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Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War

3.9  ·  Rating Details ·  3,459 Ratings  ·  439 Reviews
A New York Times Notable Book for 2011
A Library Journal Top Ten Best Books of 2011
A Boston Globe Best Nonfiction Book of 2011

Bestselling author Tony Horwitz tells the electrifying tale of the daring insurrection that put America on the path to bloody war

Plotted in secret, launched in the dark, John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry was a pivotal moment in U.S. history. But few
ebook, 384 pages
Published October 25th 2011 by Henry Holt and Co.
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Susan Paxton Nonfiction - very well written, too. I highly recommend it if you're interested in the topic.
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Let me begin by saying that John Brown's mission to end slavery was noble (that's right, I'm taking a stance against slavery– controversial, I know). However, author Tony Horwitz' treatment of the John Brown story offers a more complicated narrative that begs questions that have been easy enough to dismiss in hindsight (especially since the beatification of Brown is passed down through such a catchy tune).

The task at hand for Horowitz was, in many ways, similar to that confronted by Eric Metaxa
Kate Lawrence
Oct 20, 2012 Kate Lawrence rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american-history
Having grown up in eastern Kansas, I've been fascinated by John Brown ever since I saw, as a school child, the stunning mural of him in the Kansas State Capitol building. (The painting is "Tragic Prelude" by Kansas artist John Steuart Curry.) When I learned that Horwitz, one of my favorite historians, had taken up Brown's story, I knew I had to read it, and what better time than on the anniversary of the Harpers Ferry raid Oct. 16? Horwitz does thorough and impeccable research, gives his readers ...more
Jun 29, 2012 Kate rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Well, light summer reading this is not, but if you're looking for an affecting portrait of John Brown, this is the book for you. Even if you don't think you want that kind of book you might want to give this one a go.

Tony Horwitz is a masterful writer and his straightforward style is perfect for this story. I found myself near tears upon several occasions while reading this book, and that is in part because Horwitz knows how to tell it. His background as a journalist keeps him from getting flow
Evan Leach
”In firing his gun, John Brown has merely told what time of day it is. It is high noon, thank god.” – William Lloyd Garrison

John Brown and his famous Harper’s Ferry raid were two major catalysts of the American Civil War. A fervent abolitionist, Brown believed he was appointed by God to help end the institution of slavery. But unlike other abolitionists of his day, Brown rejected the pacifist approach and turned to violence to achieve his aims. He became a national name during the Kansas skirmis
Jan 12, 2013 Jack rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is well done, and it's interesting to see Horwitz write a straight-up historical narrative. People expecting a lot of material on historical memory ala Confederates in the Attic will be disappointed. The structure and pacing are good and for the most part Horwitz provides the right amount of context on issues and places for a popular history. I don't know, however, that I really understand John Brown's personality better for having read it. Except for near the end, when Horwitz makes a good ...more
Kristy Miller
Feb 09, 2016 Kristy Miller rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In modern history textbooks, John Brown's Raid merits a few scant paragraphs. This seems to downplay the impact of the event, which was a direct contributor to the Civil War. Pulitzer winning journalist Tony Horwitz takes on this historical event in his second foray into the Civil War. Unlike Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War, this is a straight history book, and so lacks the humorous and thought provoking personal views of the author, but it is an excellent boo ...more
Aug 23, 2015 Alex rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is just a great book about a fascinating period in American history. What struck me as I read was how different the country was in 1859 (total lack of national security state, for one), as well as how similar it was (the everpresence of white supremacy). This is a page turner for sure - a brief overview of John Brown's background, his self-ascribed messianic mission, and then a blow-by-blow account of the raid on Harper's Ferry, as well as its aftermath and impact upon kick-starting the Civ ...more
May 07, 2015 Cara rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's hard not to admire John Brown, a man who literally gave up his life and those of his sons (and other people) in the abolitionist cause on the eve of the Civil War. What's interesting to me is how many parallels there are to today's fight for civil rights over a hundred and fifty years later. There are people, like Abraham Lincoln during most of his career, who believed in abolition but preferred a slow and steady progress towards that goal rather than an abrupt change. And then there are pe ...more
Greg McClay
I'm only giving it 3 stars but its value is much higher, it could easily be required reading in a high school history class and I would certainly recommend it to anyone interested in history or world events in general.

In reference to John Brown, he comes across as a zealot and one-dimensional character. Admirable in many ways but his fall through the cracks of history are likely due to his less-than complicated personality. His impact on history can't be oversold however and I would argue that H
May 25, 2016 Louise rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A detailed, well written account of the October 1859 raid on the U.S. Armory at Harper’s Ferry which some believe signaled the beginning of the American Civil War 1861-1865. John Brown’s crusade against slavery culminated at the raid and led his eulogist Wendell Phillips to declare,
“History will date Virginia Emancipation from Harper’s Ferry. True, the slave is still there. So, when the tempest uproots a pine on your hills, it looks green for months - a year or two. Still, it is timber, not a tr
Feb 17, 2015 Don rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, own
A very good book about a very complicated, confusing, and controversial event in American history.

