. N. Light's Book Heaven: https://www.nnlightsbookheaven.com/si...

  4. 5 out of 5

    Fred Klein

    Fantastic. This and "Battle Cry of Freedom" are the best books I have read about the Civil War. This one will satisfy the part of you that wants visuals more, with lots of great old photos.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Geoff

    You may have purchased this book when Ken Burns' classic and genre defining documentary was broadcast. And you may have relegated this book to your coffee table because it is a big, heavy volume. But please, get it off the table, sit comfortably, put it in your lap and read it. It has hundreds of pictures, many liner notes and loads of insightful essays so the actual text is not terribly long. In fact, despite is daunting size the actual history of the war can only really be a summary. If you wa You may have purchased this book when Ken Burns' classic and genre defining documentary was broadcast. And you may have relegated this book to your coffee table because it is a big, heavy volume. But please, get it off the table, sit comfortably, put it in your lap and read it. It has hundreds of pictures, many liner notes and loads of insightful essays so the actual text is not terribly long. In fact, despite is daunting size the actual history of the war can only really be a summary. If you want a detailed account you will need to read the volumes and volumes of work by Catton or Foote. This book will provide you with a helpful summary of the war along with detailed accounts of what lead to it and some interesting human interest stories. Borrow it, buy it, swap for it, but if you have an interest in American history, read it!

  6. 4 out of 5

    Kirstin Dobson

    Loved the PBS series. Loved the book. Great read for a Civil War buff even. Gives enough detail and facts and correctly. Personal quotes and anecdotes also give a great personal touch. Finally, simple enough for anyone to enjoy, learn from, and follow.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Wendy Lenore

    This was a great book, I also watched the series on PBS and to hear first hand the words from diaries,letters and the memories of the people still able to remember the events of the civil war was amazing.....like being there. It is like they are speaking right to you from beyond this earthly realm. The loyalty and faith great leaders on both sides inspired in their men who would follow them unconditionally stand up for their beliefs.... was inspiring. At times no food, odds against them,when it This was a great book, I also watched the series on PBS and to hear first hand the words from diaries,letters and the memories of the people still able to remember the events of the civil war was amazing.....like being there. It is like they are speaking right to you from beyond this earthly realm. The loyalty and faith great leaders on both sides inspired in their men who would follow them unconditionally stand up for their beliefs.... was inspiring. At times no food, odds against them,when it looked like all hope was lost they picked themselves up to fight for what they thought was right. The belief on both sides for what they each thought was the right thing comes thru in every page. The unbelievable suffering, sacrifices so many made and the losses of the ones they left behind is incredible. So many brothers, uncles, fathers lost. This is a must read for all. It should be in the school curriculum and if I were a history teacher it would be required reading for my class. :)

  8. 5 out of 5

    Shawn

    A wonderful supplement to the amazing Ken Burns documentary. It can stand on its own as a one volume summary of the Civil War. Although, I would say to choose the documentary before this.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Cheri

    Only two hours and excerpted from the PBS documentary series. After listening to an hour, I found the series on Netflix and started watching. Still finished up the audio book, though, because it's interesting.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Erik Graff

    For years my sole blood-brother (I've many step-brothers and a step-sister) lived in a small house on the outskirts of Sawyer, not far from Warren Dunes State Park alongside the western shore of Lake Michigan and a long walk south from where the ancestors had built a cottage during the first world war. The house had originally been purchased by his former wife, Miki, with whom he had become reconciled and with whom, indeed, he had had a daughter, without bothering to get remarried. Given the con For years my sole blood-brother (I've many step-brothers and a step-sister) lived in a small house on the outskirts of Sawyer, not far from Warren Dunes State Park alongside the western shore of Lake Michigan and a long walk south from where the ancestors had built a cottage during the first world war. The house had originally been purchased by his former wife, Miki, with whom he had become reconciled and with whom, indeed, he had had a daughter, without bothering to get remarried. Given the connections to the area long associated with the family and forever associated with our childhood summers, I visited the three of them there often, staying at the old cottage or, after we lost possession of it, with them. Brother Fin is a reader, so I could usually count on his library having books of interest. Ward's The Civil War was one such book, read over the period of several visits. It is a picture book, but it doesn't stint on text as the appended description suggests. As a picture book, however, it is superlative.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Kenneth J. Olsen

    The history I missed. Hated history as a kid. Can't seem to get enough of it now. Finally had to delve into our Civil War to catch up on what went in one ear and out the other in younger years. This was an excellent accounting of the many events that occurred through this tragedy that reshaped our nation. It brings extensive background details that that helped in understanding the the nuances that aren't covered in school books. Maybe it should be required reading for all politicians.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    This book gives a good overview of the Civil War era, touching on political, military, economic, and social developments. Purely an introduction, though--each battle is described in only a few pages and none of the events are truly flushed out, so more reading is necessary to get a deeper understanding.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Tom Menner

    This was the series that really made a name for Burns, and the coffee table book holds up as well - lavishly illustrated with photos, maps, etc. and liberally mixing history and personal stories, similar to Burns' documentary style. This is not the definitive written work on the Civil War, but it is an enjoyable work on its own merits.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Dave

    My copy of this volume is an artifact: a nicely illustrated coffee table book in the ebook era. It covers the subject lightly, but well, is physically attractive, and is very readable. I’m not sure how well the many fine illustrations, including a good selection of maps, come out in the modern ebook versions.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Kelly B

    Well, Ken Burns is one of my heroes. He is amazing. I love this book, and haven't finished it yet, but of course I fully intend to. The losses sustained in these battles were immense. I mean, some towns lost all of their men!

