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John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rightsby David S. Reynolds
"Writers hostile to Brown describe him as not merely fanatical but insane, the craziest of all the crazy abolitionists whose agitation drove the country mad and caused the catastrophic, fratricidal, and unnecessary war. Brown's admirers describe his hatred of slavery as a singular sign of sanity in a nation awash in the mental pathologies of racism and bondage....The strongest portions of Reynolds's stimulating and argumentative book trace the evolution of this second, pro-Brown line of thought." Sean Wilentz, The New Republic (read the entire New Republic review)
Synopses & Reviews
This brilliant biography by the prizewinning cultural historian David S. Reynolds brings to life the controversial antislavery martyr who used terrorist tactics against slavery and single-handedly changed the course of American history.
Was John Brown (1800-1859) an insane fanatic and despicable murderer, or a Christ-like hero who sacrificed himself for the cause of freedom? Reynolds addresses this perennial question by uncovering fresh historical contexts for this Puritan warrior who gripped slavery by the throat and, as a profoundly polarizing figure, triggered the Civil War.
Reynolds shows us how Brown's most violent acts — his massacre of unarmed citizens in Kansas, his liberation of slaves in Missouri, and his dramatic raid, in October 1859, on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia — were inspired by the slave revolts, guerilla warfare, and revolutionary Christianity of the day. Gauging the remarkable scope of Brown's achievement, Reynolds makes clear how this revolutionary American sparked the war that ended slavery and planted the seeds of the civil rights movement by demanding complete social and political equality for ethnic minorities.
A deeply researched and vividly written cultural biography — a revelation of John Brown and of his enduring influence on the shape of our nation.
"In the very first paragraphs of this biography, Bancroft Prize — winner Reynolds (Walt Whitman's America) steps back a bit from the grandiose claims of his subtitle. Nevertheless, his book as a whole paints a positive portrait of the Calvinist terrorist Brown (1800 — 1859) — contrary to virtually all recent scholarship (by Stephen B. Oates and Robert Boyer, among others), which tends to depict Brown as a bloodthirsty zealot and madman who briefly stepped into history but did little to influence it. Reynolds's approach harks back to the hero-worship apparent in earlier books by W.E.B. Du Bois and Brown's surviving associates. John Brown waged a campaign so bloody during the Kansas Civil War — in 1856 he chased men and elder sons from their beds in cabins along the Pottawatomie Creek, and then lopped off their heads with broadswords as sobbing wives and younger children looked on — that fellow Kansas antislavery settlers rebuked him. Even the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison condemned Brown and his methods. After taking the federal armory and arsenal at Harpers Ferry in October 1859, Brown intended (had he not been swatted like a fly within hours) to raise and arm a large force of blacks capable of wreaking a terrible vengeance across Virginia. Yet Reynolds insists that 'it is misleading to identify Brown with modern terrorists.' Really? 25 b&w illus." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"John Brown, Abolitionist presents the most complete portrait to date of one of the nation's most enigmatic figures — at once a messianic rebel, a terrorist, and a folk hero — and the war for black freedom he helped to catalyze." Eric J. Sundquist, author of To Wake the Nations: Race in the Making of American Literature
"A masterful exploration of a fascinating, flawed character and his cultural impact." Cameron McWhirter, Atlanta Journal-Constitution
"David S. Reynolds' awesomely thorough research uncovers the personal, social, and political events that formed the inner life of John Brown. At the same time, his ingeniously conceived 'cultural biography' shows how Americans North and South, black and white, perceived and continue to perceive Brown's murderous acts of emancipation." Kenneth Silverman, author of Lightning Man: The Accursed Life of Samuel F.B. Morse
"A brilliant study of the Puritan abolitionist, John Brown, whose rigid morality and calculated use of brutality defied the non-violent methods of conventional abolitionists. An American radical who recognized the tactical power of terror, Brown plotted his famous raids methodically, resolving to become the spark that triggered the the Civil War." Cynthia Griffin Wolff, author of Emily Dickinson
"Was John Brown a fanatic or a folk hero, a terrorist or an anti-slavery martyr? In John Brown, Abolitionist, David Reynolds delivers an authoritative and richly detailed account of one of the most controversial and fascinating figures of the Civil War." Jay Winik, author of April 1865: The Month That Saved America
"This is a new Old John Brown. With post-9/11 eyes, David Reynolds examines Brown's views on race and his relationships with black people, and explores the Transcendentalists' role in creating a national icon out of America's most famous home-grown terrorist." Jean Fagan Yellin, author of Harriet Jacobs: A Life
"A thoroughly researched, eloquently articulated study by America's foremost cultural biographer. The book relates Brown's militant abolitionism to contemporary cultural forces, to the Garrisonians, to Nat Turner and other slave revolts, to the legacy of New England Puritanism, and to prominent Transcendental abolitionists like Emerson and Thoreau. Reynolds defends John Brown's place in history without apologizing for his actions, and John Brown, Abolitionist is the most important work on John Brown ever written." Mason I. Lowance, Jr., author of A House Divided: The Antebellum Slavery Debates in America, 1776-1865
This brilliant biography by a prize-winning cultural historian brings to life the controversial antislavery martyr who used terrorist tactics against slavery and single-handedly changed the course of American history.This brilliant biography by a prize-winning cultural historian brings to life the controversial antislavery martyr who used terrorist tactics against slavery and single-handedly changed the course of American history.
Few historical figures are as intriguing as John Brown, the controversial Abolitionist who used terrorist tactics against slavery and single-handedly changed the course of American history. This brilliant biography of Brown (18001859) by the prize-winning critic and cultural biographer David S. Reynolds brings to life the Puritan warrior who gripped slavery by the throat and triggered the Civil War.
When does principled resistance become anarchic brutality? How can a murderer be viewed as a heroic freedom fighter? The case of John Brown opens windows on these timely issues. Was Brown an insane criminal or a Christ-like martyr? A forerunner of Osama bin Laden or of Martin Luther King, Jr.? David Reynolds sorts through the tangled evidence and makes some surprising findings.
Reynolds demonstrates that Browns most violent acts–his slaughter of unarmed citizens in Kansas, his liberation of slaves in Missouri, and his dramatic raid, in October 1859, on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia–were inspired by the slave revolts, guerilla warfare, and revolutionary Christianity of the day. He shows us how Brown seized the nations attention, creating sudden unity in the North, where the Transcendentalists led the way in sanctifying Brown, and infuriating the South, where proslavery fire-eaters exploited the Harpers Ferry raid to whip up a secessionist frenzy. In fascinating detail, Reynolds recounts how Brown permeated politics and popular culture during the Civil War and beyond. He reveals the true depth of Browns achievement: not only did Brown spark the war that ended slavery, but he planted the seeds of the civil rights movement by making a pioneering demand for complete social and political equality for Americas ethnic minorities.
A deeply researched and vividly written cultural biography–a revelation of John Brown and his meaning for America.
About the Author
David S. Reynolds is Distinguished Professor of English and American Studies at the Graduate Center and Baruch College of the City University of New York. He is the author of Walt Whitman's America, which won the Bancroft Prize, the Ambassador Book Award, and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and of Beneath the American Renaissance, which won Phi Beta Kappa's Christian Gauss Award. He lives on Long Island, New York.
Table of Contents
1. The Party
2. The Puritan
3. The Pioneer
4. The Patriarch
5. The Pauper
6. The Plan
8. Pariah and Legend
9. The Promoter
10. Plotting Multiculturally
14. Pilloried, Prosecuted, and Praised
15. The Passion
16. Positions and Politics
17. The Prophet
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