Harper's Ferry, as Horwitz points out, is an incredibly beautiful place, and walking along the railroad trestle or just surveying the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers in silence while imagining what unfolded there can be a pretty intense experience... not entirely unlike the emotion of walking the mile of Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg, or staring out at Puget Sound where the Medicine
Timothy Riley
Great book. It read very fast and I found it hard to put down. I even read it in the car on my way to work-not recommended. John Brown is a patriot, a hero, and was the truly was the first fighter in the civil war. He was hugely ahead of his times and his martyrdom made abolitionism more popular in the north. People latched onto his example. I couldn't get over the senators from Missouri and the Governor of Virginia and their racist language they displayed in the senate and on other floors. It w ...more
Nov 07, 2011 Larry rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
We all know (don't we) that John Brown led eighteen men to seize the federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry, West Virginia,on October 16, 1859. Most schoolkids see the Norman Rockwell painting of Brown en route to his execution in their US history textbook. Given the age in which we live—a time dominated by terrorists unafraid of death—Brown is kind of a prototype of what the world would become. Brown's aim was to use the federal weapons to arm runaway slaves and to create a provisional republic. Wit ...more
Nov 15, 2011 Doug rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is just more proof that most of the history that I was taught in school (in the 40's and 50's) was mostly a lot of politically correct pap. I found this account of John Brown and his ill-fated occupation of the armory at Harper's Ferry interesting on several levels. First, I am more conflicted regarding Brown than I was before reading the book. As portrayed by Horwitz ( I believe accurately and objectively) he was obviously a man of sincere and strongly felt conviction about the abolit ...more
Sep 24, 2012 Roberta rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am not normally a reader of nonfiction, but the visit of author Tony Horwitz who spoke at a St. Louis County author event, sparked an interest in reading this one. Horwitz researched this well, and he writes well. Interestingly, his wife is also a well-known writer, Australian Geraldine Brooks, who wrote People of the Book, March, and others.

As Girl Scouts sitting around campfires, we used to sing a parody of the song "John Brown's Body" (which, Horwitz writes, became a Union marching song and
Jan 18, 2012 Steven rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, history
I never did read Confederates in the Attic, although I have friends that did. Now I'm thinking I'll need to pick it up -- and maybe some of his others. I really enjoyed Horwitz's writing style -- simple and to the point, without being heavy-handed. I love good history writing, and this is a fine example.

I'd never fully realized what a central character John Brown was to the Civil War era, nor how many of its players were involved in the Harpers Ferry raid and its aftermath. Robert E. Lee, Freder
Mar 15, 2012 Angela rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lunch-and-lit
I admit that Horwitz will never get quite a fair shake from me, because I LOVED Confederates in the Attic, and am always irrationally disappointed when his other works lack the same tone and topic. (Yes, I essentially want Confederates in the Attic 2: Electric Bugaloo. I said it was irrational.)

Midnight Rising is a straight-up history of an event that usually gets the briefest of mentions in discussions of the Civil War. His writing is clear, his research extensive (and impeccably documented), a
Brad Hodges
Dec 30, 2012 Brad Hodges rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
John Brown is one of the most vexing figures in American history. Is he hero or villain? Traitor or martyr? Visionary or maniac? By all definitions of the word, he has to be considered a terrorist, but of course that depends on your point of view. As Tony Horwitz writes in Midnight Rising, his excellent book about Brown and the raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859: "Viewed through the lens of 9/11, Harpers Ferry seems an al-Qaeda prequel: a long-bearded fundamentalist, consumed by hatred of the U.S. go ...more
Adebayo Oyagbola
Feb 23, 2013 Adebayo Oyagbola rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
A comprehensive account of John Brown's revolutionary career as a radical abolitionist in antebellum America. The book not only looks into John Brown's deeds but examines and analyses his reasoning and core beliefs. Before now all I knew was that John Brown attacked the Federal Armoury in Harpers Ferry and that he did so in aid of the slavery abolition cause. I had not paused to ask how or why such an attack would have an impact on the institution of slavery. This book connects all the dots. It ...more
Joyce Lagow
The title of Tony Horwitz’s work--Midnight Rising:John Brown and the Raid the Sparked the Civil War--is misleading. Excluding the Notes at the end, my Advance Reader’s Copy is 292 pages long; of that 292 pages, only 60 pages (Chapters 8 and 9 out of 13, a Prologue and an Epilogue) are devoted to the raid itself. Chapters 10 through 12 describe, in great detail, the trials of the captured invaders and, for those who need to know every single last disposition, the hangings themselves. We learn whe ...more
Evan Barrett
Jan 30, 2012 Evan Barrett rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The first straight popular history written by Tony Horwitz, author of Confederates in the Attic, and a very good one for me as I was coming in cold to John Brown's story. A book in 3 parts: an exceedingly short biography of John Brown leading up to his ill-fated but ultimately, years after his death, successful raid on Harpers Ferry (almost 60 years, and about 100 pages); a military history of his ragtag band's seizure, and the subsequent siege by local fighters and the U.S. army, of the armory ...more
Oct 05, 2011 Grace rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found Tony Horowitz's book 'Midnight Rising' to be a very informative and interesting account of John Brown and his raid on Harper's Ferry as well as his attacks on pro-slavers in Kansas. The author was able to dig up some important primary sources and put them together in such a fashion that we are better able to understand what Brown was thinking and why he decided to follow the path that he did.

