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John Brown

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  261 ratings  ·  31 reviews
With scholarship and passion, Du Bois understands and explains John Brown.
Paperback, 304 pages
Published July 10th 2001 by Modern Library (first published September 1909)
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4.13  · 
Rating details
 ·  261 ratings  ·  31 reviews

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Donna Davis
This title is among my favorite biographies of all time.

The profs teaching the class I took in college featured John Brown as a small figure in American contemporary history and dismissed him fairly quickly. He meant well, but was not stable, they said; in the end, he took extreme, hopeless measures that were destined for doom. He remained a hero to Black families (they admitted), South and North alike, as the first Caucasian man who was willing to die for the rights of Black people. Whereas ma
Dec 24, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: white people, antiracists, prison abolitionists, direct action proponents
My only knowledge of John Brown prior to reading several books on him in the last year was that he had been a overzealous and unrealistic idealist that led a raid on Harper's Ferry to try to spark a slave rebellion. Reading more details about his planning and overall plan show the historical inaccuracies in the standard narrative of both John Brown and of the abolitionist movement, specifically that the there was a wide range of opinion (from the pacifist educationalism of Garrison to the milita ...more
James Klagge
Oct 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Today happens to be the 158th anniversary of John Brown's ill-fated raid on Harper's Ferry. I was there just a month ago, and took that as a motive to read this bio by Du Bois. Du Bois is an excellent, literary writer, and it was a great book. It was published in 1909, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the raid, and offering an African-American perspective. I have not read any more recent or more scholarly bios, but this relied primarily on letters written by Brown or others who knew him, so ...more
Geoff Sebesta
Feb 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is the definitive work on Brown. If you had to read only one book on the subject, this would be it.

Du Bois manages to do what no other biographer has done, and I've read about a dozen books on Brown. Du Buois manages to place the man in context. After all, there are a whole lot of John Browns out there, and it takes some doing to explain why this one is different. He starts back in the Revolutionary War, with Brown's parents, and follows him through his life and the deforming effect that 19
William West
Feb 16, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This early work by W.E.B. Du Bois shows the author transitioning from an academic historian to a political writer. Ostensibly a biography, this is more revolutionary propaganda than historical document. However one chooses to categorize it, it is a worthwhile and entertaining work.

Du Bois is not here trying to humanize Brown in response to the demonization that most American historians had to that point, and to a degree still, treated Brown. Rather, Du Bois is using fire and brimstone to fight
Mar 13, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent biography of John Brown. History tends to paint him as some kind of murderous rebel, but Du Bois correctly shows he was a patriot hoping to fight a guerilla war to free America's slaves.
Maughn Gregory
Jul 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
"John Brown taught us that the cheapest price to pay for liberty is what it costs today" (p. 237).

John Brown's method of principled violence against entrenched systems of violent injustice must be taken seriously in dialogue with the non-violent methods of the Quakers, Gandhi and King. Du Bois brings beautiful writing and careful analysis to this pivotal episode in US history. And his concluding essay turning social Darwinism on its head is brilliant.

"These were the men - idealists, dreamers, so
Jul 06, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Starts slow, but once Kansas starts bleeding, things start picking up. A judicious but passionate investigation of one of the most important men in the most important periods in American history.
W.E.B. DuBois' voice is also always a pleasure to read, and his theoretical considerations at the end have profound resonance in our day as well.
Sep 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: freedom
For their second gathering, the leaders of the anti-racist Niagara Movement chose to convene on the campus of Storer College in Harper's Ferry, West Virginia in 1906. Two days after the conference attendees marched barefoot to the "hallowed ground" of John Brown's 1859 raid to free enslaved Americans, W.E.B. Du Bois read his famous "Address to the Country." The choice of location for the important conference that would help set the stage for the founding of the NAACP, the somber promenade to vis ...more
Sarah Crawford
Oct 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is a very complete, very through book on John Brown. It covers his entire life and just what kind of person he was and how this led to the assault on Harper's Ferry. The introduction talks about slave revolts, the revolution in Haiti, a race riot in Atlanta in 1906 and other similar things. The preface establishes a chronology for Brown's life and how, when he was quite young, he saw a slave abused.

As an adult his financial life was damaged by various crashes and 'panics' in the world of mo
John Brown's body lies a-mouldering in the grave,
His soul's marching on

One of the first observations one will make about this is its lack of original research and reliance on two-or-three biographers. But it then becomes apparent that this is in fact an extremely ambitious meta-analysis of the historiography and, especially, an attempt to radically re-contextualize the figure of John Brown. In both respects it is interesting and successful.

