February 28, 2011
Goodheart, a historian and journalist who will be writing a column on the Civil War for the New York Times online, makes sophisticated use of a broad spectrum of sources for an evocative reinterpretation of the Civil War's beginnings. Wanting to retrieve the war from recent critics who dismiss the importance of slavery in the Union's aims, he reframes the war as "not just a Southern rebellion but a nationwide revolution" to free the country of slavery and paralyzing attempts to compromise over it. The revolution began long before the war's first shots were fired. But it worked on the minds and hearts of average whites and blacks, slaves and free men. By 1861 it had attained an irresistible momentum. Goodheart shifts focus away from the power centers of Washington and Charleston to look at the actions and reactions of citizens from Boston to New York City, from Hampton Roads, Va., to St. Louis, Mo., and San Francisco, emphasizing the cultural, rather than military, clash between those wanting the country to move forward and those clinging to the old ways. War would be waged for four bitter years, with enduring seriousness, intensity, and great heroism, Goodheart emphasizes. 15 illus.