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The Civil War: A Narrative (1958)

by Shelby Foote

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,3771410,880 (4.58)108
Selected by the Modern Library as one of the 100 best nonfiction books of all time A stunning literary and historical achievement, the three volumes of Shelby Foote' s The Civil War vividly bring to life the four years of torment and strife that altered American life forever. Presented in a handsome boxed set, these three beautifully bound hardcovers are an essential addition to every American history collection. Taking the reader from the drama of Jefferson Davis's resignation from the United States Senate and Abraham Lincoln's arrival in the nation's capital to Davis's final flight and capture and Lincoln's tragic death, Foote covers his subject with astonishing depth and scope. Every battle, every general, and every statesman has its place in this monumental narrative, told in lively prose that captures the sights, smells, and sounds of the conflict. Never before have the great battles and personalities of the Civil War been so excitingly presented, and never before has the story been told so completely. With a novelist's gift for narrative and a historian's commitment to research, Shelby Foote's epic retelling is the definitive account of the Civil War, a trilogy that has earned a place of honor on the bookshelves of all Americans.… (more)
  1. 10
    The Civil War: An Illustrated History by Geoffrey C. Ward (justjim)
    justjim: A shorter treatment than the Foote work but with some wonderful illustrations. (Photographs, drawings and maps.
  2. 10
    The Coming Fury by Bruce Catton (oregonobsessionz)
    oregonobsessionz: Read Catton's Centennial History of the Civil War trilogy (The Coming Fury, Terrible Swift Sword, Never Call Retreat) for a Union- leaning perspective, and read Shelby Foote's The Civil War: A Narrative trilogy for a southern-leaning perspective.… (more)
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» See also 108 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 14 (next | show all)
Well, I made it through. It took 14 months, but I read the whole thing. The reading is fairly demanding: so much information is packed into Foote's concise text that I often found I could only read around 4-5 pages before stopping to absorb what I had just read. Since the trilogy is over 2,500 pages long, the overall effect is rather monumental.

Before reading this, I knew little more about the Civil War than the average man (or woman) on the street. I knew the names of a few of the really big players; I had visited the Gettysburg battlefield as a kid (and memorized Lincoln's famous address delivered there); I had heard of Sherman's march to the sea; I knew about the Emancipation Proclamation and Lincoln's assassination. That was pretty much it. The rest was mostly just a blur.

Reading this trilogy changed that, of course, but more than just improving my knowledge and understanding of this period of American history, I believe this has somewhat changed my understanding of America itself. In the first half of the 1960s, my parents, who were both from New Jersey, lived in Richmond, VA, the capital of the Confederacy. This coincided with the centennial remembrances of the War, as well as much of the Civil RIghts Movement. (Foote would have been in the process of writing this work for the whole of that period as well.) My parents later reported to me that Richmond had definitely not forgotten what had happened 100 years earlier. They were still bitter, and took it out on Northerners by mostly shunning them. There were only a very few people who accepted my parents socially, and that only towards the end of their 6 years there. Although the more than half a century that has passed since then has seen a significant reduction in the resentment levels of most people in the South, I can now understand this phenomenon better. And in spite of the fact that the Civil War as a lived event about which people still have strong feelings is now fading into the distant past, I think understanding that time can shed some light on our current situation as well.

Some have complained that Foote was a Confederate sympathizer. This is not untrue, and stems from his roots. Among other things, Foote's family was friends with the descendants of Nathan Bedford Forrest. As a child Foote had been allowed to hold that general's sword. Confederate lore was in his blood, and it shows through slightly in these books. Overall, however, the balance he achieved is remarkable. In later years, Foote told a story of how, after he had written the trilogy, he had told somebody in the Forrest family that he considered the War to have had only two real geniuses: Forrest and Abraham Lincoln. The response he got was, "We have never been very fond of Mr. Lincoln."

Since almost everybody now can agree that the "correct" side won the Civil War, it is, I believe, useful to at least understand something of what the other side thought and felt, as well as the perspectives of the "good guys". After reading this trilogy, I almost feel as though I have lived through that tragic war myself, on both sides. So many people, so many places, so many stories. It is immersive, in the way the best narrative history can be. And this is surely among the best histories that have ever been written in English, a classic which likely will endure for centuries. ( )
  briteness | May 30, 2021 |
U.S. Civil War, Set, Military, History
  Kulikovo1380 | May 9, 2021 |
Volume 1 Fort Sumpter to Perryville. This first of three volumes of Shelby Foote’s renowned history of the Civil War is 811 page and it reads like every bit of that length. At times it was difficult to get through because of the incredible detail of all the battles of all the wars included. It’s often difficult to keep up with personnel. The generals alone take a database to separate those fighting for the North from those fighting for the South. The best parts of this first volume are the personal stories. I wish Foote had spent more time telling his readers about these young soldiers and their families. The deaths are so monumental that at some point in the volume, the reader becomes numb to them, and that’s too bad. One thing this first volume does do is convey the absolute tragedy of the U.S. Civil War. There can’t be a more tragic part of our history except maybe slavery itself. ( )
  DanDiercks | Feb 12, 2019 |
A very challenging read, but worth it. ( )
1 vote Tracy_Tomkowiak | Sep 18, 2016 |
I'm going to keep this simple. Reading this three volume set is one of the most important things I have done in my life. You cannot understand America until you understand the Civil War. And this is THE source to read/listen to in order to gain that understanding. ( )
1 vote Scarchin | Nov 12, 2013 |
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Eastward, with Lee at last out-foxed, the blue tide ran swift and steady, apparently inexorable as it surged toward the gates of the capital close in his rear.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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This is the entry for a complete omnibus/3 volume set of THE CIVIL WAR: A NARRATIVE. Please do not combine with any individual volume or set.
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Selected by the Modern Library as one of the 100 best nonfiction books of all time A stunning literary and historical achievement, the three volumes of Shelby Foote' s The Civil War vividly bring to life the four years of torment and strife that altered American life forever. Presented in a handsome boxed set, these three beautifully bound hardcovers are an essential addition to every American history collection. Taking the reader from the drama of Jefferson Davis's resignation from the United States Senate and Abraham Lincoln's arrival in the nation's capital to Davis's final flight and capture and Lincoln's tragic death, Foote covers his subject with astonishing depth and scope. Every battle, every general, and every statesman has its place in this monumental narrative, told in lively prose that captures the sights, smells, and sounds of the conflict. Never before have the great battles and personalities of the Civil War been so excitingly presented, and never before has the story been told so completely. With a novelist's gift for narrative and a historian's commitment to research, Shelby Foote's epic retelling is the definitive account of the Civil War, a trilogy that has earned a place of honor on the bookshelves of all Americans.

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All 3 books and dust covers are in excellent shape; however, this set no longer has the original box shown on the photo.  Section 2, Row 1
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