Volumes three and four of Ordeal of the Union, this rounds out an important and scholarly contribution to American history. While the focus is on a relatively brief period, of the years leading up to the Civil War, Nevins' lively handling, his arresting detail, his selective sense of drama, his gift for penetrating and revealing personalities, makes it good reading, even apart from the earlier volumes. Between 1846 and 1871, when Lincoln took the helm, America was burgeoning into a new prosperity, despite the lowering clouds of dissension, the recurrent waves of bitter struggle for new territory by both sides, the extremists north and south. This is social history at its best; it is biographical history, as each of the leaders emerges clear-cut. Nevins recognizes the various contributory factors, but feels the issue of slavery fundamental to the whole, and holds that view throughout. Particularly interesting is his analysis of the part Stephen Douglas played. The John Brown episode is done with terrific impact. The whole Kansas story is clarified as in almost no other overall history of the period. The various plans that might have avoided war are weighed, but here the extremists swung the final issue. Buchanan's administration is assessed with perceptive and reasonably objective brilliance. An important addition to period history, with its contribution to Lincoln lore secondary.