This oft-told war story has all the elements of a military epic: a divided nation, trigger-happy politicians, unruly crowds, dedicated soldiers, a change in presidential administrations. Detzer (Thunder of the Captain), Connecticut State University professor emeritus of history, spent a decade researching primary and secondary sources for this decisive moment in American history. A superb popular history is the result, bringing to life the men (on both sides) who were responsible for the first shots of the Civil War. The central figure in this drama is Maj. Robert Anderson, commander of the Union garrison in Charleston Harbor. With little guidance from his superiors in Washington, Anderson occupied the unfinished Fort Sumter in December 1860. He and his tiny command were pawns in the political game between the newly formed Confederacy and the new Lincoln administration. Detzer's writing style brings the reader into close contact with soldiers, civilians and politicians as they struggle to solve the fate of Anderson and his men. Their tense story culminates on April 12, 1861, when a South Carolina cannon opened fire on the fort, and Detzer weighs the evidence that Lincoln goaded the South into doing it. Detzer's style ""As Anderson and the rest waited, alone and isolated, rasped by tension, an incident occurred that nearly crushed Robert's will"" won't be for everyone, but its immediacy, engagement and basis in fact are unquestionable. 8 pages of photos not seen by PW. (Apr.) Forecast: It would take a dramatization on the big or small screen for which its characterizations make this book ripe to drum up interest in this book's narrow-focus subject. But this carefully researched book could pop up on Intro to American History syllabi, as it will prove tempting bait for ambivalent students.