A New York Times
Notable Book for 2011
A Library Journal Top Ten Best Books of 2011
Synopses & Reviews
Plotted in secret, launched in the dark, John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry was a pivotal moment in U.S. history. But few Americans know the true story of the men and women who launched a desperate strike at the slaveholding South. Now, Midnight Rising
portrays Brown's uprising in vivid color, revealing a country on the brink of explosive conflict.
Brown, the descendant of New England Puritans, saw slavery as a sin against America's founding principles. Unlike most abolitionists, he was willing to take up arms, and in 1859 he prepared for battle at a hideout in Maryland, joined by his teenage daughter, three of his sons, and a guerrilla band that included former slaves and a dashing spy. On October 17, the raiders seized Harper's Ferry, stunning the nation and prompting a counterattack led by Robert E. Lee. After Brown's capture, his defiant eloquence galvanized the North and appalled the South, which considered Brown a terrorist. The raid also helped elect Abraham Lincoln, who later began to fulfill Brown's dream with the Emancipation Proclamation, a measure he called "a John Brown raid, on a gigantic scale."
Tony Horwitz's riveting book travels antebellum America to deliver both a taut historical drama and a telling portrait of a nation divided — a time that still resonates in ours.
"In this engrossing history of John Brown's 1859 slave-liberation raid on the Harper's Ferry, Va., arsenal, bestselling author Horwitz (Confederates in the Attic) concentrates on action set against deftly sketched historical background and compelling characters rendered without overdone psychologizing. His vivid biographical portrait of Brown gives us an American original: a failed businessman and harsh Calvinist with a soft spot for the oppressed and a murderous animus against oppressors (even if sometimes, as at Pottawatomie Creek in Kansas, his victims were unarmed). Brown's raiders a motley crew of his sons and various idealists, adventurers, freedmen, and fugitive slaves come alive as a romantic, appealing bunch; their agonizing deaths give Horwitz's excellent narrative of the raid and shootout a deep pathos. The author's shrewd interpretation of Brown (similar to that of other scholars) makes him America's great propagandist of his deed; after the raid ended in fiasco, he used his eloquent trial statements to transform himself in the public eye from madman and desperado to martyr and prophet and a symbol who hardened both Northern and Southern militancy. But Horwitz smartly gives priority to the deeds themselves in this dramatic saga of an American white man who acted, rather than just talked, as if ending slavery mattered. 35 illus.; 2 maps." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"A hard-driving narrative of one of Americas most troubling figures... Horwitz describes the disaster in riveting terms... It's impossible to read this fine book without thinking about modern-day Browns." Kevin Boyle, The New York Times Book Review
"Horwitz's skills are a good match for this enormously compelling character, and his well-paced narrative incorporates masterful sketches of Browns family, foot soldiers, financial backers, admirers and prosecutors... The result is both page-turning and heartbreaking — a book to engage mind and soul." The Boston Globe
"Horwitz, an exceptionally skilled and accomplished journalist, here turns his hand to pure history with admirable results. Midnight Rising is smoothly written, thoroughly researched, places Brown within the context of his time and place, and treats him sensitively but scarcely adoringly." The Washington Post
"Midnight Rising is a richly detailed and engaging history... Horwitz's moment-by-moment account of the doomed raid unfolds with such immediacy that he reintroduces suspense to a story we all know from textbooks." The San Francisco Chronicle
"What do you call John Brown? Is he a terrorist or a freedom fighter? ... Tony Horwitz settles upon the word insurgent — and the label seems just right, as does Horwitz's book as a whole... Midnight Rising rolls through a series of indelible scenes... The book becomes a graceful narrative, ever engaging, with the reader allowed to connect Brown and his contemporaries to conflicts that continue to our day." Seattle Times
"Horwitz's potent prose delivers the facts of this bellwether incident in riveting fashion... It is an absorbing portrait of the often frustrated but passionately driven firebrand who successfully convinced a country of the shame of slavery and, to the Souths great regret, earned martyr status in the aftermath of his execution. Brown qualifies as Americas first important post-revolution terrorist... Horwitz brings events to life with almost cinematic clarity, and for American history and Civil War aficionados, Midnight Rising is required reading." Bookpage
"Horwitz's description of the little band of idealists and adventurers who signed on for Browns offensive — including five black men and two of Browns own sons — is both fascinating and touching. His careful recreation of the bloody events of October 16, 1859, the day of Browns disastrous raid on Harper's Ferry, is both suspenseful and heartwrenching." Christian Science Monitor
"In Midnight Rising, [Horwitz] not only gives us an action-packed adventure story, but also provides detailed historical background and vivid character portraits of the principals involved... Assiduously researched using archival sources, Horwitz's riveting tale is on sound factual footing. And he does a wonderful job of bringing to life the fascinating, messianic leader who, on the way to the gallows, would incite a nation toward civil war." St. Petersburg Times
"A groundbreaking study of the Harper's Ferry raid that makes a number of fascinating points: Brown was not a madman or a fanatic, he knew his death would serve as a moral lightning rod, and the fallout from his actions has echoed for generations." Oregonian
Bestselling author Tony Horwitz tells the electrifying tale of the daring insurrection that put America on the path to bloody war.
A New York Times Notable Book for 2011
A Library Journal Top Ten Best Books of 2011
A Boston Globe Best Nonfiction Book of 2011Late on the night of October 16, 1859, John Brown launched a surprise raid on the slaveholding South. Leading a biracial band of militant idealists, he seized the massive armory at Harpers Ferry, freed and armed slaves, and vowed to liberate every bondsman in America.Browns daring strike sparked a savage street fight and a counterattack by U.S. Marines under Robert E. Lee. The bloodshed and court drama that followed also shocked a divided nation and propelled it toward civil war. Tony Horwitz's Midnight Rising brings Brown and his uprising vividly to life and charts Americas descent into explosive conflict. The result is a taut and indispensable history of a man and a time that still resonate in our own.
One of the most acclaimed travel writers of our time turns his unflinching eye on an American South too often overlooked.
About the Author
Tony Horwitz is the bestselling author of Midnight Rising, A Voyage Long and Strange, Blue Latitudes, Confederates in the Attic, and Baghdad Without a Map. He is also a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who has worked for The Wall Street Journal and The New Yorker. He lives in Martha's Vineyard with his wife, Geraldine Brooks, and their two sons.