EL Doctorow's 'The March' covers one of the most controversial periods in US history - the destruction of towns and cities in the south by General William Tecumseh Sherman and his 60,000 strong Union Army as they marched through Georgia and the Carolinas during the American Civil War. The operation was of vital importance and was intended to bring the war to an end. The merits of Sherman's tactics continue to be debated to this day.

Since this event took place, 150 years ago, the story has been written about hundreds of times. There is nothing new in 'The March' and it is no patch on previous titles like John Jakes' excellent 'North and South' trilogy. Even 'Gone with the Wind' was more informative and interesting.

Doctorow jumps right into the action, presuming that the reader has sufficient knowledge of the conflict to find their depth. Those that haven't brushed up on their American history before reading this book may feel at a loss. Characters are introduced with a limited amount of background information and it is hard to identify with them. They disappear abruptly, only to re-appear two or three chapters on.

However, Doctorow does give excellent descriptions of his characters' involvement in the conflict and is inventive with the language used by freed slaves. The reader is afforded the opportunity of building their background for themselves. A positive factor is that the ongoing conflict is shown through very diverse eyes.

The structure of 'The March' is quite annoying and sometimes hard to read. Some chapters are very short while others ramble on and on.

Doctorow has written some fine books in the past -'Ragtime' and 'Billy Bathgate' are just two that spring to mind - but fans may be disappointed with this one. 'The March' could have been a lot better.

Mark O'Neill-Cummins