North & South

ISBN: 0517195356
ISBN 13: 9780517195352
By: John Jakes

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Reader's Thoughts


Someone at work was about to take the North & South Trilogy to the library, but offered them to me instead. I took these three massive tomes, which I remembered dimly from the 1980s (along with the TV miniseries adaptation) with muted thanks. No, I'll never turn down a book, but I expected some poorly written, overblown mess -- something like what you'd get if VC Andrews decided to write a historical trilogy. I put it off for nearly a year, and then finally cracked open North and South, fully prepared to be underwhelmed.Wow. I'm now on the second volume, and would like to belatedly join the John Jakes Fan Club. Wow again. I've lived in the South since 1986, despite growing up as a full-blooded Yankee, going back to pre-Revolution days. And of course I read Gone With the Wind, so of course I kind of thought I knew about the Civil War. Wrong. It seems I'm only now starting to understand this not-so-distant history of my country. I strongly recommend this series of books to anyone who feels they need to do some catching up. John Jakes has painstakingly researched the subject and managed to personalize it through his characters. His writing is clear, very readable, detailed without being dense, and entertaining enough to keep you turning the pages. I also need to add that it's currently spring of 2012, and the political turmoil that fills the headlines today shows VERY LITTLE change from what Jakes depicts during the mid-1800s. It's sobering and more than a little scary.Not having finished all three books yet, I can't do proper justice to the series with a review at this point, but if there is to be any criticism, it would be a tendency to draw the villains a bit too floridly. Bent the Butcher and Ashton the scheming nympho have raised my skeptical eyebrows numerous times so far ... but they are, nonetheless, characters you "love to hate." Knowing full well that it's "only a story," I still want to find out just how much more havoc they have up their sleeves. I'm about 2/3 of the way through Love and War, the second book, and will probably not pause before picking up the final installment, Heaven and Hell. I may even get into The Kent Family Chronicles, John Jakes's earlier historical series. But regardless, this author has enriched my reading and learning life with North and South, and I'd strongly encourage any historically impaired readers to seek out these books post-haste.

Jane Greensmith

Really enjoyed this and looking forward to Love and War, book 2 in the trilogy.I hate to think these great historical series from the 1980s are in danger of being forgotten. They're well-written, accurate historically, and interesting with a good mix of characters.

Louise Jennings

This book is a combination of history and of character basing. It taught me a lot about the civil war but also was so enticing because of the story line. It is a well written book and a very enjoyable book. If you like to learn about history whilst reading this is an awesome book to you. I would and have recommended this book to my friends. In just excited to read the second part of this trilogy.


In a sentence: not as good as Herman Wouk, but better than Ken Follet. To elaborate, in its favor North and South shares with Wouk’s War and Remembrance historical accuracy and intimacy of its characters, but suffers from a reliance on Follet-like Dick-Dastardly villains to create tension.In this first book of the trilogy, John Jakes makes significant effort to chronicle the period leading to the American Civil War. This is best done, as in any historical fiction, when he allows the history to speak for itself through the experience of its characters - slavery, the Mexican war, pre-civil war discontent. Jakes is less successful when he rattles off brief references to speech by American politician so-and-so of such-and-such – these tidbits are easy to breeze over, particularly because they often have no direct correlation with the characters.The protagonists are very well-rounded and develop drastically and realistically over the course of the novel. Jakes shows how complicated the issue of slavery was at the time through his main characters; is a Unionist who abhors slavery but would rather the freed slaves be sent to Liberia inherently any more "good" than a slave-owner who treats his slaves humanely?Unfortunately, to create tension Jakes relies on one-dimensional villains whose entire shtick is to antagonize the protagonists. There are four characters (two of whom are the respective evil sister of a protagonist's family) who utter thoughts to the effect “I swear to ruin the life of [hero] until the end of my days”. I actually laughed out loud when I came to “One day, she [Virgilia] vowed as she panted her way to the hilltop, she’d pay them. She’d pay them all”, because this kind of utterance had come so many times before (e.g. “From that moment onward Isabel hated the two of them [the lovely couple, the stars of the book] even more passionately than ever before.”What makes it unfortunate is that there are already plenty of sources of tension – slavery, abusive husbands, believable ignorance/prejudice, to name a few – and these are explored. Though infrequent, there are moments of sheer incredulity. For example, there is a ridiculous scene where a character recognizes that his competitor in a duel will try to kill him through any means, yet somehow manages to tell himself that the duel will be fair despite evidence to the contrary. Slaves are also bestowed with an unrealistic angelic streak, such as when one sacrifices himself for the suitor (who is barely knows) of a slave-owner (who has shown no particular warmness to the slave).Alas, do not think I did not enjoy North and South. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and have gone on straight into the sequel. It is quality, epic historical fiction. Audiobook (narrated by Grover Gardner) 5/5:Oddly, I’m always nervous about taking up Gardner – he lacks the incredible versatility in voice talent of my favorites. However, as always happens you notice at some point in the book that he gives sufficient differentiation that you can recognize characters, at least scene by scene, by voice after all. His fluency, as always, is spot-on.


