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The war that forged a nation : why the Civil…
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The war that forged a nation : why the Civil War still matters (2015)

by James M. McPherson

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A fantastic collection of short essays on social, cultural, and military aspects of the Civil War from one of the great treasures of American historical scholarship. While only the first chapter is an original piece written for this compilation (the others are updates of previously-published works), all of them combine satisfactorily to serve as a stimulating primer for anyone interested in many of the most important themes of the conflict.

I found it an inspiring read that provides numerous scenarios which deeply mirror some of the same issues that America struggles with today, and I am therefore baffled at many of the reviews posted here that call out McPherson for not actually answering his title question: 'why does the Civil War still matter?' Except he does, explicitly in the first and last chapters and contextually everywhere in between. If some readers aren't able to see the parallels and legacies he repeatedly emphasizes between the nineteenth century and today, I fear that they expect their history to be unambiguous and sanitized which, sadly, would necessarily render it trivialized and unauthentic.

The collection eluded a five-star rating for a few trifling reasons: the fact that only one essay is original; that McPherson spends quite a bit of time focusing on historiographical criticism of others' modern works as the central points of his arguments; and that he has a tendency to be a bit harsh in hindsight to particular characters, like Samuel Du Pont of the U.S. Navy, whom I believe does not necessarily deserve to be lambasted with such pointed prose.

I'm nonetheless extremely thankful for McPherson as an authoritative voice of Civil War-era history and I'm already looking forward to the next book of his in my queue. It was a pleasure to be re-introduced to one of my favorite historical periods in such a manner after an extended lag. ( )
  funkyplaid | Jun 16, 2018 |
A good book, on the character and leadership of Lincoln and the failure of the civil war to settle disputes between the North and South. Lincoln is an admirable person, but the author takes him to task for abusing the office with various interventions.
The book is quite good in that many of the essays appeared in the NY Review of Books, whose editor, Bob Silvers, invited Mc Pherson to review a bunch of civil war books, Luckily the author had retained a right of ownership of these essays, which he was able to reprint here. Also, only one of the essays is new; all of the others have appeared in various books or scholarly publications. ( )
  annbury | Aug 6, 2017 |
A compilation of essays strung together as a book. The book fails to live up to it's title. There is little relationship to today's world. The Civil War is related to other events of the 1960s. To be fair, there is a statement that says the world would be different today, had the US Civil War created another nation. Lincoln's struggle with his generals is evident. The book lays out the five functions of Presidential leadership, from strategy and policy to tactical employment and comments on Lincoln's participation in them. ( )
  buffalogr | Mar 6, 2017 |
Excellent and I always come away with something new I learned about this war and its after effects. ( )
  yvonne.sevignykaiser | Apr 2, 2016 |
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More than 140 years ago, Mark Twain observed that the Civil War, which had recently ended, "uprooted institutions that were centuries old, changed the politics of a people, transformed the social life of half the country, and wrought so profoundly upon the entire national character that the influence cannot be measured short of two or three generations." (Preface)
Even before the many conferences, commemorations, books, exhibits, and other public events associated with the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln's birth in 2009 and the sesquicentennial of the Civil War from 2011 to 2015, that war was the most popular historical subject in many part of the United States.
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Contents:
1. Why the Civil War Still Matters p.1
2. Mexico, California, and the Coming of the Civil War p.15

