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A Volcano Beneath the Snow: John Brown's War Against Slavery
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A Volcano Beneath the Snow: John Brown's War Against Slavery

3.64  ·  Rating details ·  157 ratings  ·  51 reviews
John Brown is a man of many legacies, from hero, freedom fighter, and martyr, to liar, fanatic, and "the father of American terrorism." Some have said that it was his seizure of the arsenal at Harper's Ferry that rendered the Civil War inevitable.

Deeply religious, Brown believed that God had chosen him to right the wrong of slavery. He was willing to kill and die for somet
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Hardcover, 256 pages
Published April 8th 2014 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
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Average rating 3.64  · 
Rating details
 ·  157 ratings  ·  51 reviews


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Monica Edinger
Mar 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing
My blog review:

I confess, until recently what I knew about John Brown was pretty much limited to a vague awareness of his foolhardy attack on Harper's Ferry. Then, last summer, I read this review of James McBride's historical novel about Brown, Good Lord Bird,  listened to it, thought it terrific, and  was very pleased when it won the National Book Award. And so, having Brown much more on my radar, when I first saw Albert Marrin's nonfiction book A Volcano Beneath the Snow: John Brown's War Agai
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Joan
Jan 24, 2015 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: history students
The title is rather misleading. John Brown dies about halfway through the book. The rest is a summary of the Civil War, why and when Lincoln freed some of the slaves (only the ones in enemy territory were actually freed) and then a summary of fairly recent terrorist events in this country: McVeigh, 9/11, etc. The connection with terrorism is that early on Marrin points out that John Brown fits the United States' definition of terrorist perfectly. While he acknowledges Brown's good points, it is ...more
Laura
I gave this a generous 3 because the author does do a good job explaining the history of slavery, both here and in Africa, tying it in to the life of John Brown and how events affected and inspired him. This is an event that has been overlooked by most history teachers, and one that could realistically be called the true start to the Civil War. Brown's actions have inspired others, for better or worse.

But it truly is a generous 3 due to the factual errors, the author's use (only once, but still
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Raf
Mar 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
John Brown is one of the most controversial figures of the Civil War. This polarizing figure's legacy and motives are still debated by historians and students of history alike. This fascinating account of his life is skilfully interwoven with a historical context as the backdrop in order to allow the reader to understand John Brown's motivations and frustrations with the institution of slavery. John Brown eventually organized a raid on an army armory in an attempt to arm slaves with weapons and ...more
Katherine Schmitt
Hard to rate this. A lot of great information, but this seems like too much unnecessary info for a teen book. Good for a report, but probably not for fun. Teens probably don't need the entire history of slavery and the civil war thrown into this book. The author does do a great job depicting historical characters as real, complex people and situations as shades of gray instead of black and white. ...more
Janet
May 07, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2014
John Brown, slavery, abolitionists, the Civil War. Tells a whole lot that you don't find in history books, often in great detail. Wish the photos and captions were larger. A list of "characters" would have been nice also. A substantial read for a YA nonfiction book. ...more
Victoria B.
This was the. longest. book. While only 207 pages (before notes & other stuff), it felt like 400. Not gonna lie - readers will get so much information, but it will feel like overload. The author strays away from the main subject...or what I assumed was the subject: John Brown. Although well-researched, the reader basically gets a run-down of the entire Civil War, too, so the title is not really the most accurate.

The pictures were really interesting, and the author included just the right amount
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Joshua
Jan 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
I read this book because it's a war against slavery, which is pretty cool. After a while, I realized that it was not what I thought it was. I'm not a fan of biographies just because you can do so much more when you're not tied to reality. However, I did find the war parts intriguing and an eye opener, and that there can be times where doing a good thing is just a bad thing. I gave it four stars mostly because this is not my kind of book, and partly because not all of the book was about John Brow ...more
p roper
Nov 09, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well written with good information about John Brown. However, although John Brown is interwoven into the entire book, I personally think the title might better be, A Volcano Beneath the Snow: John Brown and the War Against Slavery. Also, we found this book in the children's section at our local library; it probably would be a better fit in the young adult section. ...more
Richie Partington
May 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
Richie's Picks: A VOLCANO BENEATH THE SNOW: JOHN BROWN'S WAR AGAINST SLAVERY by Albert Marrin, Knopf, April 2014, 256p., ISBN: 978-0-307-98152-3

