Top critical review
Tries to do too much in one volume
Reviewed in the United States on August 13, 2020
This book tries to cover the ENTIRE Civil War era... which is both the best and worst thing about it. It contains interesting macro-level insights into the ups and downs of the war, the politics, and the sweep of history surrounding these events. It also contains a lot of detail. Too much, in my opinion. Most of the detail is strictly info-drop -- not much depth or analysis. This is a narrative choice that lets McPherson confine the whole Civil War to one volume, which is an achievement, sure. But if you can't linger long enough to examine the impact of various developments, what's the point? Personally I would rather read multiple volumes that paint a more vivid picture of each part at a more deliberate pace.
The author has his own academic interests which may not be everyone's cup of tea. He breezes right through major battles, yet devotes long chapters to political and economic events. If you're hoping for a military history of the Civil War with insightful analysis of each battle (like I was), this isn't it. I will say the chapter on the River War was cool and included interesting tactical details I hadn't known before.
Overall, it's decent but has its quirks. Includes big-picture insights and obscure facts, some interesting, some not so much. An exhaustively-researched, highly-academic book that tries to do it all, but lacks visceral excitement and (dare I say?) a human touch. Your mileage may vary.