Fateful Lighting: A New History of the Civil War and Reconstruction

Allen C. Guelzo. Oxford Univ., $19.95 trade paper (592p) ISBN 978-019-984-328-2
One of the most complex and defining periods of American history is exhaustively chronicled in this readable volume. Guelzo (Lincoln: A Very Short Introduction), a Gettysburg College Civil War historian and professor, begins by discussing the earliest sectional tussles that shaped the U.S. as its founders tried to pull together a new national government, and concludes by exploring how America's bloodiest and most divisive struggle shaped the postwar perspectives of Southerners, Northerners, and newly-freed slaves. In between, Guelzo conducts an accessible investigation of the incredibly nuanced conflict, commenting on the actual battles, relevant contemporary issues, and its global context. The author maintains that if it had not been for westward expansion and the eradication of slavery in the North, the two sections of the country and their distinct economic systems—one based on slave labor and the other on large-scale factory workforces—might have continued to uneasily co-exist. The obligatory portraits of involved parties are familiar—Guelzo portrays a hapless James Buchanan, a melancholic Abraham Lincoln, and the impressive commanders Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee—and the author deftly balances politics with engaging detail. Civil War aficionados and those looking for a sterling introduction will find plenty to enjoy in Guelzo's newest. Illus. (May)
Reviewed on: 05/14/2012
Release date: 05/01/2012
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