"Abraham Lincoln called respect for the law America's 'political religion,' a sacred trust passed down through generations...Others thought the opposite: there was nothing sacred in the law. For Henry David Thoreau, a well-known author of the mid-1800s, people must act according to their own ideas of right and wrong, and disobey laws they think unjust.
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Susan McGilvray
Jun 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Excellent read - learned a lot and the photographs and pictures were fantastic!
Sammy
Oct 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
Does not cover John Brown as heavily as the title would imply, but this book is nevertheless a great general history of slavery as well as a high quality biography of John Brown.
Dewayne Stark
May 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
I had recently read a book about Harriet Tubman so this was the next read.
Carter Weiters
Carter Weiters
English 231
December 2, 2015


The authors purpose of writing this book is to tell, us readers who John Brown was and what he did during the war. The author told us what was happening at this time in the United States in the late 1800s. He also told us why it was happening at the time. The author wrote it like it was an article or a newspaper type of way, it wasn't like a normal book you would read and it had pictures on almost every single page.

The theme of the book is about the John
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Kang P.
Feb 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Teenagers and Young Adults
Recommended to Kang by: Ms. Zweifel
This book provided a great deal of information that is relevant to John Brown one way or another.
Matt Mead YA Librarian
May 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
A fantastic look into an incredibly important period of American history that still impacts our lives today. Focusing on John Brown, the famous abolitionist and terrorist, A Volcano Beneath the Snow sheds light on his motivation, and on the motivations of many of his contemporaries on both sides of the issue of slavery. The book covers John Brown's life including his upbringing, his family life, failures in business, participation in the events of "Bloody Kansas", and goes on to cover the impa ...more
Melissa
Nov 04, 2014 rated it really liked it
John Brown is an American icon in the fight against slavery. His actions have left a legacy of discourse, stories, and songs that glorify and demonize him. John Brown was a white abolitionist who believed that armed insurrection was the only way to overthrow the institution of slavery. He planned and executed the raid on Harper’s Ferry in an effort to arm slaves and lead an uprising. It became an important event in the lead up to the civil war and made the war inevitable. In A Volcano Beneath th ...more
Jen
This book was a slog for me. I normally look forward to the nonfiction titles that are ranked among the best of the year for children/YA, since they tend to be very well-written and less dense than adult nonfiction. This book did not meet my expectations. The final chapters on Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War put a fine point on my issues with the bulk of the book; there was far more life and vivacity in these chapters than in any other. I feel (obviously could be mistaken and am reading a grea ...more
Angie
Feb 11, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
John Brown is an interesting historical figure. Was he a terrorist, a patriot, a martyr? Albert Marrin explores these ideas in this book. He details the life of John Brown, how he came to feel so strongly against slavery and why he began his campaign to free the slaves and dissolve the union. Brown is a fascinating character who had very strong political and religious beliefs in regards to slavery. He had no qualms about committing violence in the name of what he felt was right and just and he a ...more
Christina Getrost
Dec 06, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
Excellent narrative of John Brown's entire life, along with the background of the history of slavery as an institution and the causes of the Civil War, explaining how John Brown fit into it all. Shows him as a terrorist, a zealot, and a righteous man; author says Brown serves as a "warning against terrorism for a 'good cause.'" I found interesting that the author points out that Lincoln was racist-- he didn't believe that the races were equal, but he knew slavery was wrong. I also didn't realize ...more
Chrissy
Jan 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
While I expected information about John Brown and his actions, I did not expect the connections the author made to modern terrorism. I found this made the book much more interesting and thought provoking. Even more interesting to me was the discussion of the gridlock in Congress caused by so many congressmen who were totally committed to their own ideas, positive that they were right, and completely at odds with each other. This situation is also mirrored often in our current political situation ...more
Meredith
Mar 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, history
What a great book. It reads like a textbook, but the most interesting and informative textbook ever. I enjoyed it immensely, but I never forgot for one second that I was learning a lot. And I really was. I am amazed by all that Marrin was able to put into this book-the life of John Brown, yes, but also the entire history of slavery. The causes and history of the Civil War are also presented here in ways I never really knew about or understood. Honestly, if you want an easy view of history with c ...more
Kifflie
Jan 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: youth-nonfiction
Marrin successfully blends the story of John Brown's life with the history of slavery in the United States. Brown was certainly a very divisive figure in American life; his failed raid on Harper's Ferry eventually resulted in his becoming a martyr for the abolitionist cause.

