Who needs another one-volume history of the Civil War? When it comes from Stokesbury, a master of the form (A Short History of the American Revolution, 1991, etc.), the result is well worth adding to the bulging shelf of Civil War histories. Although Stokesbury's (History/Acadia Univ., Canada) primary focus is military (and his battle descriptions are nothing less than thrilling in their sweep and momentum), he is also adept at integrating socioeconomic and political factors into his narratives, and this volume is no exception. Given the complexity of the period leading up to the conflict, Stokesbury successfully digests and synthesizes a mountain of material covering a turmoil- filled half-century in only a few thoughtful pages. He quickly joins the school of Civil War historians who see slavery as the heart of the conflict (citing Lincoln himself as his authority for that judgment) and skillfully recounts the history of the ``peculiar institution'' in America. His retelling of the Nullification Crisis and subsequent attempts to sunder the Union have an eerie ring in these days of ``the county movement'' and self-anointed militias. As for his narration of the war itself, it is highly competent and compellingly written. If at times it lacks the passion and fire of a McPherson, Catton, or Foote, the book has a nice balance of completeness and conciseness to compensate. Stokesbury is particularly good at making the reader understand why the Civil Waras the first railroad war, the first great mass war, the first ``total'' waris the first truly modern war in history, a terrible visitation on a continent that has been spared mass bloodshed since then. An excellent introduction to one of the most eventful stories in American history.