1861 by Adam Goodheart
Kirkus Star

1861

The Civil War Awakening

KIRKUS REVIEW

A penetrating look at the crowded moment when the antebellum world began to turn.

The zeitgeist is by definition ephemeral and difficult to recapture—think, for example, of a period as recent as America before 9/11—but that’s the neat trick splendidly accomplished here by journalist and historian Goodheart, now director of Washington College’s C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience. History, he reminds us, is composed not merely of the momentous judgments of government ministers and generals, but also of the countless decisions of ordinary people. These responses to unexpected challenges are complicated, not always predictable and, taken together, have the power to shift events decisively. Such a time was 1861, when the “Old Gentlemen” (the likes of Buchanan, Tyler and Crittenden) gave way to the self-made men (exemplified by Lincoln, multiplied by a still younger generation of strivers like James Garfield and Elmer Ellsworth); when the Republican marching clubs, the Wide Awakes, and the exotic Zouave drill team became something more than quasi-military; when the transcontinental telegraph replaced the Pony Express; when trolley-car executive William Sherman and shop clerk Ulysses Grant looked on as two unsavory men preserved Missouri for the Union; when fugitive slaves suddenly became “contrabands”; when a general in San Francisco and a major at Fort Sumter, notwithstanding their Southern sympathies, remained faithful to their military oath; when surging patriotism and romantic notions of war turned to hatred and bloodlust; when an unfolding national crisis required people to choose sides, sweep away old assumptions and rattle categories long deemed unshakeable, and bring forth something new. Whether limning the likes of Benjamin “Spoons” Butler, abolitionist Abby Kelley Foster or the young Abner Doubleday, explaining something as seemingly inconsequential as the fashion for men’s beards or unpacking Lincoln’s profound understanding of the nature and unacceptable consequences of the rebellion, Goodheart’s sure grasp never falters.

Beautifully written and thoroughly original—quite unlike any other Civil War book out there.

Pub Date: April 10th, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4000-4015-5
Page count: 460pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 2011




2011 BEST OF NONFICTION: HISTORY:

Nonfiction DEATH IN THE CITY OF LIGHT by David King
by David King
Nonfiction IN THE GARDEN OF BEASTS by Erik Larson
by Erik Larson
Nonfiction THE DESTINY OF THE REPUBLIC by Candice Millard
by Candice Millard
Nonfiction ASSASSINS OF THE TURQUOISE PALACE by Roya Hakakian
by Roya Hakakian

SIMILAR BOOKS SUGGESTED BY OUR CRITICS:

Nonfiction1858 by Bruce Chadwick
by Bruce Chadwick
NonfictionYEAR OF METEORS by Douglas R. Egerton
by Douglas R. Egerton
NonfictionTHE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF DIXIE by Bruce Levine
by Bruce Levine