Succinct, with a brace of original documents following each chapter, Christopher J. Olsen's The American Civil War is the ideal introduction to American history's most famous, and infamous, chapter. Covering events from 1850 and the mounting political pressures to split the Union into opposing sections, through the four years of bloodshed and waning Confederate fortunes, to Lincoln's assassination and the advent of Reconstruction, The American Civil War covers the entire sectional conflict and at every juncture emphasizes the decisions and circumstances, large and small, that determined the course of events.
In juxtaposing pithy narrative and end-of-chapter references to primary sources, this book offers a glimpse up the author's sleeve, at the process of history writing as well as of history making. Though many details of the Civil War have been omitted in this brief volume, the major characters, events and themes appear, accompanied by excerpts from letters, speeches, newspaper editorials and other supporting material that back Olsen's analysis and add texture. However, avid students of the Civil War will find the treatment superficial and largely familiar. Lincoln's Second Inaugural speech, his Gettysburg address, even Sullivan Ballou's sublimely heartbreaking letter to his wife are all here. There are also a few rarer nuggets: a mock menu highlighting the state of privation in besieged Vicksburg, for example, or the despicable Mississippi "Black Codes" during Reconstruction. Still, Olsen, who teaches history at Indiana State University, has produced a tightly written book ideal for anyone looking for a quick introduction to one of the most important periods in American history. (Aug.)
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Hill and Wang
July 23, 2007
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