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Mightier Than the Sword: Uncle Tom's Cabin and the Battle for America
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Mightier Than the Sword: Uncle Tom's Cabin and the Battle for America

3.69  ·  Rating details ·  118 Ratings  ·  26 Reviews
Uncle Tom's Cabin is likely the most influential novel ever written by an American. In a fitting tribute to the two hundredth anniversary of Harriet Beecher Stowe's birth, Bancroft Prize-winning historian David S. Reynolds reveals her book's impact not only on the abolitionist movement and the American Civil War but also on worldwide events, including the end of serfdom in ...more
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published June 13th 2011 by W. W. Norton Company
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Jun 28, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: non-fiction
I appreciate Reynolds' ambition in taking on the topic of the worldwide political/social/historical impact of Uncle Tom's Cabin, and respect his thoroughness in addressing the topic. I learned from this book, and I won't say I'm sorry I read it.

But I wouldn't recommend Mightier than the Sword to someone, like me, who is interested in an engaging read as a casual student of history and literature. I found it disorganized and repetitive. More than a few times Reynolds writes "As mentioned earlier
Margaret Sankey
Oct 05, 2011 rated it liked it
Unfortunately, Uncle Tom's Cabin, if modern Americans have read it at all, is a gloppily sentimental, 19th century novel with a cast or hundreds and a tone that fails to move us. Hawthorne, Melville, Whitman survived to be taught in 21st century classrooms, but Stowe didn't--which it too bad, since it was her book that perfectly captured and harnessed 19th century American aesthetics and social values (including angels, following the law of "higher powers," sentimentality, beliefs about women, e ...more
This book is a discussion of how Harriet Beecher Stowe's classic novel brought the American people to abolition. Like UTC, it was written for white people, about white people, and argues that Stowe's vision of race relations was revolutionary. Reynolds provides a useful survey of 175 years of American pop culture to put Uncle Tom's Cabin in its cultural and rhetorical context. Unfortunately, his calling Stowe's racist use of slave stereotypes "subversive" doesn't make it so. And Roots is not the ...more
Nov 11, 2011 rated it really liked it
I mostly skimmed around in this for useful info for teaching my senior seminar on Uncle Tom's Cabin and Moby-Dick. It provided some excellent context that was valuable to students (a couple of them also borrowed the book for their final research essays), and validated some of what I had already told them as we prepared to read the novel. Not much of the information was wholly new, especially since I've spent extensive time on the Uncle Tom's Cabin and American Culture site hosted by UVA, but it' ...more
Bob Gustafson
I've written dozens of reviews and this is probably the most difficult book to evaluate so far. I don't recall how I came to it. Maybe it was recommended by Amazon after I had bought "Uncle Tom's Cabin".

"Uncle Tom's Cabin" was one of the best books that I have read in the last ten years. I was born, grew up and lived exclusively in white America (except for a year in Venezuela) until I took a position teaching in a predominantly African-American high school. That job ended after sixteen years du
Feb 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
In reading Mightier Than the Sword, by David S. Reynolds, I was really moved by how he presented Uncle Tom’s Cabin in such a positive light. So many people today view it as a negative novel, the way it is “sentimental” to pull at heart strings, how all the slaves “had” to be helped by white men and women, and the fact that Tom never ran away but chose to honor the “contract” of his masters. What I personally feel has caused this shift from honoring Uncle Tom and all the other characters to havin ...more
Nov 08, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
Reynolds redeems himself in the last two chapters of this book. OK, maybe not "himself", but the topic. The point of Mightier than the Sword is to provide a context for the authoring and cultural acceptance of Uncle Tom's Cabin, perhaps the most socially powerful novel ever written. Reynolds does that well. It's just that the first few chapters are all about Harriet Beecher Stowe, her family, and a parsing of some of the day's social issues and their characters. At least to me, this era of Ameri ...more
Elizabeth K.
Jun 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Elizabeth by: Melissa's mention of the WSJ review
Shelves: 2012-new-reads
I was expecting this to be edifying, so it was a bonus that it was also very readable. This is an overarching view of the famous novel, starting with a brief biography of Stowe to get a context of what's going on philosophically, spiritually, and culturally in her immediate circle, and goes on through the reception of the book, backlash to it, the endless songs and plays (and later films) inspired by it, and it's general impact on pop culture, which is a lot.