Mr. Horowitz points out that Brown's actions 'sparked the Civil War.' He explained that Brown's
Dec 30, 2013 kate rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, 2013
Well written and illustrated, with a hefty section of endnotes that causing the end of the book to sneak up on you. A good introduction to the subject that relies primarily on primary sources, and tries to avoid the wild speculation that has grown up around Brown's life in the past 140+ years.
I should note that John Brown does hold a special place in my heart because he is featured in a chapter of Lies my teacher told me, and that was the book that sent me down the path of becoming a history maj
Austin Matthews
May 09, 2013 Austin Matthews rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've never agreed with Thomas Jefferson that the tree of liberty must be watered with the blood of patriots, but I don't think he's been wrong yet.

We, as free peoples, are defined by our revolutionaries. The immense dissonance in the American psyche by trying to balance the spirit of the Revolution with the constitutionality (and moral preoccupations) of slavery ripped out fragile "bastion of liberty" asunder. John Brown really started that break which would decide the unequivocal nature of equ
May 12, 2012 Molly rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Engrossing, moving account of radical abolitionist John Brown, driven by his righteous anger to seize a military arsenal as a means of inciting the nation to rise up and defeat the institution of slavery. Recommended on the on-going 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

Some historians and writers (including Fredrick Douglas, a friend of John Brown) consider the raid on Harpers Ferry – while in itself a failure – the true start of the war. It prompted fear, paranoia and Confederate indignation bel
Dec 22, 2013 Scottnshana rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book represents a nice companion piece to Doris Kearns Goodwin's famous book on Lincoln and his cabinet--"Team of Rivals". As a native who spent a significant portion of his life in Lawrence I wanted to read a little more on the Bleeding Kansas period and Horwitz did not disappoint. I realize that the U.S. was much smaller in 1859, but I loved the way famous contemporaries--men like Lee, Jackson, Stuart, John Wilkes Booth, and Frederick Douglass--all played a part in the Harpers Ferry event ...more
Oct 26, 2012 Kili rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was always puzzled by a historical marker in the Adirondack Mountains for John Brown's cabin. Was this for the John Brown whose body lies amoldering in the grave? What was he doing up in the woods? I knew nothing about John Brown except this line from "Glory, Glory Hallelujah". I figured he had something to do with abolitionism because that song is from the Civil War.

This book is scholarly in its depth but reads like a popular book, and left me wondering why John Brown is not better remembere
Midnight Rising carves a new path for Horwitz; unlike his previous books, this is not a travelogue interspersed with witty observations and funny interactions as Tony plots his way through the modern jungles of history. Instead, he has set out to write history.

Unfortunately, the casual reader expecting what has become Horwitz's tantalizing trope will instead be disappointed, as will those picking it up for a 'history' of John Brown's life. While Hortwitz has done research with Brown's extensive
Jan 15, 2012 Linda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fic
Yes, most of us know that John Brown's body is a-mouldering the grave, and that he besieged the arsenal at Harper's Ferry and died for his abolitionist activism. But I, for one, knew little else about him until reading Midnight Rising. Tony Horwitz takes his readers through Brown's life, passing quickly through his early phases before concentrating on his life as a freedom fighter. John Brown was a truly extraordinary man. He told people that he didn't ever experience fear, and I believe that, b ...more
Roy Howard
Apr 17, 2012 Roy Howard rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The insurrection of John Brown and his band of early American fighters is now treated as a minor incident prior to the Civil War. It was actually a major event in its time that some historians claim precipitated the war. This is a fascinating study of John Brown that evokes the history of the abolitionist movement in illuminating details as well as the peculiarities of Brown and his large family. What makes this history worth reading now, and especially by clergy, is the similarity of Brown’s re ...more
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Date of Birth: 1958

Tony Horwitz is an American journalist and writer. His works include Blue Latitudes, One for the Road, Confederates In The Attic and Baghdad Without A Map. His most recent work, published in April 2008, is A Voyage Long and Strange: Rediscovering the New World, a history and travelogue dealing with the early European exploration of North America.
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“John Brown, raised by disciplinarians, became one himself.” 0 likes
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