North and South

by John Jakes

Hardcover, 1982



The first volume of John Jakes's acclaimed and sweeping saga about a friendship threatened by the divisions of the Civil War In the years leading up to the Civil War, one enduring friendship embodies the tensions of a nation. Orry Main from South Carolina and George Hazard from Pennsylvania forge a lasting bond while training at the United States Military Academy at West Point. Together they fight in the Mexican-American War, but their closeness is tested as their regional politics diverge. As the first rounds are fired at Fort Sumter, Orry and George find themselves on different sides of the coming struggle. In John Jakes's unmatched style, North and South launches a trilogy that captures the fierce passions of a country at the precipice of disaster. This ebook features an illustrated biography of John Jakes including rare images from the author's personal collection.… (more)

Library's rating


(401 ratings; 3.9)

User reviews

LibraryThing member AdonisGuilfoyle
To readers in the UK, John Jakes' novel is the other North and South, which confuses matters when searching for Mrs Gaskell's Victorian romance. And until I read about the American Civil War in another story recently, I was content to carry on bypassing both Jakes' epic trilogy and the 1980s adaptation with Patrick Swayze. Book one of North and South hasn't exactly captured my imagination like Gaskell's story did, but I now know more than I did about the civil war (not that one, the other one).

My main problem with Jakes' North and South is the unnecessary length - this is only the first instalment of three novels, covering twenty years of fictional and national developments leading up to the start of the war, and yet the run-up requires 800 pages? Jakes does a fine job of cramming the text with historical research, but he also wastes space by explaining what more skilful authors can convey with dialogue and imagery. Show not tell, Mr Jakes. My other complaint is that the characters, especially the 'villains', are a tad too obvious, like the narrative. Captain Bent and Ashton Main, in particular, spend the greater part of the novel bearing grudges that would crush mere mortals, and over nothing much to start with. Confrontations and duels pepper the story, but the outcome is always predictable.

Construction and caricatures aside, I actually enjoyed reading much of this great doorstop of a history lesson. Yes, a lot of the subplots devolve into soap opera, but also Jakes manages to present both sides fairly and instructively - the power and arrogance of the north, and the tradition and fear of the south. George and Orry, and Charles and Billy, are likeable, yet convincing in their respective attitudes to the issues of abolition and slavery, union and secession. I have learned a lot about a time and place in history that I knew little or nothing about, for which I am grateful to the author - but I don't know if I have the strength to tackle Jakes' second novel just yet!
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LibraryThing member northandsouth
This book will get you hooked on historical fiction if you aren't already. A tale of two families forever entwined despite being on opposite of the Civil War. Jakes does a perfect job meshing the history of the period with the social scene and romance of the families. I absolutely love this book and could read it and the next two in the series over and over again!… (more)
LibraryThing member joeypod
I really enjoyed this book. The characters were interesting and I found myself wanting to know more about them. At times there was a cliffhanger with one character at the end of a chapter and I would find myself paging ahead to see how it turned out because I just couldn't wait! The book also provides some insight into what living in America during those times was really like. I felt the situations that the characters confronted were very real. I appreciated the author's attention details especially when he would comment on what the characters were reading at the time. Very clever. I was pleasantly surprised at the number of topics covered in this book from the obvious conflicts over slavery to homosexuality in the military. I look forward to reading the next installment in this trilogy.… (more)
LibraryThing member ken1952
The first volume in Jakes' Civil War trilogy was huge...over 700 pages. But I never gave up. Good historical info, interesting characters and a plot that kept everything moving. Can't say I was ever bored, but I'm not sure I'll delve into the next two books.
LibraryThing member booksandwine
Okay, so this wasn't the greatest writing I've ever read, but the story of the Main and Hazard families certainly kept me entranced. The characters were interesting, and provided differing perspectives on the Civil War. Basically this whole book describes the events leading up to the Secession of the South.
LibraryThing member SandSing7
My love for the movie version is what brought me to the book; so, let me start by saying that the book is significantly different from the movie! Orrie has an older brother and loses his arm in the war, Bent and Charles have many adventures out west, and Constance saves Isabel's twins after the train crash. Yeah, where was all this in the movie?

