Video Game Review: Final Fantasy II, Final Fantasy Origins (1989, 2002)

The Blacksheep of the Family

Much like Legend of Zelda II, Final Fantasy tried something different. Much like Legend of Zelda II, nobody really liked it.

Part 2 of my Final Fantasy Series playthrough.

Final Fantasy II is immediately different. It drops you into the middle of the action with your party running away from indefatigable dark knights. Your first battle against them is already determined: complete defeat. You wake up in a rebel base that’s reeling after the recent retreat from the front lines. Firion, Gus, and Maria must pick up the pieces of what happened.

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Why does Gus look an emaciated hunchback?

Unlike Final Fantasy I which offers four place-holding party members that are interchangeable, FF2 promises characters that matter. Instead of a disconnected relationship between world, quests, and party members, the fight against the Empire ties everything together. It’s a very forward thinking game coming out of 1988.

The narrative framework isn’t the only thing that gets a complete reworking. Gone are experience points and leveling. Instead, skills and attributes improve depending on what happens during battle. Those meleeing imps to death receive bonuses to strength and weapon type while those blasting back row goblins with fire gain magic power and additional MP.

This jab-cross combo of actual characters with unique leveling system proffers something special. It just isn’t sustainable: everything crumbles by end of the game because, of course, it has to get “Nintendo” hard.

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Derpy Pirates.


After Final Fantasy saved the company from bankruptcy, Square followed it up with a sequel. In what would become standard operating procedure, numbered Final Fantasy games did not share storylines, plots, or characters. Instead, they built on top of one another using motifs, themes, and game mechanics.

In this early iteration, FF2 keeps the idea of four youth saving the world with it’s classic turn-based fighting system. It also adds on many elements that would go on to be staples of the franchise (the airship-loving Cid, rideable birds called chocobos).

While released in 1988, it would not reach American shores en masse until 2002 when it was re-released as a port with updated graphics for the PS1 as part as the Final Fantasy Origins package that also included FF1.

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Some of the best dialogue in the game.


Things started out with such high hopes.

The story is refreshing for a game made in the late 80s. These types of games relied on forced grinding for value due to not having enough memory space to expand on anything. If I’m going to have to grind, I like it to at least be for a purpose, and FF2 offers at least that. The grinding was also rewarding: I liked being able to carve out unique roles for my characters based on what actions I used for them in battle.

Then, it all collapses in on you the closer you get to end of game.

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Eight imps that all cast confusion? Completely fair fight.

The activity-based progression is actually not the main culprit of this game’s demise. Instead, it is how NES games were so damn obscure. Beneath the veneer of the simple “what you do, you get better at” mantra, there is a complex interplay of coded variables that influence outcomes. None of this explained.

Take this excerpt from Gamer Corner Guides:

For your own spells, magic accuracy consists of three components. First is the base spell accuracy, which is specific to each spell. If the spell is white or black magic, you then add your spirit or intelligence, respectively, to that number. Special abilities that are not magic ignore this step. Note that items that use white or black magic do use the stats of the character using the item to determine accuracy and power. Finally, you subtract the sum of any magic penalties you have from gear. While items do use the character’s intelligence or spirit stats, they are not subject to magic penalties from gear. If spell accuracy is less than zero, it is set to zero. Unlike other percentages, though, spell accuracy is not capped at 99%. (This is because of how targeting affects accuracy—it is possible that any given spell roll has a 1% chance of failure when it is finally made, but I have no way to easily tell.)

Gamer Corner Guides

Consider this: the game starts off with four characters as blank slates. Maria is already in the back row with a bow, so it is natural to infer that she should be a spellcaster (a la Rosa from FFIV). This is actually incorrect because weapons and armor incur magic penalties reducing the effectiveness of your spells. I hamstrung myself the entire game due to not realizing the secondary and tertiary effects of quotidian things like equipping a bow.

This isn’t a big deal until the end where unfair random encounters and boss fights make it impossible to progress. You will face some enemies that you mow down easily while others are completely impenetrable. Why did my power fighter with double axes go from doing 1000 damage per attack to only 50? I’m not sure, but it probably has to do with opaque algorithm where certain weapons are good against certain enemy class types and are funneled through several modifiers and multipliers before damage output is decided.

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And everyone enjoys poor inventory management.