My mom recommended this book to me ages ago since it's one of her favourite books. I probably never would have picked this up, or even heard of it to be honest, if it wasn't for her, because I'm not a big American history buff, but I'm so so so glad I did. This is the first novel in a trilogy following the lives of two families, the Hazards and Mains, before, during and after the America Civil War. This book tells the story of Orry Main and George Hazard, two best friends, and their families in the years leading up to the war. It starts in 1842 and ends at the beginning of the war. This book reminded me why I love historical fiction so much. The writing was great and the setting was so clear. The atmosphere this book created was great. It almost felt like watching a movie (a period piece of course), and made me feel all warm inside whenever I picked it up. I just really like historical fiction, y'know.This book was pretty heavy on the history, obviously, but it wasn't at all tedious to read. There was just enough information for Ignorant Canadians like myself to understand what was going on (my knowledge of American history is limited to one hellish semester with a terrible teacher who didn't do any actual teaching, just making his students cry) which was nice. There is also lots of family drama and political drama (mainly over the issue of slavery) and romance. I thought there was a great balance of historical stuff and fun drama stuff which was awesome. I really loved this book. It surprised me, really. I'd definitely recommend it to anyone who likes well written historical fiction, whether you're an American history buff or not.

Christine Blachford

I'm not sure what prompted me to read this one, considering it wasn't actually on my Big Read list. However, having worked through that list, I've been emboldened to read some of the more intimidating books, and this was one of those. I'm glad I did, too, because it was really good!Set against the backdrop of growing unrest between the north and south United States, it's a story of two sprawling families, their lives and loves, as well as how the slave trade gradually wound towards its demise. I must admit that in the second half of the book, I was starting to struggle with the vast cast of characters, and it would take me a second or two to remember who someone was. That was a particular problem because there are occasions where one character is left behind for a long while, and then we suddenly catch up with them quite a few chapters later.But that's not really a huge problem, and one mostly associated with my poor memory. It's a gripping story, I kept wanting to know what would happen with the families, whether characters would ever get together. I understand it's part of a trilogy, and whilst I might take a break for a bit, I definitely want to read further.

Christine Ward

This book, the first in John Jakes' Civil War trilogy, is a saga of two families: the Hazards, who are ironworkers from Pennsylvania, and the Mains, rice planters from South Carolina. George Hazard and Orry Main meet at West Point in the years before the Mexican and Civil Wars, and their friendship brings their two families together, in good and bad ways.I first read this book as a fifth-grader and it retained my fascination for years thereafter. However, when I read it as an adult, I realize the book has lost quite a bit of its luster for me. The historical elements of this story are still interesting, but a lot of Jakes's storytelling now seems cliched, sometimes desperately so. This story also has a fair amount of a bodice-ripping element to it, but nothing over the top - just enough for some eye rolling, perhaps.However, it is a book that makes the pre-Civil War era very accessible, especially for those people who checked out of US History in high school. I started re-reading this book again to read it aloud, and I'm told the story is still enjoyable. It's just easier for me to see through the plot, and the author's techniques, given that I've read this book many, many times since I first took it up.


I hadn't read one of John Jakes's books in many years so when I found this book at a used book store, I thought why not give it a chance. I'm glad I did. It was a fantastic book and I can't wait to start the second book in the trilogy. One of the aspects of this book that surprised me the most was how much of the attitudes in the book could translate to today. Both Northerners and Southerners had drawn their "lines in the sand" and didn't want compromise at all. They were willing to go to war rather than let it seem as if they were giving in to the other side. Several times I looked at the date the book was written because it seemed as if Jakes was trying to draw parallels with today's political climate. Obviously, we're not discussing slavery today but many times in this book I felt like I could have changed Northerners and Southerners to liberals and conservatives and the thought processes and the inability to see the other sides opinions or the unwillingness to compromise was way too similar to today's Congress or the liberal/conservative radio and TV pundits.


