The cover declares this book is "the definitive alternate history saga of its time." I have to agree. Harry Turtledove does his expected excellent job of telling a story that could be from a parallel universe. It's history, but not the way you remembered it.
At the beginning of the book, Turtledove sets the tone. It's near the end of the Civil War, but things have not gone well for Lincoln's USA. In fact, they have lost the war. The middle part of the North American continent is split into two nations, USA and CSA. The story line jumps to 1914 and the outbreak of The Great War. But the alliances aren't what you would expect. The Confederate States are joined by England and France. Which means that the USA allies with Germany.
The American Front details the battles between the USA and Canada and between the USA and CSA. President Roosevelt (Teddy) is guiding the USA, while President Woodrow Wilson guides the CSA. Slavery has ended long ago, but blacks are treated poorly in both nations. Armies discover machine guns, tanks, and chlorine gas. Trench warfare breaks out in Virginia, Kentucky and Utah.
Not only are there strange international alliances, there are a couple of intra-national alliances (or at least intra-continental). The Mormons of Utah originally were part of the USA, but they rebelled and tried to secede. Some Indian nations also sided with the CSA and fought against the USA.
Turtledove moves from the USA front lines to the Canadian, then to the CSA, then back again. You look at the war from the view of the soldiers, the workers in the steel mill, plantation owner and plantation workers. Socialism is about to break out and you see the war from a socialist's view.
A good bit of the book deals with the way blacks are treated. There's a lot of foreshadowing to indicate that the next book will focus on this issue as well. It's clear from this and other Turtledove books he believes that part of the reason for the Civil War was States' rights. But he also acknowledges the fact that slavery played a major part and shows that the problems didn't end in 1865.
I was very impressed with the book and have just ordered (thanks to my wife) the sequel and the third book in the series. Race relations have been on my mind a lot recently and all the political talk about socialism from the right wing feeds right into the story line. The book isn't negative on any of this, the reader is left to determine the impact.
Some of the language used in the book will probably offend a great many people. Words that were commonly (but rudely) used in the 1915 time period are used throughout the book. Being set in the middle of a war, there is a lot of profanity as you might expect. And there are some scenes described that would probably warrant keeping kids away (both for sex and violence).
My favorite quote from the book is a real quote from Vegetius of the Roman Empire "Let him who desires peace prepare for war."
I highly recommend the book.