This game is very unpolished. We take for granted that RPGs have figured out how to smooth over difficulty spikes and rough patches to make a logically consistent game. We expect a steady linear progression of difficulty with some strategically chosen challenges. FF2 never masters that: the entire game is almost a cakewalk until it is impossibly hard.

It also punishes exploration. I had to restart my entire game in the beginning because I died in the opening minutes on the world map. Travel too far West and you will discover beasts you are not ready to face until mid game. Then, I had to restart my entire game AGAIN because I talked to a knight in a town that led to another impossible to win encounter.

I quickly learned to save my game at every corner due to the random nature of this game. However, you go through a 15 or 20 hour patch where this is completely unnecessary — instead of being brutally unfair, it becomes way too easy. But don’t worry, it flips again after you’ve been lulled to sleep.

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Final Fantasy 2’s dungeons are made up of mostly empty rooms.

There is a bunch of other things you could nit pick:

  • your fourth party member is traded out for the entire game until the end which prevents you from really building a “team.”
  • the inventory management caps at 63 items with enemies that drop items every fight leading to lots of anxiety over what to keep or discard.
  • most chests in dungeons (even the last one!) contain potions and eye drops instead of worthwhile equipment.
  • dungeons are mostly empty rooms with high encounter rates that punish you for exploration.

It just isn’t a smooth ride.


With the most vital parts of this game’s mechanics locked behind algorithms and codes, it is and immensely unfair march to the finish line.


Other People’s Takes:

  • RPG’s Suck: “This game is more of a chore than an actual game. Unless you really really really love grinding. Trying to play this game legitimately is not recommended in the slightest.” 
  • Sigma’s Gaming Corner: “Personally, I enjoyed Final Fantasy 2. The PSP version anyway. It has some pretty interesting and cool concepts that I don’t quite think were fleshed out completely, but I’d say I generally like it (at least with a speed up button).”
  • Renfa Reviews: “One of the main questions should be is it worth playing even though it’s old? Here’s my answer, it depends on your decision. I don’t really recommend playing old school games that are very frustrating and outdated nowadays but if you’re into RPG and traditional at that then maybe you could give this title a try.”

Video Game Review: Final Fantasy I, Fantasy Origins (1988, 2002)

Enjoyable But Drove Me Absolutely Crazy.

I hand-drew the world map for God’s sake!

Part 1 of my Final Fantasy Series Playthrough.

I threw out a beacon onto twitter: what should I play next? Out of all the suggestions, something about Final Fantasy Origins rang true to me. Per chance (or was it clairvoyance?), I started the entire convo with a gif from Final Fantasy I, so I felt it was a sign when someone suggested it.


I’m all about retrogames, but there comes a certain point where things just aren’t fun for me. Final Fantasy for the NES epitomizes that reality. Released in 1987, the game might have spawned a beloved franchise, but its grinding nature and glitches (particularly the one where if a monster dies, anyone who was targeting it still attacks it wasting a turn on an empty tile) made me weary.

A verdant landscape offset by the black earth and tiled menu options..

I was willing to give FFI a try on an updated port, however. Final Fantasy Origins was released for the PS1 in 2002. It was part of a wave of rereleases to capitalize on the major success of FF7-9 released in the late 90s. The American audience was oblivious to the Final Fantasy franchise until FF7, so a wave of repackaged NES and SNES games made their way to the PS1. Final Fantasy Origins contains FFI, previously released for the NES, and FF2, never released in the USA at all.


I think Tony Horton of P90x fame can sum up my feelings rather succinctly:

Wondering aimlessly is so frustrating….until it pays off <(“<)

There really isn’t a story or characters, so the game has to rely on the basics that brings everyone into the genre: exploration, battle system, and skills development.

The first town immediately sucks you in. The imagery and killer soundtrack make this Class A world building. The first town theme was such an ear worm that I immediately picked up my guitar and learned how to play it.

The picture is 90s webcam quality, but I wasn’t recording it again.

You get to build your own party consisting of specific classes. The usually tropes are here (Knight, White Mage, Black Mage, Red Mage, Monk, and Thief). This choice is where Final Fantasy I comes alive: who you pick dictates how you play the rest of the game.

Bear the Warrior, Lou the Monk, Dee the White Mage, and Bub the Red Mage.