I can't find it in myself to admire the man, though. He was a fanatic, believing that his ends justified any means (including lying and murder). His thinking was no different than that of other terrorists throughout history,
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Erin Logan
Feb 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I always love a book that points out events our history books failed to include. John Brown could easily be considered the original American Terrorist, setting out to destroy slavery by any means necessary as he believed he was on a mission from God. Despite Brown dying halfway through the book, the floodlight this book shines on forgotten history is outstanding. Slavery, obviously, was horrible and needed to be abolished, but John Brown's feelings and tactics do leave a lot to discuss about dri ...more
Erin
A Volcano Beneath the Snow traces John Brown's life and impact. In order to place him in context, the narrative goes into pretty deep detail about the history of slavery, as well as Brown's impact on the Civil War and beyond. The sheer scope of the book is impressive, and lends an amazing scale to John Brown's life. Marrin's treatment of the subject matter makes complex people and events accessible, but realistically his audience is probably adults and teens looking for a more engaging and less ...more
Annie
Jan 10, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is a very comprehensive book about John Brown, a historical figure that can certainly spur many engaging discussions about his role in the Civil War. It's a great example of non-fiction for high school-age students (and even adults!), but it does get a bit "textbook-y." Not sure how engaging the reading is itself, but it certainly could be used in sections to teach about John Brown. Reading this after Family Romanov was a bit of a let down, since that book was written far more like an engag ...more
Katy
Feb 11, 2015 rated it really liked it
a bit dry, but completely fascinating. I don't remember learning about John Brown in school, but I have been wanting to learn more about him since a visit to Harper's Ferry. I can't say that I like Brown all that much, but I am really glad I read the book. Also, it was pretty interesting to see how many major Civil War figures (Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee, etc) were in and around in Harper's Ferry at the time of Brown's execution. ...more
Matthew
Dec 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
Intended for children, it's better read by parents to children, as it raises lots of good questions for discussion about the use of violence to advance "good" causes. Superbly written and encompassing a broad scope from early American history of the triangle trade and slavery worldwide and in the South, along with compromises written into the Constitution and Congressional decrees with a focus on John Brown and then the Civil War. ...more
Edward Sullivan
Marrin writes as much about the history of slavery and the Civil War as he does about John Brown, but it's helpful in putting Brown's actions into an understandable context. Marrin does quite a good job discussing Brown as a terrorist and comparing his actions to those committed in recent times. Well-research, engrossing, thoughtful, and insightful. ...more
Erin Sterling
Dense, but informed and nuanced book about an abolitionist John Brown who was willing to go to any lengths (including what could be considered terrorist acts) for anti-slavery measures. Obviously, I've read about slavery before, but this book presented the history, legal issues, and political turmoil that resulted from it in all the ethical dilemmas. Excellent writing. ...more
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Albert Marrin is a historian and the author of more than twenty nonfiction books for young people. He has won various awards for his writing, including the 2005 James Madison Book Award and the 2008 National Endowment for Humanities Medal. In 2011, his book Flesh and Blood So Cheap was a National Book Award Finalist. Marrin is the Chairman of the History Department at New York's Yeshiva University ...more

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“situation. He was of no color, John Brown, of no race or age. He was pure passion.… He was an elemental force like wind, rain, and fire.”7” 0 likes
“And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him, and said, the LORD is with thee, thou mighty man of valor. —Judges 6:12” 0 likes
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