Exhaustive, meticulous, authoritative and definitive. Those are just four words to describe the nearly 1.6 million words, spread over 3,000 pages in three volumes (published in 1958, 1963 and 1974), that make up Shelby Foote’s epic masterpiece, The Civil War. Foote was not a trained historian. Before taking on this chronicle of America’s defining conflict, Foote was a novelist of some repute, and it shows. His attention to detail is awe-inspiring. He takes the time, for example, to describe the temperature, wind speed and terrain during a major battle and to explain why they all played a factor in its outcome. His nuanced portraits of Abraham Lincoln, Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, Ulysses S. Grant and scores of others bring humanity to characters made flat by generations of grade-school history-book pabulum. It is only fitting and just that the Civil War, America’s great rendering, should have a work of art and history as powerful as The Civil War.