Outside of that, it’s a pretty typical pre-90s RPG game meaning you are going to get angry. REALLY ANGRY.

Final Fantasy I boasts long dungeons without save options or many options for healing. There comes a point in every lair where you have to decide whether to bail and save your level progress or keep going in hopes of getting to the end. While this part of the game is really exhilarating (you can’t just meander around — there are consequences!), this game can wipe you out in a moment’s notice.

A flock of cockatrice my turn the entire party to stone. A gaggle of zombies may paralyze everyone for eternity until they are whittled down to sticks. A parliament of wizards might spam inferno-like spells until you die.

Staying true to the ethos of 80s gaming, no one ever really tells you where to go. When the world map opened up, I was immensely frustrated. I literally was stuck in the middle of the ocean.

After going round and round being lost at sea, I broke down and started to HAND DRAW my OWN MAP of the world.

This was all fine and dandy until someone told me that a freakin’ broomstick tells you how to look up the world map in game (2020 keeps getting worse). That didn’t slow me down, however, as I would mostly finish and flesh out the world.

I’m a Geographer!

As I oscillated between love and hate, I think I came down slightly on the positive side of the fence. Sure, there is plenty of things that are “throw your controller” worthy, but even in such a basic game, there is a lot of charm.


This is hard to recommend, but there is something edifying here for the die-hard Final Fantasy fan as you experience the roots of the franchise.

My Rating: star-1star-1star-1

Other People’s Takes:

  • Brink of Anything: “By the time you face the renegade knight Garland and rescue the Princess Sarah, your party will have slaughtered entire generations of these [goblins] pitiful creatures”
  • Lethargic Ramblings: “I obviously have my fair share of complaints, namely the random encounters, the lack of direction at times and the optional dungeons, but those really don’t matter all that much when, for the most part, there’s so much good in here.”
  • MoeGamer: “Unlike more modern narrative-centric role-playing games — particularly in the Final Fantasy series — the original Final Fantasy, in all its incarnations, is designed to feel like you and your party are exploring a vast world, seeking out adventures for yourself.”

Book Review: Antisocial – Online Extremists, Techno-Utopians, and the Hijacking of the American Conversation, Andrew Marantz

He might be biased but he has a point.

Marantz’s expose from a left-wing perch reads like a gossip feature, but there are some super important things in here.

The internet had a marvelous 20 year run.

It started with everyone getting online in the mid 90s (via AOL discs in cereal boxes, no less). I began listing “surfing the web” as one of my hobbies in the early 2000s because it was active exploration. There was no overarching framework yet, just several million individual websites that you bumped into serendipitously. Content was not being pushed to you: you had to go find it.

This started to change mid 2000s with the three new trends: social media; barrier-free content creation; search engine architecture. Anyone could create content, post it on these new platforms, and have it pushed immediately to everyone online. Aimless web browsing was traded for content that was delivered instantly and verified to be worthy via upvotes and likes.

This system started to get hijacked in the mid 2010s. Addiction, mood disorders, and radicalization start becoming the byproducts of these marvelous system that organized the internet. The 2016 election brought it to a boiling point with extreme political polarization making most of online life a cesspool. What went wrong?

That’s the focus of Anti-Social, a book by New Yorker writer Andrew Marantz, where he uses the rise of the alt-right to discuss what technology is doing to us.

The White Supremacy rally at Charlottesville, VA in 2017 made possible in part because of social media.


The book chronicles Marantz’s investigation through two different worlds: the newly minted conservative group known as the alt-right; the technocrat CEOs and programmers that built the social media platforms that made it possible.

As told through vignettes, Marantz rubs elbows with a wide variety of people from the nefarious Richard Spencer (an American Neo-Nazi) and multiple online conservative personalities (Mike Cernovich, Gavin Mcinnes, Cassandra Fiarbanks, etc) to the elite of silicon valley including Emerson Spartz (viral media entrepreneur) and Steve Huffman (CEO of Reddit).

The book is an interplay between these two groups. Using the 2016 elections as a backdrop, Marantz investigates how these uncredentialed and unknown conservative voices raised to such popularity by taking advantage of the social media algorithms that silicon valley built on purpose to expand their influence and wealth.

