In narrative history style, Platt focuses on several of the major characters - a Confucian scholar-general who is the Qing Empire's last hope, British diplomats and mercenaries, American observers and missionaries, and the Shield-King, cousin to the Taiping ruler himself, who had visions of Christianity and modernizing China, at the point of a sword and God's blessing.
Although the Western nomenclature has this as a 'Rebellion', Platt characterizes this conflict as a Civil War - contemporary with the American one about to boil over. He posits that the two sides were so evenly matched that it was foreign intervention which tipped the balance to the Qing. They did so primarily for trade reasons, despite the fevered diplomacy of the Taiping, and the appeal to 'their fellow Christians'.
It is unknown what might have happened of the 'Younger Brother of Jesus Christ' took over China, and the Qing fell then instead of hanging on until 1911. If his plans of forced modernization had gone through some years earlier than planned, who knows what the course of Asian history would be instead. China is a colossus with feet of clay, and even now, her destiny is uncertain.
This is an excellent narrative history of a war which has the contradiction of being the second-bloodiest war in history (some 20 MILLION dead), and yet being almost wholly forgotten to Western audiences. The Chinese remember it, though. THeir history tells stories of the Yangtse overflowing and choked with the swollen corpses of the dead.