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Bound for Canaan: The Epic Story of the Underground Railroad, America's First Civil Rights Movementby Fergus M. Bordewich
Synopses & Reviews
With a historian's grasp of events and a novelist's ear for story, Fergus M. Bordewich has written a grand epic of American history — focusing on the sixty years leading up to the Civil War, which brought to a climax the country's bitter division. But its beginnings can be traced to a clandestine alliance of both black and white abolitionists and slaves, who joined forces to lead tens of thousands of enslaved Americans to freedom in a movement that occupies a legendary place in the nation's imagination, but about which little has been known until now.
"Though the Underground Railroad is one of the touchstones of American collective memory, there's been no comprehensive, accessible history of the secret movement that delivered more than 100,000 runaway slaves to freedom in the Northern states and Canada. Journalist Bordewich (Killing the White Man's Indian) fills this gap with a clear, utterly compelling survey of the Railroad from its earliest days in Revolution-era America through the Civil War and the extension of the vote to African Americans in 1870. Using an impressive array of archival and contemporary sources (letters, autobiographies, tax records and slave narratives, as well as new scholarship), Bordewich reveals the Railroad to be much more complicated — and much more remarkable — than is usually understood. As a progressive movement that integrated people across races and was underwritten by secular political theories but carried out by fervently religious citizens in the midst of a national spiritual awakening, the clandestine network was among the most fascinatingly diverse groups ever to unite behind a common American cause. What makes Bordewich's work transcend the confines of detached social history is his emphasis on the real lives and stories of the Railroad's participants. Religious extremists, left-wing radicals and virulent racists all emerge as fully realized characters, flawed but determined people doing what they believed was right, and every chapter has at least one moment — a detail, a vignette, a description — that will transport readers to the world Bordewich describes. The men and women of this remarkable account will remain with readers for a long time to come. Illus. not seen by PW." Publishers Weekly (Copyright © Reed Business Information)
"The...stories...inspire, horrify and humble." Washington Post
"Bordewich brings to his account [of the Underghround Railroad] the moral seriousness it deserves." New York Review of Books
"Excellent....The first truly comprehensive treatment of the underground railroad." Civil War History Magazine
"An important addition to our often murky conception of mid-19th century America." San Francisco Chronicle
"All in all, it's a part of American history that everyone should know — and great reading, too." Providence Journal
"Bound for Canaan offers several myth-busting lessons, including the unsurprising fact that few of the movement's white leaders subscribed to 21st-century notions of racial equality." Wall Street Journal
"This engrossing account of the Underground Railroad describes how scattered 'experimental, impulsive' acts (for instance, defending a fugitive from a patrol) became an organized operation..." The New Yorker
"[A] rich, spellbinding, and readable narrative for lay readers....Highly recommended..." Library Journal
"A vivid reconstruction of abolitionism's most daring act of rebellion....Rich in detail and solid storytelling: sure to awaken interest in the peculiar anti-institution." Kirkus Reviews
"...Bordewich brings to life the drama and extraordinary personalities involved in the Underground Railroad....Readers interested in learning about historical figures in the Underground Railroad other than Harriet Tubman will enjoy this work." Booklist
With a historian's grasp of events and a novelist's instinct for story, Bordewich focuses on the 60 years leading up to the Civil War. Its beginnings can be traced to a band of abolitionists who created what became known as the Underground Railroad.
Interweaving thrilling personal stories with the politics of slavery and abolition, this work shows how the Underground Railroad gave birth to America's first racially integrated, religiously inspired movement for social change.
An important book of epic scope on America's first racially integrated, religiously inspired movement for change
The civil war brought to a climax the country's bitter division. But the beginnings of slavery's denouement can be traced to a courageous band of ordinary Americans, black and white, slave and free, who joined forces to create what would come to be known as the Underground Railroad, a movement that occupies as romantic a place in the nation's imagination as the Lewis and Clark expedition. The true story of the Underground Railroad is much more morally complex and politically divisive than even the myths suggest. Against a backdrop of the country's westward expansion arose a fierce clash of values that was nothing less than a war for the country's soul. Not since the American Revolution had the country engaged in an act of such vast and profound civil disobedience that not only challenged prevailing mores but also subverted federal law.
Bound for Canaan tells the stories of men and women like David Ruggles, who invented the black underground in New York City; bold Quakers like Isaac Hopper and Levi Coffin, who risked their lives to build the Underground Railroad; and the inimitable Harriet Tubman. Interweaving thrilling personal stories with the politics of slavery and abolition, Bound for Canaan shows how the Underground Railroad gave birth to this country's first racially integrated, religiously inspired movement for social change.
About the Author
Fergus M. Bordewich has written for the New York Times, Smithsonian, American Heritage, Atlantic Monthly, and Reader's Digest, and is the author of Killing the White Man's Indian and My Mother's Ghost.
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