Mike Cernovich, an “alt-light” leader, is a central figure in the book. He rose to fame during the 2016 election by leveraging social media’s emotional levers.


Even though the implications are heavy, the books reads lightly because it’s presented from Marantz’s POV. The first-person perspective gives an intimate touch to these other-worldly figures in media and tech. This is also the book’s biggest weakness: whenever Marantz shared insight from his elite, liberal, urban viewpoint, I cringed because this is the kind of thing that makes the whole project easy to dismiss.

However, there’s just too much good stuff in here to allow the project to be ignored. While the purpose was to explain the rise of far-right radicalism, this book did much more than that for me. It put into place a lot of things I was seeing online.

Anti-social media icons.

Outrage Is the Currency.

What started as a platform for sharing party photos is now a perpetual emotional antagonizer. Poking and prodding your amygdala, social media wants to turn the dials up on anger and disgust as this leads to longer engagement with the platform. This reshuffling of values has led to some major consequences.

From the standpoint of sheer entrepreneurial competition, what matters is not whether a piece of online content is true or false, responsible or reckless, prosocial or antisocial. All that matters is how many activating emotions it can provoke.

Andrew Marantz, Anti-Social

How do they test to see if something is “outrageous” enough? A simple experiment: A/B testing.

People writing these headlines have the dastardly difficult job of being able to probe the consciousness of millions. To be more successful, content creators distribute multiple different headlines and test them simultaneously. From early engagement numbers, they can then switch the headline to the most successful variant. Thus, they can perfect what’s known as “clickbait” headline writing and get us sucked into their platforms.

Twitter Isn’t Real Life.

Since we no longer have mainstream gatekeepers, what becomes the central conversations in America are what people A/B test successfully. Online “journalists” have mastered this the best. It becomes clearer what this means when Mike Cernovich tests #hashtags to try and boost his conspiratorial coverage.

“#Hillarysmigrants seems to be a popular one,” Cernovich said. It was settled. He clarified the spelling: one word no apostrophe…He searched the hashtag ever few seconds, yielding about a dozen new tweets each time. “It’s hard to tell yet whether this is a killer hashtag or just an OK one”….”Doesn’t look like they are going to let this one trend, for whatever reason.”

Andrew Marantz, Anti-Social

Essentially, Cernovich discusses possible hashtags with a close group of influencers, A/B tests them to find the best one, and then floods the platform with it. Some of them fizzle out (like #hillarysmigrants), but other ones become quite successful and enter the national conversation (like #hillaryshacker).

None of this matters.

What makes this even more bizarre is the high profile of journalists on a platform like twitter. As Marantz explains:

Twitter seemed like a godsend. Finally: a gold standard of Thing-ness. No longer would journalists have to rely on their personal judgement. Instead, Twitter’s algorithm could tell them objectively, drawing on a sample size of millions, what was a trend and what was not.

Andrew Marantz, Anti-Social

The problem with this, which Marantz reflects on in the next paragraph, is that Twitter is NOT an objective accounting of reality but rather a snapshot of engagement which really means emotional manipulation. Trends online are only reflections of successful outrage machinery and not really the true interests of its users.

The end result of this is that the fake, online world begins to influence the real world institutions we count on. #hillaryshacker became popular enough that fringe websites covered it (wikileaks, The Red State), then it was Fox News, and then New York Magainze and Vice.

And the impetus for the silly hashtag? A random post on Reddit by an anonymous user stating they helped Clinton delete her emails.

Remember: it’s about the outrage, not the truth.

Who Are These People?

A thesis nestled within is that you have the Alt-Right, openly racists and openly wanting an ethnostate, followed by an adjacent group of people called the Alt-Light. Members in the Alt-Light believe the same extremist views but instead use what’s called a dog whistle to get their point across. Instead of shouting from the roof top “White is Right,” these are the people who always say “Barack HUSSEIN Obama,” and then get defensive when you ask about the emphasis on the middle name.

Originally, I thought the “dog whistle” claim was too broad of a stroke. Was this another instance of progressive left pushing for cancel culture and silencing speech? No, not always. I need to admit that in my defense of free speech, I have at times been hoodwinked by unfaithful interlocutors. It is absolutely terrifying the small separation between alt-right and accepted right wing influencers.