One of the highlights is definitely the 1962 addition to
Albert Duran
This book, in its original publication by George W. Jacobs & Company, was one of a series of biographies of at least twenty-three famous Americans of the nineteenth century brought out by this publisher under its imprint American Crisis Biographies. Other biographies from this same set currently listed on GR are Frederick Douglas by Booker T. Washington and William Lloyd Garrison by Lindsay Swift.
Feb 17, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Du Bois works the hell out of primary source documents to tell John Brown’s story—with great humanity, but also the flourishing that should accompany as grandiose a personality as Brown. And I loved how, in the end, Du Bois positioned Brown’s legacy within the context of his own time, and the concerns of Marxism.
Mar 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
I never realized what a hotbed of rebellion Lawrence, Kansas was and I grew up not all that far away, relatively speaking. Made me proud (okay, maybe a dumb sentiment but true nevertheless.) John Brown was quite a character. I find him brilliant. To be continued...
Jeff Ivey
Mar 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I knew the story of John Brown, but not the details of the man himself. A fantastic, educational read that is as relevant today as it was when it was first published. A man devoted to others, a true American hero. DuBois’ writing is timeless, and I’m very glad I decided to read this.
Jan 05, 2016 added it
I've always been intrested in John Brown and the Raid on Harper's Ferry. I have ancestors who were involved with Brown (though not the raid) and my parents are buried across from Edwin Coppoc who was executed for taking part in it. My gguncle brought Coppoc's body back to Salem, Ohio. I've also not read a lot of W E B DuBois, and as a trained historian I should. So I took this opportunity to catch up a bit.

From all reports, this is not one of DuBois's best books. He wrote it over a long period
Andy May
This biography has some interesting details about John Brown and his life, but glosses over some of his excesses and is a bit to "preachy."
Michael VanZandt
May 09, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: american-history
Conflicted with this book. This was the work of which Du Bois was most proud. I'm less impressed. It is dated in its history. It lacks the academic integrity of contemporary historical books. Rarely does he provide footnotes. For Du Bois, it is clear that his attention is drawn to the present and future, rather than the past.

In the end, it is a propaganda piece and through the -- at times -- laboring narrative springs Du Boisian wisdom and philosophy. As the book is closing, Du Bois unwraps the
Sep 16, 2010 rated it really liked it
The well done biography of John Brown. Du Bois does not believe or portray John Brown as a murdering fanaticaly madman, that too often he is portrayed as. Brown was a man looking to end the wrong of slavery and he felt that the end had to come violently. The last chapter about the legacy of John Brown is a thinly vieled excuse for Du Bois to express his own opinions on how the world should be different in terms of race relations. Although, this was published in 1909, it is still readable and app ...more
Larry Lamar Yates
Dec 27, 2008 rated it it was amazing
DuBois wrote critical historical works of our nation, including this one about John Brown, and also carried out more than one crucial task in the Black liberation struggle. John Brown, is present every time a white citizen of the U.S.A. considers what is to be done, and what was not done, to end exploitation based on race.
Oct 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
The part at the end, that was added after the book was written, about how john brown would have loved the Soviet Union was cool
Kimberly Uhuru
Apr 01, 2014 rated it liked it
A good history of Brown's life and the period immediately preceding the Civil War.
John Graham
Jan 07, 2011 rated it it was amazing
A wonderfully written biography of a fascinating man.
Noah Smock
Sep 06, 2008 rated it really liked it
Interesting to see the historic figure of John Brown through DuBois's lens.
Jul 02, 2015 added it
Great read, Great guy!
Dr.  Toxic
Feb 21, 2008 rated it it was ok
And I thought my Catholic parents were strict. I wouldn't ever want this guy as my dad. Go John Brown!!!
Jan 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Craig Bolton
John Brown (Modern Library Classics) by W.E.B. Du Bois (2001)
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In 1868, W.E.B. Du Bois (William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, pronounced 'doo-boyz') was born in Massachusetts. He attended Fisk College in Nashville, then earned his BA in 1890 and his MS in 1891 from Harvard. Du Bois studied at the University of Berlin, then earned his doctorate in history from Harvard in 1894. He taught economics and history at Atlanta University from 1897-1910. The Souls of Black ...more
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