With this major work, McPherson (History/Princeton; Ordeal by Fire) cements his reputation as one of the finest Civil War historians. The volume begins with a deft description of the ragged American army trudging into Mexico City in 1847. From there, the narrative speeds through 28 chapters that draw a precise and lively picture of what America and Americans were like in mid-19th century. McPherson delineates the issues that galvanized and divided the American public from the end of the Mexican War in 1848 to the opening of the Civil War in 1861, providing thorough explanations of the pre-war period's gravest crises--the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the prairie guerrilla war it started; the national clamor over the Dred Scott case; anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant violence and the brief life of the nativist Know-Nothing Party; and the panic over John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859. And McPherson's coverage of the Civil War is just as strong and clear. The author also addresses arguments about the root origins or that war and pinpoints major causes: hatred of slavery and blind regional prejudice. What distinguishes McPherson's work is his fluid writing style and his able use of anecdote and human interest to flesh out his portrait of the times. Social history and verified gossip abound and are used to good effect: the 1851 racing victory of the US yacht America over 14 British vessels in the Royal Yacht Squadron became the talk of the sporting world and, also, heralded this nation's emergence as an industrial and technological force; talk of U.S. Grant's drinking problem and how he struggled to control it is shown to have shaped the general's personality in many positive ways; etc. McPherson also works in many bits of trivia that, while they may not be of historical import, make his treatment nearly effortless reading. This new volume in the Oxford History of the United States series should become a standard general history of the Civil War period--it's one that will stand up for years to come.