Take for instance the bizarre rise of Jordan Petereson. A self-help psychologist with a conservative bend, he rose to fame due to his vociferous disgust about a Canadian speech law about trans rights.

“I’m not using the words that other people require me to use. Especially if they’re made up by radical left-wing ideologues.”

Jordan Peterson

This anti-PC, anti-progressive platform does well on social media. He became almost an overnight sensation. This led to a popular podcast and book (12 Rules for Life) which culminated in a one-year trek over the global speaking to packed auditoriums.

Alt-right, Alt-light, conservative, and right of center get blurred in this online atmosphere.

Given the difficult year I experienced, I listened to much of Peterson’s material and found it uplifting. His self-help stuff is innocuous and the way he frames certain topics cuts right to the bone of the problem. When he did his ranting and raving over “the neo-marxist post-modern academics,” I would mostly tune out.

I had just finished reading this book and all the names of these people were readily on my consciousness when I saw that Peterson’s daughter released a podcast with Lauren Southern. Wait, What? The same Lauren Southern who believes in a white ethnostate?

#AltRightMeans I don’t have to be ashamed of my heritage.

Lauren Southern, Twitter

Then with a little digging, I saw that Peterson supported her little grift of going to a clinic and convincing a physician to write a prescription that she was a man. She was very supportive of Peterson’s fight against the “radical left” so there is a little back and forth appreciation. Then, I saw Southern was on Dave Rubin, another one of these people that toes the line between conservatism and extremism.

“Even the Richard Spencers of the world. They are misrepresented. Richard Spencer is not a white supremacist, he is a white nationalist.

Lauren Southern, Dave Rubin Report

What does Rubin do as she tries to make out Richard Spencer to be just misunderstood? He lobs soft-ball questions about the excesses of the left and how White Supremacy is a non-issue as he allows someone right in front of him to further white ethno-state propaganda. It’s unreal!

This makes it all very difficulty to figure out what is happening online. As someone with a diverse media diet, I tend to look at a lot of different sources. This in principle sounds good (open minded! engaging with all sides!). However, if what I’m engaging with is junk (like #hillaryshacker), then I’m not doing my self a service.


A person on the left should be able to talk about the extremism on the right without being accused of political hackery. What Marantz uncovers here is important for us to know and understand.

My Rating: star-1star-1star-1star-1

Other People’s Takes:

  • AIWA! NO!: “By telling the story of the people who hijacked the American conversation, Antisocial will help you understand the world they have created, in which we all now live.”
  • P. Colman: “Marantz brings a good deal of wry humour to his story but in the end the book is a depressing picture of rancid extremism becoming normal, of distortion of the truth becoming acceptable and unsurprising, of a vicious buffoon with no moral centre ruling the globe’s most powerful nation with the assistance of those amoral right-wingers.
  • It’s Lit: “Andrew Marantz really gave me a lot of conflicting feelings. Who is right? How can we adequately starve the trolls? Does the end justify the memes (haha, a pun you will get later)?

Book Review: Battle Cry of Freedom – The Civil War Era, James McPherson (1988)

Cuts “Lost Cause” Apologists Off At Their Knees. 

Just Read What These People Actually Wrote!

Living in the south, the Civil War is such a ubiquitous feature that you forget it’s there. Drive in any direction and there will be plenty of vestigials harkening back to the past. Sometimes it’s subtle, like the name of a street or high school, and sometimes it’s bolder, like a 60 feet memorial statue commemorating Robert E. Lee.

These remnants dotting the landscape beg the question of why leaders of a lost rebellion are being lionized. The answer is another omnipresent feature of Southern living: a reinterpretation and reframing of Southern history and culture. What you are seeing as you drive down a Jefferson Davis Highway past a Lee-Davis High is a physical manifestation of a mental mindset.

Photo Credit: A now toppled statue commemorating Jefferson Davis in Richmond, VA.

This mindset takes a constellation of themes and memes to rewrite what the Civil War was “really” about and attenuate the emphasis on slavery. This way of thinking is called “The Lost Cause.” In its heyday, it was a movement explicitly designed to recreate the power structure of the old South by intimidating newly freed slaves while giving white society a new rallying point after such a devastating war.

