Book Review: The Road to Total War: The American Civil War and the German Wars of Unification, 1861-1871


by Edited by Stig Forster and Jorg Nadler

Washington: German Historical Institute, 1997. 705 pp. Illus, notes, bibliog, index. $84.95. ISBN:0-521-56071-3

This volume is essentially the published proceeding of a conference on this comparative history topic that was hosted by the German Historical Institute in Washington, D.C., in April 1992.

The idea behind the conference and this volume is an interesting one, a comparison between the American Civil War and the Wars of German Unification. Unfortunately, there is something lacking in the execution. Part of the reason for this is stated by the editors in their introduction, namely that with the exceptions of Carl Degler, Annette Becker, and Jay Luvaas, there are very few historians with the right combination of expertise to be able to make the proper comparisons. Indeed, in reading the essays, one gets the impression that the German authors did not know very much about the American Civil War, and that the American authors, with the exceptions noted, either did not know very much about the German Wars of Unification, or even know German.

This, however, is not to say that the essays are not themselves worth reading. Individually most of the essays are quite good, and cover some often neglected aspects both wars, especially the Franco-Prussian War. Although the ultimate goal of this book was not achieved, the idea behind it does suggest the possibility of pursuing some real comparative analysis of these nearly contemporaneous wars.

Reviewer: R.L. DiNardo   

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