I read this book for a challenge because one of my friends on good reads disliked it. Overall, I enjoyed it. It had interesting characters and an engaging story line. It all gives the reader an understanding of what circumstances were like in America, socially and politically, before the Civil War. I particularly liked the way the sections about the war with Mexico and circumstances at West Point juxtaposed with a biography I am reading about Ulysses S. Grant. However, there were certain things that really annoyed me. Most prominent of these is the use of revenge as a mechanism to move the plot along. I do not personally know a single individual who is as vengeful and spiteful, who can hold a grudge so well, as half the characters in this book do. I find it hard to believe that people could act on a grudge over minor issues after years and years of waiting, which happens repeatedly. Second, at the end of this book several characters make decisions that seem out of character for them, mainly it seems to set up more conflict in the next book.Third, and unsuprisingly, the book is clearly North-centric. The reason this is unsurprising is because history is written by the victors. I can't say that I disagree with the book being tilted towards a northern perspective, but I think the book might have another layer of interest if it included a convincing and likeable 100% pro-south character.But, as I said, I did enjoy reading it, and will likely read the sequels, so its worth the time.


So, the first 150 pages of this took me FOREVER to read. I just couldn't get into it, couldn't remember who was who and just felt generally kind of overwhelmed at the idea of reading 800 more pages of this...All at once, it picked up for me and I read the last 650 pages in just a couple of days.This is the first book of a three book series. It is the story of two families that are BFF but live on opposite sides of the Mason-Dixion Line during Civil War times. This first book was everything leading up to the civil war, the second book is during, and the third book is after. I was really impressed with the writing, the attention to detail and accuracy, and the character development. Although there was a huge, sprawling cast of characters, you really got to know everyone really well. And what I was really impressed with was how no one was depicted as absolutely anything. These characters generally seemed like real, torn individuals during a crazy time in our history.I am really excited to get into the next books in this series.

Tom Duggan

I am a big John Jakes fan and he has written a masterful trilogy on the American Civil War. Any of John Jakes books are both educational and entertaining.

Lauren Schmidt

Overall, I feel that John Jakes painted a vivid image of Southern and Northern life in this book. Marvelous, just wonderful.I love Orry's character and I loved him even more when Patrick Swayze animated him in the TV Series. I also adored the theme of tragedy and love with the characters as the nation undergoes the same affair: the conflict of wholeness and disbandment. That theme depicts the state of the union in the characters and I think that is sheer brilliance.My only complaint is that the book was so jampacked with detail and information that it dragged on at moments, as in the rest of the series. Cooper and Bent were sometimes a bit boring to me. But, approved. :D

Beth Bedee

I first saw the ABC mini-series in the mid '80s. It's still one of my favorites today. Then, I read the book when I was 19. John Jakes has such a knack for bringing history to life. He interweaves fictional with historical characters so easily. You get such a sense of the turbulence in the years leading up to the Civil War. This book and the entire trilogy is what prompted me to become a History major. This was my second time reading the book, and I loved it even better that the first because I have more reading knowledge and appreciation. If you're looking to learn about the unrest in this country leading up to the Civil War and to explore the causes and regional views from all angles, look no further than this book. It also offers a great glimpse into the military life at Westpoint.But its not all history. There are romances and other plot lines. There are characters to both love and hate.It's a bear: 800 pages of ridiculously small font. But it's so worth it.

Amber Cooley

Loved this!!! Couldn't put it down and immediately picked up the next one. I love Jakes' style of writing- he is very knowledgable in American history, but doesn't add so much history and war strategy that you lose track of the characters and their story.


I have a lot of issues with this book. It seriously annoyed me in many ways. The historical interpretation is just so disingenuous. It's as point for point conventionally bias as a school textbook. The history is all so one-dimensional. First I don't believe anywhere near that amount of people were opposed to slavery for moral reasons, with perhaps a few rare exceptions ,most Yankees were opposed to slavery for economic reasons, yet in the book tariffs are shown more as a secondary cause after moral objections of slavery. bulllllshitt. Who are you trying to fool Jakes? Definite glorifying the just as generally racist north. People were not the open and free minded back then, to the degree they're portrayed in this book, or things simply would have been different. Second, people are not that political. I'm a rather political person constantly frustrated by other's lack of care and interest in issues. If in this day age I have that problem, don't tell that in the 1850's every single person you meet on the street had a clear-cut, distinctive, strong political opinion. Unrealistic. The ideological psychology of the whole book was sickening to me. Any passionate, revolutionary temperament is vilified, while the protagonists never do a single thing; take a single action for anything they believe. They continue to support a system they believe is wrong, that's far more insane, then following you're heart and conviction. The whole mood and tone of this book was twistedly conservative. The only thing that really picked up the story for me was love-making/romance and even then is was good but not like the best I've ever read. The jealousy between the Main sisters’s was a little interesting. Honestly, was anybody else totally hoping that Billy would get killed by Forbes? Maybe I’m just macabre. Anyways that was a let down.All the stuff at west academy was pretty boring.Although the story was decently good but the lack of authentic history ruined it for me.

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