Recommend a balanced book about the Civil War and slavery

Recommend a book by a credible author that does not have its own political agenda. Factually breaks down the causes of the war, and the following elimination of slavery. Examines the roles of the major political parties in these matters.

Maybe I am poisoning the well by mentioning Civil War and slavery in the same breath. If so feel free to recommend two different books.

I’m in the middle of it right now (so no spoilers please) but I’m enjoying Abraham Lincoln and the Road to Emancipation, 1861-1865 by William F. Klingaman.

They lose him after the theater scene

Mrs Lincoln should ask for a refund for one ticket.

Yuk yuk, youse guys. :stuck_out_tongue: Seriously, OP, maybe take a look at the Lincoln Prize-winning Freedment & Southern Society Project’s Free at Last: A Documentary History of Slavery, Freedom, and the Civil War?

Like the FSSP work in general, it consists largely of contemporary original source documents, so you can understand the historical events largely through the words of the historical actors themselves. A number of excerpts from the documents can be read at the above link.

Thank you for contributions so far. I am interested in a historical review that answers the questions:

What were the underlying motivations of the Civil War? It seems to be widely accepted that the war was fought over slavery but you still see people arguing about it (“It was about states’ rights!”), and I suspect there are nuances.

What were the positions of the political parties both pre- and post-war, related to the war itself and slavery? Some modern-day Republicans claim virtue by association by point to Lincoln as a Republican and demonizing the Civil War era actions of Democrats (“Southern Democrats supported the slavery, started the war, started the KKK,” etc.). Some claim that the parties have reversed their role over the years on slavery and subsequently civil rights but others claim that’s a myth.

History is never as simple as anyone wants to believe, and it’s very difficult to get a true understanding of what happened over 150 years ago. People do not even have a universal understanding of what’s happening right now.

I am not looking to debate those questions in this thread, just get references so I can get a little smarter.

Perhaps if you told us some Civil War books you’ve read that you found not credible or authors of such books you believe have political agendas it will help narrow the field.

You might check out America’s Great Debate: Henry Clay, Stephen A. Douglas, and the Compromise That Preserved the Union by Fergus Bordewich. It’s about the political events of 1850, which is a good starting point for the road to the Civil War. It’s the point when the older generation of politicians like Calhoun, Clay, and Webster turned over power to the incoming Civil War generation of politicians like Davis, Douglas, and Seward.

Exactly none, which is why I am seeking advice. I don’t waste to waste time wading through random books to find out they are crap.

I probably shouldn’t post at all! I’ve read a grand total of one (1) book on the Civil War; and that book is neither balanced nor objective; the events it describes are mostly over by 1859; and it focuses on a single man, rather than politics or slavery in general. (Although focused on that single man, it does take looks at his friends and enemies, and the social and political issues of the time.)

But (paradoxically?) such a focused book may give you a richer view of the real picture than you’d get from a more general summary. Thanks for reminding me of this book — I think I’ll re-read it. (Find a pro-slavery book to read after this one, if you wish, for a “balanced” perspective. :rolleyes:)

The book I speak of was written by David S. Reynolds, a prize-winning biographer who has written several books set in the 19th century or the Civil War era more specifically. The name of the book is John Brown Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights.

Once you find the names of some books, you can read reviews of them in respectable places, which should help you understand their position and help you weed out the crap.
Not an area of interest to me, so I don’t have any recommendations.

The people who seceded wrote openly about their reasons for doing so. You don’t need a modern book to explain it to you; just go to the source.

Once you read this, you will see that the claim of “states rights” is nonsense. One of the South’s complaints was that the federal government wasn’t forcing abolitionist states to enforce fugitive slave laws, despite their own individual stance on the issue. (Additionally, if you read the confederate constitution, you will note that it expressly forbade states from outlawing slavery - so much for deference to “states rights”).

Battle Cry of Freedom by James M. McPherson is very well regarded. I thought it was excellent.

Another worthwhile read on John Brown is Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War by Tony Horwitz. He also wrote the excellent historical/cultural Civil War travelogue, Confederates in the Attic and a similar book where he retraced Fredrick Law Olmstead’s pre-Civil War travels as a reporter for the New York Times, Spying on the South: An Odyssey Across the American Divide

Okay, let’s take a step back. The first thing you should probably do is read a good general history of the war so you understand the basic stream of events. Once you’ve got that context, you can start exploring the deeper nuances.

I’d recommend the American Heritage History of the Civil War by Bruce Catton as a good single volume general history of the war.

I don’t think you will find any legitimate modern analysis of the Civil War that gives credence to the idea that the main reason for the conflict was not the right to own slaves. At least I would be extremely surprised. The states’ rights argument is something white southerners traditionally lie to themselves with.

This aspect of the civil war really isn’t nuanced. Many of the seceding states themselves cited preservation of slavery in their articles of secession and slavery was explicitly protected in the confederate constitution.

“Except for that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?”

Dude I didn’t get to that part! Thanks for nothing.

I forgot what book I read it in but basically even if slavery hadn’t existed or slavery had been abolished earlier somehow, the American Civil War would have started at some point regardless because of the massive differences in attitude between the North/West and South. Slavery was obviously the sole reason in 1861 but by 1880 had no civil war taken place due to the North buying out the South’s slaves plan things would be pretty obviously frayed between the South and the rest of the United States due to cultural differences and the South still seeing themselves as the oppressed ones in the grand scheme of things. I’ll have to look it up which one it was.