While originally a stout dose of frank racism, “The Lost Cause”  has morphed into a more pernicious form present day. No one is outright supporting slavery or race superiority, but they are saying:

  • That the civil war was about states’ rights.
  • That slavery would have ended itself without war due to economic unviability.
  • That Northerners were also racist but the South gets all the focus.

I was raised in such an environment. Given the current climate (discussion on systemic racism, George Floyd Protests, removal of confederate symbols), I wanted to really understand our history, my history, so I could position these things more rationally.

Photo Credit: StyleWeekly.  On Monument Avenue in Richmond, VA, kids play basketball in front of the defaced Lee statue.


Everyone is a fan of Battle Cry of Freedom. I found out about the book because disparate people of different viewpoints could all agree on one thing: McPherson’s a helluva good historian. Even Ta-Nehisi Coates is a fervent supporter, and he can be quite…caustic.

After reading, I have to agree. This books is phenomenal.

It is able to take on all the tough questions while answering them gracefully and tactfully.  No judgements here: just quotes and context to better understand how we got here today.

Just like you expect from a generalist book, it covers all topics from the quotidian life of mid 1800s to important battles. What really drew me in was the culture around the institution of slavery. It’s wilder and more indefensible than you could imagine.

Expansion, Not Just Preservation, of Slavery. 

Take for instance this lost nugget: Knights of the Golden Circle.

Elites didn’t just want to defend the institution of slavery, they wanted to expand it into Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean to create a “golden circle” completed by the Southern States.

Photo Credit: Proposed countries in the “Golden Circle.”

While seemingly just a phantasmagorical desire, it was actually quasi-attempted: the South supported multiple campaigns using citizens as mercenaries to overthrow the Nicaraguan government, one of which was SUCCESSFUL. William Walker, a Tennessee man, became president of Nicaragua for a year before being captured by the Honduran government and executed.

There seems to be a little bit more than just “States’ Rights” at play here. 

We’d Rather Lose.

Nothing is more telling about the true purpose of the War than when the South started to lose. Scrambling for soldiers at the end of the war, Robert E. Lee proposed a bold idea: arming slaves and granting them freedom for service. Even while on the verge of collapse, the South clung to the institution:

The idea of freeing slaves who performed faithfully was based on the false assumption “that the condition of freedom is so much better for the slave than servitude, that it may be bestowed upon him as a reward.” This was a repudiation of “the opinion held by the whole South…that servitude is a divinely appointed condition for the highest good of the salve.”

The South painted itself into an epistemological corner. Their society was constructed on this one, ossified institution, and there was no wiggle room to even try and save the society itself:

“Victory itself would be robbed of its glory if shared with the slaves,” said a Mississippi congressmen.


“If Slaves will make good soldiers, our whole theory of slavery is wrong.”

This moment is so important for disproving “The Lost Cause” narrative. It shows how deeply ingrained the institution was in their culture and purpose for fighting the war:

Senator Louis Wigfall of Texas “wanted to live in no country in which the man who blacked his boots and curried his horse was his equal.”

These people openly admitted that they would rather lose the war than lose their way of life. That’s how important the institution of slavery was to them:

“If such a terrible calamity were to befall us, we infinitely prefer that Lincoln shall be the instrument of disaster and degradation, than that we ourselves should strike the cowardly and suicidal blow.” – Lynchburg Republican Newspaper.


No quote can better put to rest the “The Lost Cause” narrative than this one. In regards to the question of black soldiers earning freedom in the south, this North Carolina newspaper reported:

“It is abolition doctrine…the very doctrine the war was commenced to put down,”

It’s out in the open for all to see. All you have to do is read it, and I can’t think of a better book to understand it than this.

Rating: starstarstarstarstar

Other People’s Takes: 

  • Books and Boots: It takes some time to explain why such a large, rich, bustling, vibrant nation managed to tear itself to pieces and descend, in many places, into violent anarchy. Battle Cry of Freedom is a very long book because it needs to be – but it never ceases to be completely absorbing and continually illuminating.”
  • What I’m Reading Now: “The two decades since this Pulitzer Prize-winning history were written have only confirmed McPherson’s sagacity. The book blends a thorough understanding of the economic and political underpinnings of the war with insightful descriptions of military campaigns.”
  • Faith and History: “Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the book combined gripping prose with scholarly insight, a sense of wonder, and responsible moral engagement.  It’s a tour de force.