Adapted from a review essay that first appeared in the New York Review of Books.
3. A Just War? p.32
Adapted from a review essay that first appeared in the New York Review of Books concerning Harry Stout's Upon the Altar of the Nation: A Moral History of the Civil War (2006).
4. Death and Destruction in the Civil War p.46
Adapted from a review essay that first appeared in the New York Review of Books, concerning Mark E. Neely Jr.'s The Civil War and the Limits of Destruction (Cambridge, Mass. 2007); and Drew Gilpin Faust's This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War (New York, 2008)
5. American Navies and British Neutrality During the Civil War p.65
First published in Dixie Redux: Essays in Honor of Sheldon Hackey, edited by Raymond Arsenault and Orville Vernon Burton (Montgomery, Ala: New South Books, 2013)
6. The Rewards of Risk-Taking: Two Civil War Admirals p.80
[On Samuel Francis Du Pont and David Glasgow Farragut] First published in the October 2014 issue of the Journal of Military History
7. How Did Freedom Come? p.97
Adapted from a review essay that first appeared in the New York Review of Books.
8. Lincoln, Slavery, and Freedom
Adapted from a review essay that first appeared in the New York Review of Books, chiefly concerning Eric Foner's The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery (New York, 2010); and James Oakes' The Radical and the Republican: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and the Triumph of Anti-Slavery Politics (New York, 2007).
9. A. Lincoln, Commander in Chief p.123
First published in Our Lincoln: New Perspectives on Lincoln and his World, edited by Eric Foner (New York: W.W. Norton, 2008)
10. The Commander Who Would Not Fight: McClellan and Lincoln p.144
Originally entitled "My Enemies are Crushed: Lincoln and McClellan" and appeared in Wars within a War: Controversy and Conflict over the American Civil War, edited by Joan Waugh and Gary W. Gallagher (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009)
11. Lincoln's Legacy for Our Time p.160
Originally appeared in Lincoln Lessons: Reflections on America's Greatest Leader, edited by Frank J. Williams and William D. Peterson (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2009)
12. War and Peace in the Post-Civil War South p.173
Originally appeared in The Making of Peace: Rulers, States, and the Aftermath of War, edited by Williamson Murray and Jim Lacey (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009)

page numbers from Oxford Univeristy Press (2015).
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0199375771, Hardcover)

More than 140 years ago, Mark Twain observed that the Civil War had "uprooted institutions that were centuries old, changed the politics of a people, transformed the social life of half the country, and wrought so profoundly upon the entire national character that the influence cannot be measured short of two or three generations." In fact, five generations have passed, and Americans are still trying to measure the influence of the immense fratricidal conflict that nearly tore the nation apart.

In The War that Forged a Nation, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian James M. McPherson considers why the Civil War remains so deeply embedded in our national psyche and identity. The drama and tragedy of the war, from its scope and size--an estimated death toll of 750,000, far more than the rest of the country's wars combined--to the nearly mythical individuals involved--Abraham Lincoln, Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson--help explain why the Civil War remains a topic of interest. But the legacy of the war extends far beyond historical interest or scholarly attention. Here, McPherson draws upon his work over the past fifty years to illuminate the war's continuing resonance across many dimensions of American life.

Touching upon themes that include the war's causes and consequences; the naval war; slavery and its abolition; and Lincoln as commander in chief, McPherson ultimately proves the impossibility of understanding the issues of our own time unless we first understand their roots in the era of the Civil War. From racial inequality and conflict between the North and South to questions of state sovereignty or the role of government in social change--these issues, McPherson shows, are as salient and controversial today as they were in the 1860s.

Thoughtful, provocative, and authoritative, The War that Forged a Nation looks anew at the reasons America's civil war has remained a subject of intense interest for the past century and a half, and affirms the enduring relevance of the conflict for America today.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:35 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

"In The Long Shadow of War, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian James M. McPherson considers why the Civil War retains such a hold on our national psyche and identity. Though the drama and tragedy of the subject, from the war's scope and size--an estimated death toll of 750,000, far more than all the rest of the country's wars combined--to the nearly mythical individuals involved--Abraham Lincoln, Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson--help explain why the Civil War remains so popular among historians, it does not entirely explain why the war still matters to us today. Through twelve essays, McPherson dissects this question, exploring the war's impact across many dimensions of American life. The essays consider variously the war's causes and consequences; the morality and cost of the war in comparative context; the naval war; slavery and its abolition; and Abraham Lincoln as emancipator, political leader, and commander in chief, among many other topics. Ultimately, McPherson illuminates the impossibility of understanding the issues of our own time unless we first understand their roots in the era of the Civil War: slavery and its abolition; the conflict between the North and South; the struggle between state sovereignty and the federal government; the role of government in social change-these issues, McPherson shows, are as salient and controversial today as they were in the 1860s. Thoughtful, provocative, and authoritative, The Long Shadow of War looks anew at the reasons America's civil war has remained a subject of intense interest for the past century and a half, and affirms the enduring relevance of the conflict for America today"--… (more)

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