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Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution 1863-1877
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Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution 1863-1877 (The New American Nation Series)

4.09  ·  Rating Details ·  3,127 Ratings  ·  137 Reviews
This "masterful treatment of one of the most complex periods of American history" (New Republic) made history when it was originally published in 1988. It redefined how Reconstruction was viewed by historians and people everywhere in its chronicling of how Americans -- black and white -- responded to the unprecedented changes unleashed by the war and the end of slavery. Th ...more
Paperback, 690 pages
Published February 5th 2002 by Harper Perennial Modern Classics (first published 1988)
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How to do justice to this extraordinary scholarly work? The erudition, the level of detailed evidence that Eric Foner marshals, the clear, inescapable logic of his narrative left me in awe. With nearly every page I felt another layer of preconception peeling away. And with nearly every page I found myself understanding more about the society that the war and its aftermath shaped. I’m now convinced that when people talk of the legacy of slavery i
Sherm Davis
Nov 18, 2012 Sherm Davis rated it it was amazing
The further I get into this book, the more I realize that we have virtually no understanding as a culture of one of the most important periods in American history. Typically, we learn that Lincoln freed the slaves, United the Union once again, and we all lived happily ever after. This book fills in those gaps, beginning with the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, and traces not only the difficulties of freedmen in their quest for any sort of political of civil equality, but also the prevailing s ...more
Simon Wood
Jul 28, 2013 Simon Wood rated it it was amazing

Foners excellent book is a masterfull historical synthesis of the period known as Reconstruction after the American Civil War (1861-65).

The book is extremely readable, comprehensive and full of intelligent analysis of the social, cultural, racial and economic forces of the era amply illustrated with pertinent quotes from all those involved. The situation after the end of the civil war when the defeated south was occupied by the Union Army is one that I knew li
Aug 05, 2015 Joseph rated it it was amazing
I found this an excellent book on an important time in American history that still impacts race equality and relations to this day. It is a book designed to appeal to real history buffs though. It is incredibly comprehensive with almost half of the total pages of the book devoted to will researched footnotes. More like a text book or encyclopedia entry on the subject than a casual read. I became aware not long after leaving a public high school in Texas when my family moved to the San Francisco ...more
Jeremy Perron
Aug 08, 2012 Jeremy Perron rated it it was amazing
The Reconstruction Period in American history is the era that is probably the most misunderstood. The view of this historical event has taken such a complete and utter transformation as historians have been interpreting and reinterpreting it over the years that truth is often hard to separate from the myth. Half way through the Civil War the U.S. government needs to come up with a way to bring back the rebel states into the Union on the government's terms. The people for whom this would have the ...more
David Bates
May 23, 2013 David Bates rated it it was amazing
The capstone of the revisionist interpretation of Reconstruction was Eric Foner’s 1989 work Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877, fittingly replacing Dunning’s 1907 Reconstruction: Political and Economic in the updated round of works in the New American Nation series. Foner coupled the synthesis of a generation of scholarship with copious original research in Southern archives inaccessible to Du Bois. Nevertheless Foner echoed many of Du Bois’ themes, a harmonizing born not ...more
David Withun
Dec 11, 2012 David Withun rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
I have to admit that I had very little interest in Reconstruction before reading this book. I completely expected not to enjoy reading this and thought that it would feel more like a chore than anything resembling the joys of reading and learning. On the contrary, however, Foner's account is an extremely lucid, approachable, informative, and interesting history of what has turned out to be a fascinating period in the history of the United States. Particularly interesting to me was "watching" the ...more
Dec 13, 2016 Mehrsa rated it it was amazing
This book is dense and long, but so important. If we don't know the tragic history of Reconstruction, we cannot understand this country and we are bound to keep making mistakes.
Jan 31, 2009 rmn rated it really liked it
Considering the Reconstruction was one of the most important time periods of American history, it is amazing that the average person knows almost nothing about it (including me before reading this book). This book contains an exhaustive, inclusive, and thorough examination of the Reconstruction including the policies, the reactions of the North and the South, and the plight of the freedmen from the freedmen’s perspective. This will be the only book you’ll ever need to read on the Reconstruction, ...more
Joyce Lagow
Jul 13, 2009 Joyce Lagow rated it it was amazing
The United States has always been a heterogeneous nation, right from the beginning; its politics has always reflected that fact. Nowhere is this more evident than in the period known in US history as Reconstruction, which took place between 1865 and 1877. Though relative short, it was a turbulent time, as everyone--politicians North and South as well as newly freed slaves tried to define what exactly freedom meant. At that time, while there was widespread agreement in the North about emancipati ...more
Christopher Fons
This is one of those books that, excuse the cliche, shifted the paradigm. Before Foner's work most history teachers taught the story of Reconstruction as a tragedy and a horrible ordeal for the poor defeated white people of the South who had to live under "Negro rule": the Union army, the corrupt carpetbagger, and the detestable scalawag in alliance with the ignorant freedmen after the Civil War. You may have seen this treatment in DW Driffith's classic film Birth of a Nation. Yes, it is a glori ...more
Dec 20, 2012 Socraticgadfly rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
First, Grant was NOT an "unsung hero of Reconstruction." The fact that he signed off on Congressional appropriations that continued to downsize the Army, refused to send additional troops to Reconstruction states, and had to be prodded into action to take action against specific acts of violence, etc., should refute that fact.

