Publishers Weekly logo

America Aflame:
How the Civil War Created a Nation
David Goldfield, Bloomsbury Press, $35 (640p)
ISBN 978-1-59691-702-6

Library Journal
Goldfield, David. America Aflame:
How the Civil War Created a Nation.
Bloomsbury Pr., dist. by Macmillan. Mar. 2011.
c.640p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781596917026.

This sweeping, provocative history of America from the 1830s through Reconstruction has two grand themes. One is the importance ofevangelical Protestantism, particularly in the North and within the Republican Party, in changing slavery
from a political problem to an intractable moral issue that could only be settled by bloodshed.

The second is the Civil War's transformation of America into
a modern industrial nation with a powerful government and a commercial, scientific outlook, even as the postwar South stagnated in racism and backward-looking religiosity.

UNC-Charlotte historian Goldfield (Still Fighting the Civil War) courts controversy by shifting more responsibility for the conflict to an activist North and away from intransigent slaveholders, whom he likens to Indians, Mexicans, and other targets viewed by white evangelical Northerners as "polluting" the spreading western frontier. Still, he presents a superb, stylishly written historical synthesis that insightfully foregrounds ideology, faith, and public mood

The book is, the author writes, "neither pro-southern nor pro-northern," but rather "antiwar." Goldfield's narrative of the war proper is especially good, evoking the horror of the fighting and its impact on soldiers and civilians. The result is an
ambitious, engrossing interpretation with new things to say about a much-studied conflagration.

Color and b&w illus. (Mar.)


Where historian James M. McPherson (Battle Cry of Freedom) and other
Civil War scholars have viewed the Civil War as a struggle and triumph for freedom, Goldfield (Still Fighting the Civil War: The American South and Southern History) regards it as America's preeminent failure, a sectional breakdown with volatile evangelical religion at its core.

Northern evangelicals condemned slavery as a sin; their counterparts in the South continued to picture it as providentially ordained. With the prewar passing of congressional giants Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and
John C. Calhoun, political issues of a substantive nature blurred into a sectional morality play between good and evil. The war did make the United States one nation again and ended "the peculiar institution," but Goldfield argues that the North's postwar advances in business and science and the South's protracted poverty and resentment transformed the cultural force of religion into a complacent rationalization of the status quo in both sections.

VERDICT A provocatively written, scrupulously researched, and well-
framed consideration of evangelical religion's questionable role in the antebellum, Civil War, and Reconstruction periods of our history.
An important book as the war's sesquicentennial approaches;
a must for all libraries.

-John Carver
Edwards, Univ. of Georgia Libs., Cleveland