Vivid Civil War storytelling in the tradition of Shelby Foote.


Novelist and historian Groom (Patriotic Fire: Andrew Jackson and Jean Laffite at the Battle of New Orleans, 2006, etc.) recalls the Union’s campaign against Vicksburg, Miss., “the Gibraltar of the West.”

Military historians well understand Vicksburg’s strategic importance. Its capture allowed the “Father of Waters” to flow once more, in Lincoln’s felicitous phrase, “unvexed to the sea,” shearing the Confederacy in half and all but assuring its eventual defeat. Moreover, Vicksburg forever elevated “Unconditional Surrender” Grant who, notwithstanding his success at Fort Donelson, was under fire in the North as a blunderer and a drunk. (Groom offers convincing proof that Grant went on a bender during the siege.) The battle demonstrated his foremost virtue as a commander, the tenacity that would eventually subdue Robert E. Lee a year and a half later at Appomattox. “I can’t spare this man,” said Lincoln, “he fights.” In meticulous but never tiresome detail, Groom follows the protracted fighting, highlighting the roles of Confederates Jefferson Davis, Earl Van Dorn, Joseph E. Johnston, John Pemberton and Nathan Bedford Forrest, the Union’s troublesome political generals Nathaniel Prentice Banks and John Alexander McClernand, the feckless general-in-chief Henry Halleck and, above all, Grant and his indispensable subordinates James B. McPherson and William Tecumseh Sherman. The author makes liberal use of diaries, letters and histories authored by the soldiers who fought and, most memorably, by the civilians who suffered the withering assault on the fortress city. By the end, the starving populace was reduced to living in cave shelters, rat-holes from which they emerged on July 4, 1863, when Pemberton finally surrendered the city to the “not easily discouraged” Grant. The South never recovered.

Vivid Civil War storytelling in the tradition of Shelby Foote.

Pub Date: April 9, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-307-26425-1

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2009

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2015

  • Kirkus Prize
  • Kirkus Prize

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

  • National Book Award Winner

  • Pulitzer Prize Finalist



The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

Did you like this book?


For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

Did you like this book?