A compelling and vital book in a field in which extensive exploration still seems possible. Stretching as it does over Missouri, Texas, Nebraska and so on, the territory Monaghan stakes out seems less removed from the Civil War's central action than a special and powerful focus for many of the deepest impulses in America. These impulses had originally driven America asunder, they had fundamentally fed and embittered the conflict, and in a positive way, had worked toward the future development of the nation. The traditional heroes and villains are here:-Lincoln, Douglas, Davis, Lee, Sherman, Grant. Events themselves move inexorably and with violence, gore and domestic ruin. But all the lawlessness, haphazard settler life, dispossessed Indian tribes, gun toting politicos, against the prairies of the West, place the War in a new setting, and bring expanded spirit and enlarged thinking to the fore. Evidence of thorough research, a capacity for seizing colorful and evocative details and organizing them into cohesive narrative, combine to make this outstanding this season.