Synopses & Reviews
is likely the most influential novel ever written by an American. In a fitting tribute to the two hundredth anniversary of Harriet Beecher Stowe's birth, Bancroft Prize-winning historian David S. Reynolds reveals her book's impact not only on the abolitionist movement and the American Civil War but also on worldwide events, including the end of serfdom in Russia, down to its influence in the twentieth century. He explores how both Stowe's background as the daughter in a famously intellectual family of preachers and her religious visions were fundamental to the novel. And he demonstrates why the book was beloved by millions--and won over even some southerners--while fueling lasting conflicts over the meaning of America. Although vilified over the years as often as praised, it has remained a cultural landmark, proliferating in the form of plays, songs, films, and merchandise--a rich legacy that has both fed and contested American racial stereotypes.
"In 1868, a writer in the Nation coined the phrase 'the great American novel' to describe Harriet Beecher Stowe's 1851 Uncle Tom's Cabin. Distinguished historian Reynolds (Waking Giant: America in the Age of Jackson) does his best to support this debatable epithet, quoting endless contemporaries who asserted that Stowe's novel ignited the Civil War and emancipated the slaves, its impact extending well into the 20th century. Reynolds's most fascinating research illuminates Stowe's skillful use of popular culture from Stephen Foster's songs to the cult of domesticity and her Christian faith (exemplified by Tom and little Eva St. Clare) to make her radical antislavery stance palatable to Northerners indifferent to the brutality of slavery and the humanity of the black slaves. As Reynolds shows, Uncle Tom's Cabin itself became a cultural phenomenon, with commercial tie-ins (called Tomitudes), Southern ripostes, and myriad Uncle Tom plays and movies. He discusses these in more detail than any but cultural historians will need, digressing into Gone with the Wind and the depiction of blacks in early movies. Reynolds's narrow focus on Stowe and her novel also leads him to skim important events leading to the war, and relegate giants like Frederick Douglass to supporting roles. But Reynolds's discussion of the novel's mid-20th-century ill repute and the 'Uncle Tom' slur comes full circle with the novel's recent literary resurrection, to which he contributes with his exacting research. By highlighting the book's immense impact and literary value, and by showing Tom as not subservient but a strong, dignified man who sacrificed his life in defying his cruel master, Simon Legree, Reynolds shows Stowe's novel to be a passionate, powerful, acid-etched critique of slavery that remains an American classic. 15 illus. (June)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Starred Review: A provocative overview of the life and afterlife of one of American literature’s most important texts….A sharp work of cross-disciplinary criticism that gives new power to a diminished novel.You can always count on David Reynolds to surprise and delight, and in his latest work, he does not disappoint. This time, he sets his sights on the far-ranging and fascinating impact of Harriet Beecher Stowe's mammoth bestseller, Uncle Tom's Cabin. In Reynolds’s gifted hands, Mightier Than The Sword is nothing less than an intellectual feast. Bravo for yet another superb book. --Jay Winik, author of April 1865 and The Great Upheaval
A wonderful history of what may justly be considered America’s national epic. Reynolds deftly links the popular culture sources of Uncle Tom’s Cabin to its unprecedented popularity with a wide range of the American public, from Bowery Boys to the highest reaches of the American presidency. The many spin-offs of the novel—plays, songs, games and memorabilia—drove its anti-slavery message deeper into popular culture, where it softened hearts, changed minds, and held slavery up before a jury of the civilized world. Mightier than the Sword is a sweeping narrative of the life of a book that continues to engage race, nation, democracy and Christianity in a contentious drama. --Joan Hedrick, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Life
With his masterful biographies of John Brown and Walt Whitman, David Reynolds joined the ranks of the great historians of nineteenth-century America—but with Mightier than the Sword Reynolds has written his best book yet. Deeply researched and compulsively readable, Mightier the Sword is both the definitive account of the strange but true career of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and a sweeping two-hundred year history of race in America. Compact, clear, and packed with astonishing facts and provocative insights, this book will fascinate everyone from the general reader to the professional historian. --Debby Applegate, Pulitzer Prize winner for The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher
"Fascinating...a lively and perceptive cultural history." The New Yorker
"A subtle and splendid history of the novel's effect on American culture." Annette Gordon-Reed
A fascinating look at the cultural roots, political impact, and enduring legacy of Harriet Beecher Stowe's revolutionary bestseller.
About the Author
David S. Reynolds is Distinguished Professor of English and American Studies at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. His books include Walt Whitman's America: A Cultural Biography; John Brown, Abolitionist; Beneath the American Renaissance: The Subversive Imagination in the Age of Emerson and Melville; Mightier Than the Sword: "Uncle Tom's Cabin" and the Battle for America; Waking Giant: America in the Age of Jackson; Walt Whitman; George Lippard; and Faith in Fiction: The Emergence of Religious Literature in America. Reynolds is the editor or coeditor of seven books, including Whitman's Leaves of Grass: The 150th Anniversary Edition, A Historical Guide to Walt Whitman, Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin: The Splendid Edition, and George Lippard's The Quaker City; or, The Monks of Monk Hall. He is the winner of the Bancroft Prize, the Christian Gauss Award, the Ambassador Book Award, the Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Prize and has been a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. He is a regular contributor to the New York Times Book Review.