The Demon of Unrest: A Saga of Hubris, Heartbreak, and Heroism at the Dawn of the Civil War

Crown. Apr. 2024. 592p. ISBN 9780385348744. $35. HIST
In his latest bestselling work, Larson (The Splendid and the Vile) explores the national crisis that took place in the period between Abraham Lincoln’s election and the opening salvos of the U.S. Civil War. It’s a panoramic account, featuring military, political, and social histories of the era, with an expansive cast that includes major and minor players from both the Union and Confederate sides. Larson delves into the tensions brought on by Lincoln’s election, using South Carolina’s Fort Sumter as the centerpiece around which the narrative revolves. As the crisis of the union unfolds, states secede, negotiations fail, and the nation inches closer to war—events detailed from all angles of the conflict. Typical of Larson’s books, the history is well-researched yet accessible, and his skill is in synthesizing information across numerous sources into a cohesive, if not comprehensive narrative. However, the storytelling gets bogged down in details and minutiae, which breaks the tension and causes sections of the book to drag.
VERDICT Civil War buffs will be pleased with the laser focus of Larson’s latest; others may find it overly detailed and slow. Still, given Larson’s popularity, this is an essential purchase.
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