PositiveThe Wall Street Journal... captivating ... Mr. Lowenstein makes what subsequently occurred at Treasury and on Wall Street during the early 1860s seem as enthralling as what transpired on the battlefield or at the White House ... Ultimately, Mr. Lowenstein centers the story so firmly on the Union’s Treasury department that it becomes perhaps too easy to overlook Lincoln’s masterful stewardship of the entire war effort. But the author is right that the beleaguered president fully delegated finances to his gifted but flawed Treasury secretary, Salmon P. Chase, who embraced both the challenge and the credit ... To great effect, Mr. Lowenstein makes the most of opportunities to view wartime milestones, political and military included, through an economic lens.
Joshua D. Rothman
RaveThe Wall Street Journal... gut-wrenching ... Other scholars have produced accounts of the domestic slave trade. Mr. Rothman writes about slave traders, and puts an indelible face on their inhumanity ... Mr. Rothman has done an astounding amount of research into period narratives testifying to the brutality endured by trafficking victims ... The author acknowledges that he often grieved over the material he uncovered, and The Ledger and the Chain can be equally painful to read.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalProdigiously researching legislative and court records, pamphlets, petitions, and the press, [Masur] has shaped a remarkable and shattering book, a worthy successor to Ira Berlin’s 1974 Slaves Without Masters. Ms. Masur’s monumental account focuses not only on government-sanctioned pre-Civil War racism, but on the efforts by black activists and their white allies to compel America to make good on the \'created equal\' pledge in the Declaration of Independence ... Much of the previous literature on the early struggles for racial equity has understandably focused on the movement to end slavery. In opening a window onto the suffering long endured by freedmen, Ms. Masur fills a vital gap in our understanding of this period. Combining meticulous scholarship with chilling storytelling, her book should mortify any reader who still doubts that America was in many ways built on a foundation of white supremacy and black oppression .. If most of what Ms. Masur discusses after 1858 feels anticlimactic, it is only because the story of postwar disillusionment is familiar, and the early saga breathtakingly fresh ... Speaking of fresh: do not look for Lincoln or Frederick Douglass to dominate this book. Instead, Ms. Masur introduces unsung heroes to vivify her saga. Agonizing as it is to read, it is no longer possible to ignore.
Jonathan Daniel Wells
RaveThe Wall Street JournalMr. Wells makes a significant contribution to the literature of American slavery with a powerful book ... an often harrowing narrative fueled by solid research ... If Mr. Wells does not quite prove his indictment against \'Wall Street,\' he certainly demonstrates that commercial interests ignored these abuses ... Mr. Wells takes a fresh, bottom-up approach, detailing horrific, unjustified seizures that provoked little objection from Gotham’s establishment ... Mr. Wells offers wrenching case studies from two successive eras ... Mr. Wells brings the kidnapping gang to life, too ... The individual kidnapping stories retain their ability to shock ... These stories are so poignant, the outcomes so monstrous, that they require no narrative flourishes, and Mr. Wells’s workmanlike prose creates an almost clinical mood that perfectly suits what amounts to a grim forensic accounting of both abuse and acquiescence. Mr. Wells persuasively demonstrates that the inhumanity of slavery was neither restricted by geography nor restrained by law. Slavery poisoned all of American culture and exacted a devastating toll on black New Yorkers while members of the original Kidnapping Club lived out their days unmolested.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalAlthough Ted Widmer writes evocatively of Lincoln’s emotional departure, little of the behind-the-scenes maneuvering that preceded or followed it features in his magisterial Lincoln on the Verge—a bit surprising, since the author is a former Clinton White House speechwriter. But this is not a book about politics. In a wholly original, gorgeously crafted reimagining, Mr. Widmer instead portrays Lincoln’s demanding journey as a Homeric odyssey through perilous terrain toward almost preordained immortality ... Mr. Widmer brings off his panoramic, almost mystical interpretation with riveting panache. His book is not only a historical achievement but a literary one ... The story of Lincoln’s inaugural journey has never been told in such rich detail, much less with each chapter so compellingly prefaced by an apt epigraph from The Odyssey...Mr. Widmer displays a command of the literature (both classical and American) necessary to sustain this comparison with conviction. His book succeeds as broad biography, too, looking both backward and forward to draw premonitions and parallels from the journey—as when river vistas remind the author (as they likely reminded the president-elect) of the young Lincoln’s earlier, character-molding flatboat experiences on the Ohio and Mississippi ... To say Mr. Widmer brings each setting to life would be an understatement ... offers not only dazzling accounts of the transportation and communications revolutions that propelled modernization, but a sensory portrait of the urban and rural North ... The Lincolnphile might quibble with some of Mr. Widmer’s arguments...Far more importantly, Mr. Widmer succeeds in imparting genuine drama into a story whose temporarily happy ending we already know.
