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

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4.13 of 5 stars 4.13  ·  rating details  ·  1,713 ratings  ·  80 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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Community Reviews

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Simon Wood
MASTERFUL HISTORY OF RECONSTRUCTION

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
...more
Jeremy Perron
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
Sherm
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
David Bates
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
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
Joyce Lagow
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 emancipa ...more
Patrick
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
rmn
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
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
Brennan
Jun 06, 2008 Brennan rated it 5 of 5 stars
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
Socraticgadfly
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
...more
Mark Bowles
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
...more
Don
Jul 29, 2014 Don rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: top-100
Absolutely the most underappreciated and undertaught era of American history, Reconstruction is just too complicated and uncomfortable to capture our imagination beyond Gone with the Wind. But while the eventual results are depressing, this book and story are fascinating in the way Foner tells the whole story, helping the reader understand the abrupt changes that the country had to grow through after the Civil War.

Few books have left me making more links to today, understanding how and why we go
...more
Michael Quinn
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
Peter
Foner is probably America's most accomplished social historian, and this book is a major reason why. The discussion of what actually happened during Reconstruction is fascinating and necessary, but my favorite part was about the rise of the "liberal reformers," who put their notions of respectability and class interest ahead of following through with the Civil War. There was a lot familiar there, sadly.
Paul
One of the most thoughtful, comprehensive history books I have ever read. Vital to understanding U.S. history.
Don Robertson
This work is a laborious read. Eric Foner's writing skills leave something to be desired. He is thorough, but his thoughts are disjointed. There are few if any misspellings or grammatical errors in the work. I recall none as I write this. But Foner's writing style is coarse. Foner's objective here is to make a statement about his firm belief in egalitarianism. In the process of making this statement, Eric Foner compiles a lengthy work in the period of American history called, Reconstruction, jus ...more
Cynthia
“The past is never dead. In fact, it’s not even past.” The truth of this observation by Southern writer William Faulkner came home to me as I worked my way through this “perennial classic,” Eric Foner’s Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877. Then, as now, differing opinions about where to draw the line between property rights and civil rights divided families, political parties and the country. This sober, nuanced story, which tells what happened after the death of the Great ...more
George
After I finished "Team of Rivals," which I thoroughly enjoyed (see review elsewhere), I wanted to continue reading about the Civil War era and I decided to try this book. It covers the political, social, moral, legal, and economic state of affairs during Reconstruction, which Foner has reason to date from 1863 to 1877. It was a turbulent, I would say terrible, period in US history, which eventually ended in reversals of what progress was made toward social justice in the years immediately follow ...more
Patrick Sprunger


Eric Foner's Reconstruction isn't the most recent work (it was published when Ronald Reagan was still in the White House), but its reputation precedes it as an authoritative work. Anyone on a self guided tour of the 1870s should seriously consider picking this up. Other reviewers have pointed out it's a heavy read. Not heavy; thorough. It's not unreasonable for a 300 level seminar. You can do this. Don't be intimidated.

Foner confirms the standard, school narrative about Reconstruction: (1) The
...more
Brandon Wu
A comprehensive and highly readable account of one of the more confusing periods of U.S. history, in which blacks held a higher proportion of seats in public office than any other time up to the present day - and then were systematically disenfranchised in no small part by outright political violence by Southern whites. As someone who grew up in the upper South, my education around Reconstruction basically consisted of learning about interference from northern carpetbaggers. This rather more enl ...more
Dale
Hope and despair, courage, greed, violence and fear as both North and South wrestled with the aftermath of the Civil War and the fate of an entire race; painful reading of a painful time in U.S. history. It's not for the faint of heart, but I'd encourage you to read and ponder this sad chapter in the nation's history and its implications still playing out today. If you haven't got time for the full-boat version of this stellar work, check out Foner's abridged version under the title: "A Short Hi ...more
James
This book by Eric Foner was much more of an investment to read than I expected, but well worth it. While it is not a fast flowing narrative, I will give it 5/5 stars due to the comprehensive coverage of an important, underrated subject matter. He is very detailed in the blow by blow accounts of what happened and didn't happen in the years 1863-1877, showing how the different constituencies of each region in the South and North had competing goals and incentives throughout the period and the work ...more
Edward Newman
An astounding book that every American should read. Too many histories of the Civil War end on a note of triumph after Appomattox. But within months of Lincoln's death, concerted efforts to suppress the rights of newly freed slaves began. Congress responded by enacting laws to protect their rights and fight the Klan, and by passing the 14th and 15th Amendments. But continued Southern intransigence, a collapsed economy and changed administrations resulted in a federal abandonment of attempts to e ...more
Paul
Jul 28, 2011 Paul added it
So far, Foner seems to be a historian who writes well. I was rather ignorant of this period of American history and had conceived prejudices about it. Now I am seeing how they stand up to what Foner describes.
Usually I have three books going, each in a different location in the house.
Update: I am learning things, but it is rather a plodding work. I am looking forward to being finished with this one. Much as I felt while reading "The Education of Henry Adams." My brother-in-law liked that book, h
...more
Monte Lamb
This is a comprehensive book that is very well organized into sections that allow the reader to get a good grasp of the issues during this period. It is thoroughly researched and documented. However, the style is somewhat boring. I found myself having to stay focused to keep reading in some of the sections. It covers everything you need to know, but is a little laborious.
Douglas
Foner is a genius, and this book is the seminal revisionist work on American Reconstruction. He sweeps aside the 'Gone With the Wind' and 'Birth of a Nation,' stereotypes of white carpetbaggers exploiting ignorant freedmen and explores how Reconstruction governments actually operated. Not only did they empower the freed slaves, but they also worked much-needed reforms in State governments in the South, which were decades behind their Northern counterparts in such basic services as prisons, schoo ...more
Nate
I'm re-reading this book. It's a good resource on a frustrating time in our history mainly because of its great potential. Postbellum days. I think this is a period we're mirroring and we owe it to ourselves to learn about why we messed up last time...and what we almost could have had too. 150 years ago we were obsessed with Manifest Destiny and kicking Native Americans out, bickering over compensation from having to give up slaves, and temperance. This was a subject that we glossed over in my s ...more
John
Catching up on my reviews...

Absolutely terrific history of the Reconstruction Era in the U.S., one that manages to be both rigorously scholarly and an incredibly good read. Foner's bias as an historian is toward economic explanations, and his elucidation of the ways in which the problems of Reconstruction were, fundamentally, problems of economics (and especially labor) was clear and, for me, eye-opening (to the extent that I'd thought about Reconstruction before, it had been through the lens of
...more
Cathy
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.
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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...
The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery A Short History of Reconstruction Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party Before the Civil War The Story of American Freedom Forever Free: The Story of Emancipation and Reconstruction

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