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James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (1988)

First published in 1988, this is the best single-volume history of the Civil War. It is clearly written and authoritative, and McPherson is able to make the entire war—from its origins to its battles to its aftermath—easily accessible.

Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852)

Published in 1852, this book's depiction of slavery and loss in the Old South was monumentally influential in driving the North and South apart during the 1850s. It is worth reading not only for a better appreciation of the sectional tensions that led to the Civil War but also to see how Stowe, a white northerner, imagined the lives of southern slaves despite the fact that she had never visited the South. Today Uncle Tom's Cabin remains one of the most influential and controversial texts in American literature.

Stephen Crane, The Red Badge of Courage (1895)

Written in 1895, Crane's novel about the life of a young soldier in the Civil War is the most famous American war novel. It includes fantastically detailed battle scenes, and its powerful prose paved the way for many of America's great authors of the twentieth century.

Shelby Foote, The Civil War: A Narrative ()

This three-part history of the Civil War is the authority on the subject, although its length makes it hard to digest. Still, for those who want the entire story of the war in clear and exciting detail, this is the perfect series to read.

Bruce Catton, The Civil War ()

Catton was one of the foremost scholars of the war, and his Civil War trilogy—The Coming Fury, Terrible Swift Sword, Never Call Retreat—is excellent. They are slightly dated but worth reading for their brilliant insight and clear writing.

Michael Shaara, The Killer Angels (1974)

The Killer Angels is a powerful work of historical fiction based on the Battle of Gettysburg. Shaara won the Pulitzer Prize for the book, and after his death, his son Jeff finished the proposed trilogy on the war with Gods and General and The Last Full Measure. For an engaging introduction to the Civil War, The Killer Angels can't be beat.

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