To avoid confusion this is NOT the North and South as written by Elisabeth Gaskell which dealt with England but rather the first volume in John Jakes' epic trilogy about the Civil War. I first heard about this book through the miniseries and afterwards on a whim I got it and eventually due to boredom I ended up reading it.
Just coming out of a rather rigorous class of US history this book added a great dramatic backdrop to my historical knowledge of the time. There's a wide cast of characters and mostly they are either a Hazard or a Main. The Mains are an old southern aristocratic family whose wealth is based on a large plantation run on slave labor. The Hazards have this giant fortune from their Iron factories and in lieu of slave labor they use the alternative labor force of desperate immigrant workers.
Somehow or another a son from each family meets en route to West Point military academy and become fast friends. If one watched the miniseries they might be a bit confused since many physical traits and other things of characters have been altered but I can't go into much detail in that seeing as I've watched little of the miniseries.
The most interesting parts of the novel are focused on the character interactions, primarily between the Hazards and Mains. The regional differences sometimes prove to great for even the greatest friendships to bridge. It plays very much like a soap opera and everything seems endlessly dramatized and sexual. Oh and everyone is horny like all the time. Especially Ashton. She can do seven in an hour and a half. Sexual urges play an important role in this book but thankfully "tru luf" can cure nearly all. Nearly anyway. Nearly everyone is destined for one true love though sometimes it never works out in a fairy tale manner. Oh and did I mention that the back drop for this novel is the antebellum period of American history?
For the not so heavily learned in US History the antebellum period refers to the time prior to the (American) Civil War. Unfortunately for the novel for all its lovely overly-sensualized dramatic characters it sometimes feels the need to become a history book. Not that history books are bad or anything but it just feels out of place and it's rather boring to tell the truth. Sometimes it'd sneak in through a seemingly innocent allusion to some political figure or through the constant bickering about North and South that frequently occurs or through an outright history lecture! Some little history may be given to add to a further understanding of the novel but once it sounds more like a textbook than a richly engaging drama it gets tiring. I admit that understanding the political climate is integral for fully understanding the all the turmoil going on but people can get the gist of things and still fully appreciate a good story when one is told.
Perhaps the greatest disappointment was that despite the title being North and South it didn't actually get into the Civil War, at best getting to Lincoln's election to the very and and South Carolina's subsequent succession. Even more disappointing was finding out there were two more novels to read to actually reach any satisfying conclusion about the characters. For me, it's simply not worth the time to read the other novels. It was simply too long and the history lesson was a bit much.