Douglas R. Egerton
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal... in his elegant, sweeping Heirs of an Honored Name, Douglas Egerton artfully deploys the bracketed tales as a metaphor for the lost opportunities and fading fortunes of America’s first political dynasty ... Mr. Egerton does a remarkable job keeping all the similarly named Adamses distinct and distinctive, animating each personality with gripping anecdotes and pithy quotes ... True to the tradition of family matriarch Abigail Adams, Mr. Egerton remembers the ladies ... while Mr. Egerton buys into the Adams family’s own self-flagellation, I am not so sure he will convince readers accustomed to more entitlement and less humor from so-called American dynasties ... Douglas Egerton has done such a fine job in bringing these perennially dour but extraordinarily gifted people back to life that he ends up contradicting his own subtitle—for which readers should be grateful.
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal... as Mr. Waller repeatedly demonstrates in this fast-paced, fact-rich account, Union espionage operations remained essentially uncoordinated, however plucky. That makes Mr. Waller’s achievement in unearthing these complex stories—and assembling them in riveting fashion—all the more laudable ... an ultimately definitive history of state-run Civil War spycraft ... In opening the book with this gripping tale, Mr. Waller perhaps gives Pinkerton too much credit for sussing out the plot and convincing Lincoln it was credible ... Douglas Waller has most skillfully aimed a spotlight on this neglected aspect of the Union effort. Civil War military history can never again be read or told in quite the same way.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalIn the lively and learned joint biography Heirs of the Founders, H.W. Brands does his best to squeeze drama from the period between America’s epochal struggles ... Mr. Brands has produced a narrative that pulsates vigorously, sometimes even over-heatedly ... Mr. Brands memorably sketches the personality of each titan over time ... Mr. Brands handles the apogee of each of his key characters with flair.
J D Dickey
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalEven if Mr. Dickey doesn\'t convincingly revive the \'total war\' cliché, no one interested in Sherman\'s triumphant march should be deprived of his lively narrative—or the absolutely spellbinding bibliographical notes that serve as a testament to the author\'s prodigious research, as well as a valuable \'underbook\' in their own right.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalThe author audits Stanton’s wartime record meticulously, criticizing his indifference to civil liberties and his often fraught relationships with field commanders and fellow Cabinet officers. But he spends too little time dealing with reports that Stanton behaved in a cowardly manner when the CSS Virginia attacked the Union fleet at Hampton Roads, Va. ... And Mr. Stahr might have explored the stubborn myth that Stanton was complicit in Lincoln’s assassination—a discredited canard, to be sure, but one that many Lincoln scholars, this writer included, still hear from lay readers ... This exhaustively researched, well-paced book should take its place as the new, standard biography of the ill-tempered man who helped save the Union: It is fair, judicious, authoritative and comprehensive. It is not, however, a literary triumph. Mr. Stahr’s narrative, though well-paced, is straightforward, unadorned and sometimes didactic. Much like Edwin M. Stanton.
Ronald C. White
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalAgainst the odds Mr. White charts important new territory. His subtitle could well be, Ulysses S. Grant, Civil Rights Advocate, for that is the news here. Grant used his presidency to protect black voting rights in the Reconstruction-era South...What he does provide is fresh, well-documented and surprising ... Ronald White has restored Ulysses S. Grant to his proper place in history with a biography whose breadth and tone suit the man perfectly. Like Grant himself, this book will have staying power.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalThomas Meagher’s is an irresistible story, irresistibly retold by the virtuosic Timothy Egan in The Immortal Irishman, which is not the first life of the long-neglected swashbuckler but certainly ranks as the most sweeping...The author tells Meagher’s exhilarating story with an Irishman’s flair for the tragic, poetic and dramatic. But he habitually gilds the lily by inserting what seem like stage directions, using italics to present imagined ruminations and explications.