Second, related to that, the GOP bears ultimate blame. True, Andrew Johnson's impeachment charges were trumped up. But that fact was no excuse to retreat so abruptly from
Dec 07, 2010 Patrick rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
This is a subject that is of great importance, and unfortunately often neglected for the sexiness of the Civil War. This work of Foner's is the place to go, if one wishes to read a comprehensive survey of Reconstruction. In this lengthy volume, Foner dives into political, economic, military, social and legal history which leaves the reader with a great foundation for further study or discussion. In my view, it is essential to have a very good grasp of the Civil War prior to reading this, for it ...more
Jul 29, 2016 Richard rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book's importance is shown in its highly detailed focus on a subject that results from, but is far overshadowed in scholarly study by its immediate predecessor, the Civil War. Eric Foner places the start of Reconstruction a few years earlier than traditional histories, during 1863, when the Emancipation Proclamation started the reorganization of conquered Southern states away from a slave holding society. He continues with post-war Presidential and Congressional Reconstruction, which existe ...more
Steve Hart
Feb 24, 2017 Steve Hart rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
good book. didn't care for the ending though.
I was reading Battle Cry of Freedom and noticed that Frederick Douglass was cited saying "Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letters, U.S.; let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pocket, and there is no power on earth which can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship" (p564) and I wondered if the greatest enemy that black people and perhaps other groups also excluded from full citizenship in the USA and other countries is op ...more
Charles Gonzalez
One of the best books on our American history, period. It is powerful and timely in so many ways, connecting our Revolutionary past and its devil like deal with slavery to the ultimate and necessary Civil War. Foner makes Reconstruction to be the almost necessary result of wartime and immediate post war focus on the rights of African Americans and the greater integration of the rebelmstatesminto the American union. While Reconstruction itself was a massively important and up heaving phenomena, i ...more
Disclaimer: I didn't actually finish this, I only read about 3/4 of it, and I usually hate leaving books unfinished. Right now reading about the historical crimes of our country sends me into a tailspin of agonizing over our current crimes, so I spent a good third of the time I was ostensibly reading actually staring into space with a vague look of horror.

THAT SAID, it's an incredibly well-researched and thorough history of Reconstruction, one that takes great care to consider the influence of
Mar 04, 2008 Brennan rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: US History lovers, sociologists, poli sci majors, political junkies
Anyone with an interest in American history will enjoy this; it's incredibly well researched (from letters, newspapers and origninal sources in state archives throughout the south that had apparently never been tapped for this degree of scholarship) and despite it's scope I found it to be a page turner. All the things that the Civil War didn't resolve - what Emancipation means, what is the role of non-whites in civil society, how will a society heal itself of a 250 year era of moral depravity, h ...more
Mar 07, 2015 John rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This is an essential (but long) book of American History. This book came out in the late 1980s - I wish I had read it then. The book is not limited to the political reconstruction in the South, but includes the economics of the US after the Civil War, studies of Presidents Johnson and Grant, Labor History, and the effect of reconstruction in the North. The author both synthesizes the best historical research about the period and includes significant research from original sources (the footnotes ...more
Stephen Matlock
Jun 26, 2012 Stephen Matlock rated it really liked it
A good, solid book, heavily annotated.

It's readable if a bit dense, but it gives a masterful overview of the US immediately post ACW.

