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Mightier Than the Sword: Uncle Tom's Cabin and the Battle for America
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Mightier Than the Sword: Uncle Tom's Cabin and the Battle for America

3.7 of 5 stars 3.70  ·  rating details  ·  91 ratings  ·  23 reviews
Uncle Tom's Cabin is likely the most influential novel ever written by an American. In a fitting tribute to the two hundredth anniversary of Harriet Beecher Stowe's birth, Bancroft Prize-winning historian David S. Reynolds reveals her book's impact not only on the abolitionist movement and the American Civil War but also on worldwide events, including the end of serfdom in ...more
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published June 13th 2011 by W. W. Norton & Company
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I appreciate Reynolds' ambition in taking on the topic of the worldwide political/social/historical impact of Uncle Tom's Cabin, and respect his thoroughness in addressing the topic. I learned from this book, and I won't say I'm sorry I read it.

But I wouldn't recommend Mightier than the Sword to someone, like me, who is interested in an engaging read as a casual student of history and literature. I found it disorganized and repetitive. More than a few times Reynolds writes "As mentioned earlier
Margaret Sankey
Unfortunately, Uncle Tom's Cabin, if modern Americans have read it at all, is a gloppily sentimental, 19th century novel with a cast or hundreds and a tone that fails to move us. Hawthorne, Melville, Whitman survived to be taught in 21st century classrooms, but Stowe didn't--which it too bad, since it was her book that perfectly captured and harnessed 19th century American aesthetics and social values (including angels, following the law of "higher powers," sentimentality, beliefs about women, e ...more
This book is a discussion of how Harriet Beecher Stowe's classic novel brought the American people to abolition. Like UTC, it was written for white people, about white people, and argues that Stowe's vision of race relations was revolutionary. Reynolds provides a useful survey of 175 years of American pop culture to put Uncle Tom's Cabin in its cultural and rhetorical context. Unfortunately, his calling Stowe's racist use of slave stereotypes "subversive" doesn't make it so. And Roots is not the ...more
I mostly skimmed around in this for useful info for teaching my senior seminar on Uncle Tom's Cabin and Moby-Dick. It provided some excellent context that was valuable to students (a couple of them also borrowed the book for their final research essays), and validated some of what I had already told them as we prepared to read the novel. Not much of the information was wholly new, especially since I've spent extensive time on the Uncle Tom's Cabin and American Culture site hosted by UVA, but it' ...more
Elizabeth K.
Jul 26, 2012 Elizabeth K. rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Elizabeth by: Melissa's mention of the WSJ review
Shelves: 2012-new-reads
I was expecting this to be edifying, so it was a bonus that it was also very readable. This is an overarching view of the famous novel, starting with a brief biography of Stowe to get a context of what's going on philosophically, spiritually, and culturally in her immediate circle, and goes on through the reception of the book, backlash to it, the endless songs and plays (and later films) inspired by it, and it's general impact on pop culture, which is a lot.

Especially for fellow Betsy-Tacy fans
Leah Madsen
In reading Mightier Than the Sword, by David S. Reynolds, I was really moved by how he presented Uncle Tom’s Cabin in such a positive light. So many people today view it as a negative novel, the way it is “sentimental” to pull at heart strings, how all the slaves “had” to be helped by white men and women, and the fact that Tom never ran away but chose to honor the “contract” of his masters. What I personally feel has caused this shift from honoring Uncle Tom and all the other characters to havin ...more
Reynolds redeems himself in the last two chapters of this book. OK, maybe not "himself", but the topic. The point of Mightier than the Sword is to provide a context for the authoring and cultural acceptance of Uncle Tom's Cabin, perhaps the most socially powerful novel ever written. Reynolds does that well. It's just that the first few chapters are all about Harriet Beecher Stowe, her family, and a parsing of some of the day's social issues and their characters. At least to me, this era of Ameri ...more
An engrossing history of Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin" and the context surrounding it. The author argues that Stowe's best known work was a primary cause of the Civil War. It did this by getting many in the North to become more abolitionist while coalescing pro-slavery elements defending the peculiar institution. According to Prof. Reynolds "Uncle Tom's Cabin" itself was a somewhat more balanced work than the host of plays that were based on its content. The plays brought the anti-slavery theme to ...more
I wish GR had half stars. This was better than a 3, if not so good as a 4. So, 3.5. An interesting look at Uncle Tom's influence in causing the Civil War, and its impact after. It drags interminably in parts, but nevertheless does a good job in showing the spread and intensity of Uncle Tom fervor, not just in the ante-bellum US, but also internationally.