Especially for fellow Betsy-Tacy fans
An engrossing history of Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin" and the context surrounding it. The author argues that Stowe's best known work was a primary cause of the Civil War. It did this by getting many in the North to become more abolitionist while coalescing pro-slavery elements defending the peculiar institution. According to Prof. Reynolds "Uncle Tom's Cabin" itself was a somewhat more balanced work than the host of plays that were based on its content. The plays brought the anti-slavery theme to ...more
Pierre Lauzon
Jul 06, 2016 rated it it was ok
Mightier Than the Sword was not what I had expected. The subtitle Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the Battle for America led me to believe that it would be a discussion of the political evolution that began with the book and continues to the present day.

The book instead was a ponderous exposition of the evolution of Stowe’s book from book to plays and focused mainly on literature and the arts.

The book did have a few interesting insights. For example, I had never connected Uncle Tom’s Cabin with Gone With
Jul 20, 2012 rated it liked it
I wish GR had half stars. This was better than a 3, if not so good as a 4. So, 3.5. An interesting look at Uncle Tom's influence in causing the Civil War, and its impact after. It drags interminably in parts, but nevertheless does a good job in showing the spread and intensity of Uncle Tom fervor, not just in the ante-bellum US, but also internationally.

It was also an interesting comparison in book mania then and today: who knew that, just as today, marketing madness accompanies a literary pheno
Jan 26, 2012 rated it really liked it
Reynolds' book was engaging and passionate, about an engaging and passionate topic. When I recently read Uncle Tom's Cabin, I both thought I was reading it for the first time, and I was also surprised that so many of the scenes were so familiar. Reynolds' book helped me realize how very much Stowe's novel was popularized in various forms, over time. I must have seen one of them as a child. But, of course, Reynolds is also very interesting on Stowe's background, which I wondered about as I read t ...more
Patricrk patrick
May 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Far more people saw the play than read the book. The various plays and scenes from the play were a staple of American Theater for 77 years. The impact of the book turned the Boston mob around from "always willing to help a hunt for a fugitive slave" to federal troops were necessary to keep slave hunters safe. The book was crafted in such a way that it appealed to socialist, abolitionist, christian evangicals and prohibionist. A good look at a book that changes the world.

Jan 08, 2014 rated it liked it
The book was ok, his writing is clear and understandable. My issue was that it was uninteresting to me. I don't study this time period of US history, heck, I've never even read Uncle Tom's Cabin. Only 1 person in our class had read it at all. Caused a disconnect in general. Reynolds is all about how positive the novel was recieved and reproduced. He's clearly ignoring any alternative use of Tomitudes as well.
Roy Kenagy
Jul 04, 2012 marked it as to-read
"the most important book in American history?"

"The heart of the book covers the debates over race, slavery, and the extent to which Uncle Tom's Cabin—or any novel, for that matter—can be said to "change" history. Reynolds argues vehemently in favor of fiction's ability to do so, and he makes a very good case for it."
Sep 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I'd love to share with you why I thought this book was fantastic. However, as I'm not sure how I might step over Goodread's invisible line for appropriate, on-topic content, I will refrain until such time as the guidelines are made clear, easily accessible, and announced to all members.
Sep 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Excellent analysis/research by Reynolds on what could easily be argued is the most influential American novel ever written. Explosive in its impact upon publication in 1852, its influence still reverberates today.
Apr 24, 2012 rated it it was ok
My second civil war book of the year - must be a new record! Interesting concept but it went on way too long like they were trying too hard to make their point. Writing was also average and didn't really pull me in or move the book along.
Margaret McCamant
Read for book group, part of plan to read history during February, African American History Month. While reading this, I often wished I had read Uncle Tom's Cabin, but I'm not sure I will seek it out.
Hank Pharis
Feb 04, 2013 rated it liked it
A well done survey of the historical impact of Uncle Tom's Cabin as well as a lot of background biographical information regarding Harriet Beecher Stowe.
Oct 09, 2015 rated it liked it
Interesting background how such a powerful novel of the time effected the country on so many different levels.
Aug 01, 2012 marked it as to-read
Shelves: recommended-tcpl
SDMB Delphica recco "AWESOME. And quite a page-turner, which I wasn't expecting for a non-fiction book"
Jun 19, 2011 rated it really liked it
DMN review
Ruth Ann
Jul 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: american-history
This was quite fascinating and an engaging read. The political and cultural influence and legacy of this one book are nothing short of amazing.
Peter Tupper
Aug 16, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
My review is here.
rated it really liked it
Mar 03, 2011
Charlie Dell
rated it liked it
Mar 27, 2012
Mary Coleman
rated it it was amazing
Apr 15, 2017
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Jun 28, 2017
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David S. Reynolds is a Distinguished Professor of English and American Studies at the City University of New York. His works include the award-winning Waking Giant: America in the Age of Jackson, Walt Whitman's America, and John Brown, Abolitionist. He lives on Long Island in New York.
More about David S. Reynolds...