And helps you to see all the promise of Reconstruction as a wonderful re-imagining of America and inclusion of all people, and the terrible betrayal of that dream by the designs and contrivances of ordinary people living for the moment.
Sep 06, 2014 Cathy rated it really liked it
Really well written and full of stuff I didn't know. I just plain hate Andrew Johnson, Lincoln's successor. Warning: reading this book causes actual pain. People in this country have suffered too much, for the stupidest reasons.
Feb 23, 2013 Chad rated it it was amazing
Clear and striking in it's relevancy. As Presidential candidates debate birthright citizenship and prohibitive debt prevents people from advancing their lives Eric Foner's "Reconstruction" is far too relevant.
Apr 10, 2011 Paul rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-u-s-history
One of the most thoughtful, comprehensive history books I have ever read. Vital to understanding U.S. history.
Alan Johnson
I gradually read Eric Foner's comprehensive Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877, updated ed. (New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2014) on Kindle over a period of several months. The first edition was published in 1988. It is not possible to capture adequately in this review the breadth of Foner's research and analysis. Suffice it to say that he covers probably every important political, social, and economic development, both in the North and the South, during the ...more
Feb 01, 2017 Brad rated it really liked it
This is a perfect example of the kind of book that drives people away because of how dense it is, but really should be on everyone's 'To Read' list. I'll be honest, this was a bit of a slog and I'm not going to suggest reading it cover to cover unless you have a passion for the specifics of American history. Luckily the books chapters are divided into succinct sub chapters and a good number of these are worth a read through. It would be hard to have an educated discussion on race, 'state's right ...more
Michael Quinn
Jun 24, 2014 Michael Quinn rated it really liked it
Reconstruction is a tremendous scholarly accomplishment. Starting out as an attempt to clear away the misconceptions of America's most politically contentious period,it ends up as an incredibly detailed account of nearly every aspect of life from 1863 to 1877. Incredibly detailed is an understatement; exhaustive might not be strong enough of a word. This book is hefty, and it is dense. The intense focus on minutiae might ultimately turn off a lot of readers, and it would be the only reason that ...more
Joseph Stieb
Jul 05, 2015 Joseph Stieb rated it really liked it
This book is loooong but it is still a worthwhile examination of a crucial period in American history. "Unfinished Revolution" is a perfect title. Our view of the postwar South is colored so heavily by the Jim Crow apartheid system that we often forget the decade of immense change and possibility after the Civil War. With blacks emerging as a politically powerful force and Republicans firmly in charge of state and federal governments, a massive program of change was enacted, including the perman ...more
Mark Bowles
Aug 30, 2014 Mark Bowles rated it it was amazing
A. What is Reconstruction? The period when republicans controlled Southern politics, Blacks enjoyed extensive political power, and the federal government accepted responsibility for protecting the rights of blacks
B. Historiography of Reconstruction
1. Dunning School: The main belief of this school was the belief in “negro incapacity.” The childlike blacks were unprepared for freedom. Johnson’s plans were thwarted by Radical Republicans who were motivated by an irrational hatred of Southern “Rebel
Expanding Bookshelf
Feb 29, 2016 Expanding Bookshelf rated it really liked it
This was not an easy book to get through. Complicated, dense and full of tiny print, I felt my eyes glazing over at least once every chapter. And let’s be clear-I like hard books. I like history. I like nonfiction. I’m used to people coming over to me while I’m reading my book and asking me what college class it’s for (as a side note, WHY ARE YOU INTERRUPTING ME WHILE I’M READING?!). But Eric Foner’s Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution 1863-1877 was really tough to finish. I’m not su ...more
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Eric Foner is DeWitt Clinton Professor of History at Columbia University, where he earned his B.A. and Ph.D. In his teaching and scholarship, Foner focuses on the Civil War and Reconstruction, slavery, and nineteenth-century America. His Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863–1877, won the Bancroft, Parkman, and Los Angeles Times Book prizes and remains the standard history of the p ...more
More about Eric Foner...

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“Frederick Douglass, who had encountered racism even within abolitionist ranks, considered Lincoln a fundamentally decent individual. “He treated me as a man,” Douglass remarked in 1864, “he did not let me feel for a moment that there was any difference in the color of our skins.” 2 likes
“By 1870, a large majority of blacks lived in two-parent family households, a fact that can be gleaned from the manuscript census returns but also “quite incidentally” from the Congressional Ku Klux Klan hearings, which recorded countless instances of victims assaulted in their homes, “the husband and wife in bed, and … their little children beside them.” 1 likes
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