It was also an interesting comparison in book mania then and today: who knew that, just as today, marketing madness accompanies a literary pheno
Reynolds' book was engaging and passionate, about an engaging and passionate topic. When I recently read Uncle Tom's Cabin, I both thought I was reading it for the first time, and I was also surprised that so many of the scenes were so familiar. Reynolds' book helped me realize how very much Stowe's novel was popularized in various forms, over time. I must have seen one of them as a child. But, of course, Reynolds is also very interesting on Stowe's background, which I wondered about as I read t ...more
Excellent book. I learned a lot!
Patricrk patrick
Far more people saw the play than read the book. The various plays and scenes from the play were a staple of American Theater for 77 years. The impact of the book turned the Boston mob around from "always willing to help a hunt for a fugitive slave" to federal troops were necessary to keep slave hunters safe. The book was crafted in such a way that it appealed to socialist, abolitionist, christian evangicals and prohibionist. A good look at a book that changes the world.

The book was ok, his writing is clear and understandable. My issue was that it was uninteresting to me. I don't study this time period of US history, heck, I've never even read Uncle Tom's Cabin. Only 1 person in our class had read it at all. Caused a disconnect in general. Reynolds is all about how positive the novel was recieved and reproduced. He's clearly ignoring any alternative use of Tomitudes as well.
I'd love to share with you why I thought this book was fantastic. However, as I'm not sure how I might step over Goodread's invisible line for appropriate, on-topic content, I will refrain until such time as the guidelines are made clear, easily accessible, and announced to all members.
Roy Kenagy
Jul 04, 2012 Roy Kenagy marked it as to-read
"the most important book in American history?"

"The heart of the book covers the debates over race, slavery, and the extent to which Uncle Tom's Cabin—or any novel, for that matter—can be said to "change" history. Reynolds argues vehemently in favor of fiction's ability to do so, and he makes a very good case for it."
Margaret McCamant
Read for book group, part of plan to read history during February, African American History Month. While reading this, I often wished I had read Uncle Tom's Cabin, but I'm not sure I will seek it out.
My second civil war book of the year - must be a new record! Interesting concept but it went on way too long like they were trying too hard to make their point. Writing was also average and didn't really pull me in or move the book along.
Excellent analysis/research by Reynolds on what could easily be argued is the most influential American novel ever written. Explosive in its impact upon publication in 1852, its influence still reverberates today.
Hank Pharis
A well done survey of the historical impact of Uncle Tom's Cabin as well as a lot of background biographical information regarding Harriet Beecher Stowe.
Peter Tupper
My review is here.
Aug 01, 2012 Tracey marked it as to-read
Shelves: recommended-tcpl
SDMB Delphica recco "AWESOME. And quite a page-turner, which I wasn't expecting for a non-fiction book"
Jan 02, 2012 Jonathan marked it as abandoned
I can't take another book about the civil war right now.
Michael Young
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Jun 28, 2015
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David S. Reynolds is a Distinguished Professor of English and American Studies at the City University of New York. His works include the award-winning Waking Giant: America in the Age of Jackson, Walt Whitman's America, and John Brown, Abolitionist. He lives on Long Island in New York.
More about David S. Reynolds...
John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights Walt Whitman's America Waking Giant: America in the Age of Jackson Beneath the American Renaissance: The Subversive Imagination in the Age of Emerson and Melville Walt Whitman

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