Sunday, February 26, 2012

Just Finished Reading

When I saw that Tony Horwitz, author of Confederates in the Attic, had written a book on John Brown and the Harpers Ferry Raid, I knew I had to get a copy. I suppose I was looking for a book in the style of Confederates in the Attic, but this book is much more traditional history rather than his previous observatory-type history.

Midnight Rising is a basic retelling (in short version-290 pages) of earlier John Brown and Harpers Ferry books such as Stephen B. Oates, To Purge this Land with Blood and Robert McGlone's, John Brown's War Against Slavery. In my reading, I did not see much new insight provided in this book other than a closer look at some of the individual raiders.

I have often wondered why someone has not written a book that focused solely on the men that joined Brown in his raid. A book has been written on the men that helped fund Brown's raid (Edward J. Renehan's, The Secret Six) so it would seem that the men, many of which lived extraordinary lives, although most of them were young men, deserve a detailed telling too. I think it would make a great read.

The part of Midnight Rising that I enjoyed the most was the epilogue, "Immortal Raiders." In this chapter Horwitz argues convincingly that Brown's raid was the indeed the spark that set off the keg of powder that was the Civil War, and thus the end of slavery in America. Frederick Douglass probably said it best when giving a speech at Harpers Ferry's Storer College on the school's fourteenth anniversary, "If John Brown did not end the war that ended slavery, he did at least begin the war that ended slavery."

One last gripe is the footnote/endnote style that Horwitz employed. Rather than the traditional number format, he used a quotation mark style that I found difficult to follow and find in the endnotes.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I give Midnight Rising a 3.5

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