A riveting history of the Civil War that argues convincingly that Congress got it right.



Abraham Lincoln led the nation, but Congress actually directed the Civil War; this fine history describes how.

Veteran historian Bordewich (The First Congress: How James Madison, George Washington, and a Group of Extraordinary Men Invented the Government, 2016, etc.) writes that it was our elected legislators that raised an immense army, enacted the first draft, and pushed a reluctant Lincoln for “more aggressive generals, a harsher strategy against the South, and the recruitment of African Americans.” Congress financed the war and in the process created a national currency. Furthermore, “long before Lincoln became willing to contemplate the emancipation of slaves, members of Congress demanded it, enacting an incremental series of laws that turned abolitionism from a fringe belief into public policy.” Looking to the future, it passed the Homestead Act, the Pacific Railway Act to build the transcontinental railroad, and the Land-Grant College Act, which created the state university system. A skilled storyteller, Bordewich builds his narrative around four congressmen. Perhaps his hero is Rep. Thaddeus Stevens, who, almost unique for his time, considered blacks the equal of whites. The others are Sen. Ben Wade of Ohio; William Fessenden of Maine, a conservative who gradually became militant; and Rep. Clement Vallandigham, a Northern Democrat sympathetic to the South with offensive racial views but considerable public support. Despite the absence of Southern members, Congress was not a like-minded body, and Bordewich delivers a steady stream of colorful, bitter, sometimes-humorous stories of the abuse that lawmakers exchanged, much of which—unlike more recent debates—led to useful legislation. Lincoln biographers portray him as a shrewd statesman in touch with public opinion but harassed by radical lawmakers. Bordewich’s Congress is on the side of the angels. Unlike the cautious president, Congress began in 1861 to foreshadow emancipation and showed less tolerance for phlegmatic generals who feared its Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War far more than their commander in chief.

A riveting history of the Civil War that argues convincingly that Congress got it right.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-451-49444-3

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Oct. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

Did you like this book?

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.



Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

Did you like this book?