North and South is the first novel in a trilogy dealing with the American Civil War, and it is truly a remarkable work; well worth reading. I myself have read the novel many times over the past twenty years. The novel focuses on two families--the Hazards of Pennsylvania, and the Mains of South Carolina--during the period from approximately 1840 through the beginning of the Civil War. These two families, bound by close ties of friendship (the sons of each are best friends at West Point and serve in the Army together during the Mexican War) and marriage, find these ties tested by the powerful forces of political and social strife that rocked the country during this period, ultimately leading to civil war.
This is a great story. Author John Jakes does a tremendous job of transporting the reader into the period immediately before the Civil War. The country was torn by political strife that could not be resolved by the ordinary institutions of civil government, and Jakes does a masterful job of explaining this within the format of a novel, and showing how this atmosphere affected ordinary people, and their friendships and relationships. The Hazards and the Mains are unforgettable. Jakes shows how decent people (as well as people not so decent) interacted with the institution of slavery on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line.
One of the best parts of the novel deals with the period during the 1840s when the two main protagonists are classmates together at West Point. This is a well-researched tale that is very insightful as regards life and strife at the military academy during a pivotal period of American history. It helps the reader understand the important role that West Point played in the nation's history during the Mexican War and, of course, the Civil War. And perhaps today.
This novel rates the overused label of "classic" and in my opinion represents one of the very best novels of the Civil War. It is, incidentally, the best novel of Jakes" "North and South" trilogy.
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