PositiveThe Wall Street Journal... moving ... Choosing five figures from the Civil War—of different backgrounds, temperaments and political views—gives Mr. Matteson the opportunity to range widely over varied perspectives, and his firm grasp of detail, visible as well in his fine biographies of the Alcott family and Margaret Fuller, makes each of his characters vivid and distinctive ... Interweaving the five stories requires Mr. Matteson to circle frequently back in time so that, for example, we can be reading about one individual in 1862 and then, in the next chapter, move back to the 1850s to catch up with another. This structure creates a somewhat meandering reading experience, but it also deepens the layered, palimpsest quality of Mr. Matteson account ... The book’s subtitle is perhaps overly ambitious ... Nonetheless Mr. Matteson is justified in emphasizing Fredericksburg, especially because some of those who were directly or indirectly involved in the battle had such an outsize role in the postwar years. The ill-considered strategy of Gen. Burnside at Fredericksburg produced a tragic bloodbath. A Worse Place Than Hell reminds us of the wider effects of war, beyond the carnage.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalLincoln’s combination of cautiousness and radicalism is aptly described by LeeAnna Keith ... In discussing these antislavery champions, Ms. Keith omits mentioning several key works by other historians who have covered similar territory, such as Stephen B. Oates. Still, her book seems fresh, because it covers militants who have never been juxtaposed before ... Americans, as...Ms. Keith remind[s] us, only by working in tandem finally succeeded in defeating slavery—the greatest moral victory the nation has yet achieved.
Fergus M. Bordewich
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalIn his splendid Congress at War, the seasoned historian Fergus Bordewich...skillfully describes the continuing congressional effort to abolish the institution ... The author also describes frequent tension between the president and the radical Republicans ... These and other Americans, as Mr. Bordewich...remind[s] us, only by working in tandem finally succeeded in defeating slavery—the greatest moral victory the nation has yet achieved.
RaveThe Wall Street Journal... gripping, often chilling ... Bell brings to life amoral con men, heartless slave dealers and suffering victims. He vividly re-creates the squalid social environments of interstate human trafficking. His superbly researched and engaging book exposes previously hidden horrors of American slavery.
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal\"The strength of Mr. Delbanco’s volume lies in its evocation of the human cost of the Constitution’s fugitive-slave provision, which was supplemented by the congressional bills of 1793 and 1850 ... Some fugitive-slave stories had successful conclusions. Mr. Delbanco relates many thrilling escape-and-rescue episodes ... In The War Before the War, Mr. Delbanco cites the aphorism, purportedly put forward by Mark Twain, that history does not repeat itself but often rhymes ... Mr. Delbanco includes frequent comparisons between 19th- and 21st-century America. Rampant suspicion and fear of ethnic others; the controversy over what we now call sanctuary cities, in which local authorities defy federal rules; and a seemingly unbridgeable cultural divide between political opponents: These and other phenomena were as agonizingly present then as they are now. For those interested in exploring the roots of today’s social problems and learning about early efforts to resolve them, [The War Before the War is] well worth reading.\
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal\"... a stimulating study that draws on letters, speeches and public debates to enlarge our sense of slavery’s political dimension in the founding period ... In sum, Mr. Wilentz argues persuasively, the convention created the \'terrible paradox\' of \'a Constitution that strengthened and protected slavery yet refused to validate it.\'\
Joanne B. Freeman
PositiveNew York Times Book Review\"In her absorbing, scrupulously researched book The Field of Blood, Joanne B. Freeman uncovers the brawls, stabbings, pummelings and duel threats that occurred among United States congressmen during the three decades just before the Civil War ... Like other good historical works, The Field of Blood casts fresh light on the period it examines while leading us to think about our own time. Although incidents like the Sumner caning and the Cilley duel are familiar, the contexts in which Freeman places them are not. Nor are the new details she supplies. She enriches what we already know and tells us a lot about what we don’t know.\
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal...despite his sweeping title, Mr. Fuller doesn’t discuss Darwin’s influence on the nation as a whole. Instead he provides a stimulating chronicle of a group of New England thinkers who responded to the Origin of Species in the years immediately following the book’s first appearance ... Did any American of that era get Darwin right? Mr. Fuller argues persuasively that Thoreau came closer than anyone else. Natural selection, randomness, eternal conflict between species—Thoreau accepted these ideas from the Origin of Species, passages of which he copied in his notebooks ... Mr. Fuller might have fulfilled the promise of his ambitious title had he followed Darwinism forward into the age of robber barons, Jim Crow, the Scopes trial and beyond. But he can be commended for illuminating Darwin’s early effect on America in ways that lead us to think about later repercussions, including today’s debates over creationism and science-denial.
PositiveKenyon Review\" Sinha does not neglect the white radicals. To the contrary, she expands the list of white activists to include a host of others, reaching back to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, such as Quakers, Mennonites, Puritans, and freethinkers. But her special contribution is to show that abolitionism was a \'radical, interracial movement\' ... Sinha discusses even the most marginal voices in the abolition movement, such as enslaved people who sued their masters for freedom in the pre-1800 era, when some states granted legal rights to blacks ... One of the notable aspects of Sinha’s book is its subtle discussion of colonization, the white-led program to rid America of blacks, and emigration, the movement among blacks to exit the United States ... The breadth of Sinha’s book allows her to make the better-known aspects of abolitionism seem fresh ... What makes Sinha’s treatment original is that she gives voice to neglected reformers—many of them people of color and a good number of them women—who simultaneously made contributions to abolitionism even as the major figures were making the headlines ... Sinha unearths little-known African American and white radicals...\
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalDeftly interweaving fictional and fact-based episodes, Mr. Harrigan sustains a brisk narrative filled with adventure, romance, sex and political high jinks.