While I did enjoy seeing these beloved characters go on different adventures, the writing was disappointingly mediocre. It's one of the few stories that seems to be told better in the film version.
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LibraryThing member miyurose
I cannot possibly express in words how much I enjoy John Jakes' books. He just has an incredible talent for historical fiction, especially in the Civil War time period. I really liked this book, and I can't wait to read the rest of the trilogy.
LibraryThing member jwood652
Book One of the fantastic Civil War trilogy that includes "Love and War" and "Heaven and Hell".
It features two friends who met at West Point and their families. They are on opposite sides of the war. Also a TV miniseries starring Patrick Swayze. John Jakes also wrote the "Kent Family Chronicles". I love anything by this author.… (more)
LibraryThing member hollysing
My husband and I are Civil War buffs and we loved this trilogy.
LibraryThing member Barb_H
Loved it so much! I am glad that I bought all 3 books in the series at once so I'll surely be able to read the next 2. Really makes me want to watch the mini-series again. I totally love the characters, even the ones I love to hate, Virgilia, Justin, Bent lol =)
LibraryThing member PMaranci
Every time I go to Boothbay Harbor in Maine I hit the porch of the building next to the library. They have hundreds of books there, and the recommended donation is ten cents per book. At that price, I can buy all sorts of stuff that I'd never buy otherwise!

One of the books I picked up last time was John Jakes' North and South. After I finished it, I found out that it was the first of a trilogy. So I picked up the rest of the books at the library (yay library!). All together they came to over 2,200 pages.

John Jakes has written science fiction as well as quite of few of those massive tree-killing multi-volume sagas telling the story of a family from the day it evolved from slime mold to the day its eldest son becomes King of the Universe (sorry, I just channeled a bit of National Lampoon's Newspaper Parody). He's not a bad SF writer, although most of his genre fiction came earlier in his career; I imagine that when he found out how much dough he could rake in with those historical megabooks, he found it difficult to write good old low-paying SF. But he wasn't a bad writer.

The North and South series wasn't bad. It killed a week or two of spare time. But I do have a couple of reactions:

1. I am an abused reader. I'm not kidding. The novels are set before, during, and after the Civil War. There's some pretty rough stuff in them. When I reached the first scene of semi-torture, I found myself tightening up. Feeling almost panicked...almost disgusted. Why? Because I'd recently been exposed to the torture-porn book Chung Kuo by the despicable David Wingrove. I feel as if Wingrove tried to rape me, mentally, and now there's part of me that fears that each new book, each new author, will do the same.

John Jakes is an older-school author, of course, so he didn't get too graphic. And what torture there was, was less horrible because unlike the obviously mentally ill David Wingrove, Jakes didn't glory in the torture. I swear, Wingrove probably manually gratified himself over some of the filth that he wrote.

Good heavens. I didn't realize I'd be getting so extreme in this review. I honestly do feel as if I've been abused...I'm enraged at the mere memory of Chung Kuo.

At one point, the worst bad guy in North and South - a psycho - kills the wife of one of the protagonists. He cut her throat with a razor and uses her blood to write his name on her mirror, so her husband will know who did it. My reaction to reading that? "Thank god he didn't rape or torture her." That's what Chung Kuo did to me; made me grateful when a sympathetic character is only MURDERED!

2. John Jakes didn't play fair with the reader. In the first book, he introduces a sympathetic character, Cooper Main; he's the older brother of one of the main protagonists. He's a southerner, but an extremely progressive and enlightened one. He opposes slavery, arguing bitterly with his father over the issue. His story is told in the second-person, but we get into his head enough to see that he is honestly sickened by slavery, and is highly intelligent and forward-looking.

When the war starts he is saddened, but surprised by a feeling of love for his home state. He takes a role in the Confederacy's navel research department, but it is soon clear that he doesn't believe that victory is possible, and that the war is a tragic mistake. Eventually he marries, and has two children. Then his son is exploded and drowned while they are attempting to run a Yankee blockage.

The character goes insane. He becomes hateful, obsessed with vengeance, spending day and night trying to build new weapons "to kill Yankees". He verbally and emotionally abuses his wife and daughter, and strikes his wife. This is all the more difficult to read because the story of how he met and courted his wife was quite a romantic story.

