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Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution 1863-1877

(The New American Nation Series)

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  4,342 ratings  ·  195 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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4.11  · 
Rating details
 ·  4,342 ratings  ·  195 reviews

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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

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 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
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
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
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.
David Withun
Dec 11, 2012 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
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
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.
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
Joyce Lagow
Jul 13, 2009 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
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
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
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
Sep 06, 2014 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.
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
Jul 29, 2016 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 Gordon
Apr 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
"Between 1862 and 1872, the government awarded over 100 million acres of land and millions of dollars in direct aid to support railroad construction, mostly to help finance the transcontinental lines chartered during and after the Civil War. Blacks could not help noting the contrast between such largesse and the failure to provide the freedmen with land. Why, asked Texas freedman Anthony Wayne, 'whilst Congress appropriated land by the million acres to pet railroad schemes... did they not aid po ...more
Theo Logos
Students of the American Civil War are ubiquitous. Every battle, every general, seemingly every aspect of the war is covered by multiple volumes. Students of Reconstruction, the period of monumental social, economic, and political change that followed as a direct result of that war, are far harder to find. Reconstruction, the most volatile and transformative periods of our history, a period of both idealistic hopes and savage violence, with repercussions still affecting us today, is too often ig ...more
Steve Davis
Sep 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A detailed study of Reconstruction it is a well documented history. This narrative of Reconstruction begins in 1863. It includes many personal stories of the men and women who tied to reshape our society. It was a time of struggle with competing interests and power relationships. It is an important history, a period often falsely represented and remembered by those who want to believe fantasy or cast a point of view at odds with the truth. It is a sad truth and no one can learn the reality of th ...more
Sep 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Great book. A hard read but a complete picture of the era. Mr. Foner spent 9 years on this enormous project and it shows. I could give this book 4 stars based on the difficulty of reading through it, but the book is such an authoritative and exhaustive resource that I gave it 5 stars out of respect for the historian. One additional comment is that I liked Mr. Foner's several references to concerns on the rights of Native Americans and to the ongoing Woman's Suffragette movement - it is good to s ...more
Isaac Levey
Mar 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is a magnificent work. It not only tells, in clear, patient prose, this horrible story, but it powerfully delivers the message of that story's relevance to our world. Reconstruction may have been our nation's only chance to reckon with its slavery-based origins, and to fully make an accounting for our sins. Foner explains, in excruciating detail, how and why these efforts failed, but also the ways in which they succeeded, in each State.

Every American should have an understanding of Rec
Oct 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Book so nice I want to mark it “read” twice. Amazing.
Rob Bauer
Jan 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: us-history
This review is rather lengthy but it seems justified for such an important, influential, and lengthy book.

Perhaps the best single volume in existence about Reconstruction in the United States, Eric Foner’s comprehensive book begins with consideration of how the Republican Party’s stance on the labor question influenced its actions. Conservatives within the party gained strength at this time because they gained immense financial advantage from their Civil War activities, which, of course, include
Steve Hart
Feb 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
good book. didn't care for the ending though.
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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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“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.” 4 likes
“By all accounts, the Northern men who leased plantations were “an unsavory lot,” attracted by the quick profits seemingly guaranteed in wartime cotton production. In the scramble among army officers illegally engaged in cotton deals and Northern investors seeking to “pluck the golden goose” of the South, the rights of blacks received scant regard.” 1 likes
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