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Ecstatic Nation: Confidence, Crisis, and Compromise, 1848-1877by Brenda Wineapple
Synopses & Reviews
For America, the mid-nineteenth century was an era of vast expectation and expansion: the country dreamed big, craved new lands, developed new technologies, and after too long a delay, finally confronted its greatest moral failure: slavery. Award-winning historian and literary critic Brenda Wineapple explores these feverish, ecstatic, conflicted years when Americans began to live within new and ever-widening borders, both spiritual and geographic; fought a devastating war over parallel ideals of freedom and justice; and transformed their country, at tragic cost, from a confederation into one nation, indivisible.
Populated by idiosyncratic, unforgettable characters such as P. T. Barnum, Walt Whitman, George Armstrong Custer, Horace Greeley, and Jefferson Davis, Ecstatic Nation moves from the vehement debates about slavery through the devastations of the Civil War and its aftermath. It explores the terrible complexities of Reconstruction and the fledgling hope that women would share equally in a new definition of American citizenship, and it traces the lust for land and the lure of its beauty from a frenzied rush to riches to the displacement of Indians. And it looks forward — toward the promise of a more perfect Union for all.
A masterful synthesis of political, cultural, and intellectual history, breathtaking in sweep and scope, Ecstatic Nation is a spellbinding tale of America — its glory and greed, its aspirations and humiliations — in this exhilarating and momentous period.
"This lavish record of the eventful decades surrounding the Civil War explores a divided nation through the personalities of its growing and ideologically diversifying populace. Lincoln emerges as the iconic celebrity of the era's central conflict, but the real stars are the supporting characters. Politicians, poets, slaves, slave holders, transcendentalists, Mormons, women's suffragists, and Native American chiefs are just some of the colorful characters who run the gamut from 'prolific and daring and conventional' to 'spare and iron-willed' and 'excessive and homegrown.' Acclaimed biographer Wineapple (White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award) gracefully choreographs a staggering number of primary sources, weaving disparate voices together into one revelatory thread. In her depiction of the bloodshed of the Civil War, she eschews 'statistics defy comprehension,' focusing instead on specific scenes and personal stories that capture the magnitude of a pivotal moment before fleshing them out with analyses of contemporaneous reactions. The result reads like a series of biographies-in-miniature, a marvelous survey of both familiar and unsung American stories, contextualized and framed within one sweeping canvas. This is sure to enrich any reader's understanding of the complicated history of Civil War — era America. Agent: Lynn Nesbit, Janklow & Nesbit." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
“This is a marvelous book. With narrative grace and surehanded scholarship, Brenda Wineapple has written a compelling account of an epochal (and too little understood) age. From the death of John Quincy Adams through the Civil War to the tragedy of Reconstruction, Wineapple tells the American story brilliantly.” Jon Meacham, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of American Lion
“Brenda Wineapple portrays the years of sectional conflict, Civil War, and Reconstruction on a broad canvas that has room for Emily Dickinson and Ulysses S. Grant, Jefferson Davis and Walt Whitman. Blending cultural and political history, Ecstatic Nation offers new perspectives on this transformative era.” James McPherson, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Battle Cry of Freedom
“Ecstatic Nation is a brilliant portrait of American society in the mid-nineteenth century....Wineapple's deep research, deft character studies, and rich and nuanced storytelling bring this transformative period alive. A must-read for all lovers of American history.” Annette Gordon-Reed, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Hemingses of Monticello
“There are good storytellers and there are good historians. Brenda Wineapple is both. Beautifully written and grounded in a prodigious mastery of the material, there is no other book like it. Seasoned scholars will be impressed. Interested readers will be riveted.” James Oakes, author of Freedom National
“A wonderful, unconventional narrative history, laced with finely-grained sketches of fascinating, conflicted people and harrowing events. Wineapple delivers for even the most avid readers about this era a series of surprises. This is the art of history informed by learning and written with style.” David Blight, author of American Oracle
“A remarkable, mesmerizing book....For many of us, the years before and after the Civil War have seemed hollow and empty, presided over by dreary, cowardly men. No longer, thanks to this books impeccable scholarship, vivid characterizations, and masterful storytelling.” Robert K. Massie, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Catherine the Great
“A splendidly lyrical portrait of the decades that encompass both the Civil War and Reconstruction....Beautifully written, artfully constructed, and passionately argued on every page, Ecstatic Nation stands forth as a model of narrative history.” Ron Chernow, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Washington: A Life
“A masterful, sweeping synthesis of a transformative time....In Ecstatic Nation, Wineapple offers a beautifully written and skillfully woven narrative that anyone interested in American history should enjoy.” BookPage
“A rich, beautifully told chronicle of American politics and society between 1848 and 1877.” Judith Thurman, Newyorker.com
“Wineapple's history creatively quavers with the tensions of the transformative times.” Booklist
“A splendid new history of the Civil War period....Wineapple brings alive the vibrant, imperfect people behind the issues....A masterly, deeply moving record of a crucial period in American history.” David S. Reynolds, The New York Times Book Review
“Ecstatic Nation powerfully portrays life in the decades surrounding the Civil War, connecting history with modern-day debate....A fresh and riveting account of America at war with itself....Wide in scope and deep in detail.” The Los Angeles Times
“Wineapple takes up the narrative of 50 years of turbulent American history....A compelling narrative that will enlighten readers new to the material and thoroughly entertain those familiar with it. History on the grand scale, orchestrated by a virtuoso.” Kirkus (starred review)
“Ecstatic Nation is historical writing of the highest order....With vivid portrayals of the principals of the period, Wineapple sets out the conflicts and causes that shaped the nation....An indispensable guide to the forces that created our own time.” The Boston Globe
“Wineapple is a beautiful writer, at once lyrical and measured....In providing a sense of the possibilities and tragedies or the era, of its passions and disappointments, Wineapple has given us a memorable book.” The Christian Science Monitor
Dazzling in scope, Ecstatic Nation illuminates one of the most dramatic and momentous chapters in America's past, when the country dreamed big, craved new lands and new freedom, and was bitterly divided over its great moral wrong: slavery.
With a canvas of extraordinary characters, such as P. T. Barnum, Walt Whitman, Frederick Douglass, and L. C. Q. Lamar, Ecstatic Nation brilliantly balances cultural and political history: It's a riveting account of the sectional conflict that preceded the Civil War, and it astutely chronicles the complex aftermath of that war and Reconstruction, including the promise that women would share in a new definition of American citizenship. It takes us from photographic surveys of the Sierra Nevadas to the discovery of gold in the South Dakota hills, and it signals the painful, thrilling birth of modern America.
An epic tale by award-winning author Brenda Wineapple, Ecstatic Nation lyrically and with true originality captures the optimism, the failures, and the tragic exuberance of a renewed Republic.
About the Author
Brenda Wineapple is the prizewinning author of several books, including White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and a New York Times Notable Book. She teaches in the MFA programs at the New School University and Columbia University, and she is the Doris Zemurray Stone Professor of Modern Literary and Historical Studies at Union College. She lives in New York City.
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