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Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution 1863-1877

(The New American Nation Series)

4.16  ·  Rating details ·  5,093 ratings  ·  295 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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Oct 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Review to come. I need time to recover from this book! It may be a five-star book, but I don't possess a five-star mind.

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times, and then it got even worse. This sort of sums up Eric Foner's sad tale of the optimism generated at the start of America's Reconstruction after the Civil War and emancipation of all slaves. At the start, a "Freedman's Bureau" was set up to assist newly-freed blacks in areas such as gaining literacy and a general education, th

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
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
Sherm Davis
Nov 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: hist-pol-econ
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 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
May 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
To use words like "masterful" or "thorough" to describe Eric Foner's "Reconstruction" is to give too little credit to what is truly an earth shattering contribution to American historical thought.

"Reconstruction" is a landmark historical account of one of the most misunderstood and maligned periods in American history. Using in depth archival study, Foner reconstructs Reconstruction showing how the newly formed Republican party became weighed down by its own corruption and silenced the radicals
Czarny Pies
Nov 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: american-history
Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution 1863-1877 is an uninformative slog which paradoxically is still deserving of the all the many prizes it received when it was published in 1988. It won awards because of its brilliant description of the political process of the reconstruction. It is uninformative because it addresses none of the social, industrial, economic, cultural and agricultural issues involved in the Reconstruction that would interest a member of the general public.
Foner deals
Aug 05, 2015 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
Dec 13, 2016 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. ...more
Dec 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
The Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves but not the Negro.
- Eric Foner, Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution

My God this was a depressing book. Sometimes it feels like reading history is just reading about the Nazi’s atrocities of the Jews, the U.S. Cavalry’s massacre of Native Americans, and the brutality of White Americans towards Black Americans (“I can’t breathe”). No wonder so many people read the books of Nicholas Sparks.

Another Reader has called this the bible of the Reco
Jeremy Perron
Aug 08, 2012 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 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
J.M. Hushour
Sep 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Lord knows why the goddamn Civil War still carries the fresh-faced resonance that it does. You'll meet all sorts of wackos spouting nonsense about it. Shit, I live in the Pacific Northwest and see morons with Confederate flag stickers on their giant, superfluously-sized exhaust piped trucks even though Washington State is about as far from the south as you can get.
People, I guess, will never cease to be stupid. One of my favorite ironies of the Civil War is when people say it wasn't about slaver
Donald Powell
This is the definitive memorandum of the Reconstruction Era. It is incredibly researched and documented. This book was very objective and precise. He does shade the truth. It is very detailed and trying to read it like a textbook was slow going. There are too many people, factions and issues in play to keep it all straight without a lot of back and forth and re-reading sections. Mr. Foner dug deep to follow the actions and motivations of the major players, particularly those in presidential poli ...more
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
I hate to go against the consensus here, but I was truly shocked how poorly written this was, given Foner's reputation and role as popular historian writing magazine columns. Its style is exemplified by the fact that there is a footnote following every single paragraph, and that footnote is always a paragraph long itself, and always only citations, not comments or asides. It is essentially nothing but a collection of facts, presented as an undifferentiated cascade, with no feeling of argument, d ...more
Jan 31, 2009 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
Dec 07, 2010 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
David Withun
Dec 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Brian Willis
The single greatest book on this period of history, an overlooked one still to this day, because it doesn't have the visceral impact of the Civil War or the decadence of the Gilded Age. Nonetheless, the Reconstruction Era, and its ultimate failure, informs all of our understandings about race relations through the present day with the 2020 BLM protests (Foner does not make that connection here).

When studying the Civil War, most accounts end with Appomattox and Lincoln's assassination. It makes s
Adam Shields
Aug 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Short Review: This is an era that I just didn't have much historical background on. This was the book that several people recommended to me as the best starting place. I picked up the audiobook because that is what is most likely to get done quickly. The audiobook is the first edition. I would have preferred a later edition because I would like to think some of the repetition and was cleaned up. But I don't know.

The audiobook was poorly done. Lots of mispronounced words, bad editing and uneven
Jan 16, 2021 rated it really liked it
The most tragic stories are those where you already know the ending.

Tell me if you've heard this -- close election, numerous allegations of voter fraud, states/parties sending different slates of electors to Washington, questions about what the Vice President's role is in certifying electors under the 12th Amendment, and parties threatening to send thousands of marchers to the Capitol to ensure their side's votes are counted. Sound familiar? Yeah, that was 1876.

Foner's 1988 history of Reconstr
Stephanie Griffin
Jan 25, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Eric Foner’s RECONSTRUCTION: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877, is an extraordinarily close look at what Reconstruction was in the United States and why it failed.
Foner has taught at Columbia University with a focus on the Civil War, Reconstruction, slavery, and nineteenth-century America. Here he explains at length the problems that barred Blacks from achieving true equality during the years after the Civil War,
It seems like every time Blacks got a little bit forward, they fell two st
Feb 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A lengthy look at the era of Reconstruction after the American Civil War. As a history nerd I enjoyed it, especially the look at the transformation of the party of Abraham Lincoln, defenders of equality and the need to intervene in social affairs, to a pro-business and conservative party favouring as little government as possible. It truly is an unfinished revolution.
Feb 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Vitally important account of a largely-forgotten and/or misunderstood period of American history, as important as the Civil War itself.
Jul 05, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
So incredibly dense and well researched. I bought myself a butt pillow as a present for completing this book. I now feel like I know a little bit less than nothing about this time in our country's history, but in other ways I am just gleaning the surface. ...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 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
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
Michael Loveless
Feb 17, 2016 rated it liked it
Eric Foner's book on Reconstruction is exhaustive and exhausting. If you are a history professional or someone who can't get enough history, you may want to read it. Some history books tell a story and are intended for a popular audience. Other history books are written for more scholarly purposes. They contribute to the knowledge base on a particular topic and are primarily written for other scholars. This book belongs to the second category.

I'm glad I read it, and I'm glad I'm done reading it
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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

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