This behavioral change is consistent with PTSD, of course. It seems a bit extreme, even so, but I'll allow for a bit of artistic license. But Jakes didn't leave it there. The character got worse and worse, until I had to wonder why the hell his wife didn't leave him. Jakes was bending the plot so far that it was in danger of breaking! And then the character himself had a total breakdown, went insane, and suddenly came back to his senses. He was his old self, but changed: he now believed that peace was all-important, and declared that he was leaving the war department and returning to his ancestral estate to help sow the seeds of peace and reconciliation. It's clear that equality for the soon-to-be former slaves is part of what he planned.

But between the end of the second novel and the beginning of the third, the character apparently underwent a complete rewrite. No longer devoted to peace, he became a ranting, close-minded bigot and ally of the Ku Klux Klan - a pure villain. There was no explanation, no evolution of the character, just a sudden, massive change which Jakes pretended wasn't much of a change at all.

It was like "BOOM! I had a bad bowel movement. Now I'm an evil Southerner again!". Totally ridiculous and unfair to the reader. I can only guess that Jakes felt he was running low on antagonists, so he had to quickly convert a sympathetic character into an antagonist.

That was annoying AND clumsy, Mr. Jakes. Did you think the readers wouldn't notice?

I can't really recommend the series. If I ever read it again, it could only be out of desperation. Say, if almost every other book I own somehow disappeared...and the TV was broken...and the internet was down...and the library was closed.

Come to think of it, my computer would have to be broken as well. And my family would have had to lose the ability to speak or play boardgames. And the phone would need to be down as well.

It wasn't an awful series, but it wasn't very good. John Jakes can (and has) done much better.
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LibraryThing member msaucier818
I had heard great things about John Jakes but for whatever reason, I had not read one of his books before. Epic historical fiction is usually right up my alley, and I enjoyed this first book of the famous North/South trilogy. I don't know if this is the best comparison, but this book reminded me of Wilbur Smith, with the action of a Smith novel replaced with political discussions. I don't mean for that to sound negative, as I enjoyed the discussion of slavery and states' rights that would have dominated social culture in the 1840s and 1850s. I think parts of the novel were stretched out a bit too long, and (like Smith) some of the characters were either too good or too evil, but overall I enjoyed the read and look forward to the rest of the trilogy.… (more)
LibraryThing member silva_44
After reading this first book of the North and South trilogy, I'm wondering if the mini-series writers ever bothered to read the books, because the characters are completely different than those portrayed on-screen. I am certainly enjoying the "true" story of the Mains and Hazards.
LibraryThing member carebear10712
Although I got a little frustrated in the middle of the book, this was just one I couldn't wait to pick up again. I felt that some things were sort of skimmed over in the middle (all of a sudden Cooper is married, Billy is no longer into Ashton but is now in love with Brett...), but John Jakes did an amazing job portraying the feelings, both in the North and the South, leading up to the Civil War. He made the reader empathize with both sides, which in my opinion, is no easy feat.… (more)
LibraryThing member christinejoseph
Saga of two families - Northern Hazard from industrialists; South - Main plantation owners, West Pointers, 2 generations

Part history, part novel, this book chronicles two great American dynasties over three generations. Though brought together in a friendship that neither jealousy nor violence could shatter, the Hazards and the Mains are torn apart by the storm of events that has divided the nation.… (more)
LibraryThing member Kuglar
I didn't find this compelling enough to finish. I'm sad about that because I'd heard a lot of good things about it. The main characters weren't that interesting for me. In fact, I had a hard time remembering who was who for a long while between George and Orry. And then the same with Billy and Charlie. (I hope the names are correct; these folks were not that memorable.)

I did read ahead on Wikipedia, which I rarely do, and the direction the author takes in future books did not sit well with me. So what with life being too short...
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LibraryThing member cbrown1000
This is a pretty good book. Some of the characters are a little stereo-typical; but definitely good enough that I bought the next two before finishing this one.
LibraryThing member Kiki5211
This is one fo my all time favorite books about the Civil War. It is full of both romance and historical politics. That is two of my favorite topics. Theu also made this book into a mini-series, which is also a must watch.



Harcourt Brace Jovanovich (1982), 720 pages

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