James (JD) Dittes's Reviews > Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War

Midnight Rising by Tony Horwitz
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's review
Nov 20, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: american-history-the-cool-bits
Read from October 30 to November 20, 2011

One of the finest books of history I've read in a long time. Horwitz captures the era of Brown so well, tracing his journey from failed wool merchant to abolitionist radical to martyr for racial justice.

Horwitz provides unique insights into the family of Brown, his long-suffering wife, who endured a hardscrabble life near the New York-Canadian border while her husband adventured in Kansas and Harper's Ferry, Virginia; his son, John, scarred by the violence of Kansas; and the three sons who joined Brown at Harper's Ferry: Owen, Watson and Oliver, two of which perished in the attack.

What is striking about the account to me isn't the abject failure of Brown's raid on the federal armory. Frederick Douglass had seen the attack as a "steel trap." It's the way he was able to draw the two dozen or so cohorts to join him on this suicide mission, and keep their allegiance to the very end. They couldn't have been drawn by any hope of military success, but by the sheer force of personality that Brown displayed and the wake of reckless moral superiority he left behind as he climbed his gallows. The blood of the Civil War made his sacrifice pale by comparison. Horowitz has returned him to his pivotal place in the history of the United States.

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