  16. 4 out of 5

    Colleen Grier

    A book I reread often along with other Ken Burns and Shelby Foote narratives of this incredible time in our history. I just reread and rewatched the PBS special. I wonder if all of us in this day and age could survive what our ancestors did ? Now watching Baseball by Ken Burns!

  17. 5 out of 5

    Alex

    The documentary created a new genre of storytelling. You feel the sorrow, sincerity and brutality of the War. Seeing the letters, pictures and comments from both scholar and soldier alike adds a special ingredient to the PBS series.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Richard Thomas

    It’s a very well written narrative of the American Civil War. The origins can be traced back to the foundation of the Republic whereby slavery was accepted as a de jure part of a state based on freedom. The emancipation of slaves across the rest of the western (for want of a better term) meant that the peculiar institution was doomed but the forces of history in the south entailed the wish to continue it. Having read the book, I was enthralled by the swings of fate between the sides and surprise It’s a very well written narrative of the American Civil War. The origins can be traced back to the foundation of the Republic whereby slavery was accepted as a de jure part of a state based on freedom. The emancipation of slaves across the rest of the western (for want of a better term) meant that the peculiar institution was doomed but the forces of history in the south entailed the wish to continue it. Having read the book, I was enthralled by the swings of fate between the sides and surprised by how long the rebels survived. It’s well worth reading.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Briana

    This was a great book to read if want to learn more about the American Civil War, I've also watched the series on PBS in my U.S. history in my junior year of high school. To hear and read first hand the entries from diaries and letters from the people still able to remember the events of the civil war was an amazing way to be somerset in the story.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Eric

    This might not even be considered History Light, but Ward surely knows how to tell a story. And there are no more compelling stories than these - the generals, the Presidents, the people, the politics and the battles. Ward brings in a few great ringers as well -- Foote, McPherson & Vann Woodward for some of the heavier points. A solid, brief overview. This might not even be considered History Light, but Ward surely knows how to tell a story. And there are no more compelling stories than these - the generals, the Presidents, the people, the politics and the battles. Ward brings in a few great ringers as well -- Foote, McPherson & Vann Woodward for some of the heavier points. A solid, brief overview.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Glenn Robinson

    A fun broad general history of the Civil War by Ken Burns and team in support of his series. Man photos, many mini bio's and many short clips on different battles, different leaders and different events. Many views presented from all players in this defining moment.

  22. 4 out of 5

    David D. Knapp, Ph.D.

    We've had a tough winter in Colorado, so I've spent a lot of time on the treadmill so far this year - instead of out on the trails. To help pass the time while doing so, I decided to watch the iconic Ken Burns documentary on the Civil War for at least the third time. And because it had been years since I read the companion book to that documentary, I decided to reread it as well. I've always been fascinated by the Civil War. In fact, my first major in college was history so that I could specializ We've had a tough winter in Colorado, so I've spent a lot of time on the treadmill so far this year - instead of out on the trails. To help pass the time while doing so, I decided to watch the iconic Ken Burns documentary on the Civil War for at least the third time. And because it had been years since I read the companion book to that documentary, I decided to reread it as well. I've always been fascinated by the Civil War. In fact, my first major in college was history so that I could specialize in Civil War studies. Although I ultimately chose a different educational and career path, I've never lost my interest in the war that truly made us a nation. (As the late author Shelby Foote pointed out in both the documentary and in the book, prior to the Civil War it was grammatically correct to say "the United States are." But after the war, it became "the United States is.") I found rereading this book more poignant this time through - perhaps because of the deep divides our nation currently face. On one hand, remembering a time that was much worse than now was reassuring. On the other hand, the Civil War is a grim reminder of what can happen when a nation tears itself apart from within. If you've never watched the documentary or read this companion book, I highly recommend that you do both. I promise you won't regret it.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Lucy

    Educational and thorough without being biased toward one side or the other. I have watched the PBS documentary multiple times but hadn't read the companion book until now.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Peter Connolly

    Loved the TV series and the book is terrific as well .

  25. 5 out of 5

    Doug McGuire

    Great coffee table book!!

  26. 5 out of 5

    Robert K

    By introducing us to Shelby Foote & a host of other luminaries, the audio version of this book as shown by Ken Burns, who produced the 8 volume set for PBS will never be equaled. Just terrific! By introducing us to Shelby Foote & a host of other luminaries, the audio version of this book as shown by Ken Burns, who produced the 8 volume set for PBS will never be equaled. Just terrific!

  27. 4 out of 5

    Alethea Hammer

    A good basic overview of the subject with many interesting pictures.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Sakshi Shrivastava

    A good book

  29. 4 out of 5

    Van Roberts

    A good, solid, general intro to The Civil War

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jeni

    It's really good -- the pictures and the writing. If you liked the Ken Burns' documentary, you'll like this (and recognize plenty).

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