Bruce Chadwick’s 1858 does a magnificent job of exploring hitherto unknown elements of the conditions that led up to the Civil War, including but not limited to the recalcitrant President James Buchanan. Had he not resided in his own private bubble and actually paid attention to the state of the nation instead of running the country as if he were the only one who knew anything (sounds disturbingly like our current situation), the war likely could have been avoided.
Chadwick examines and describes Lincoln, Davis, Sherman, Lee, Grant, William Seward, John Brown and Stephen Douglas with such vivid imagery that readers can actually see the participants. Some rarely seen photographs are included in this informative yet moving book, the most poignant one being of John Brown kissing a black infant while on his way to his lynching.
While no single one of the protagonists or antagonists, depending on your point of view, can solely be blamed for the war that tore the nation asunder, there certainly are more than the usual suspects who must shoulder a portion of the blame.
1858 is fascinating and moves at a surprisingly quick clip without getting bogged down in the minutiae of other historic tomes. For anyone who wants to learn more about the causes and the opportunities to avoid the Civil War that were either unrecognized or deliberately ignored, this book is a gem.