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Patriotic Treason: John Brown and the Soul of America

4.16  ·  Rating details ·  228 ratings  ·  42 reviews
John Brown is a lightning rod of history. Yet he is poorly understood and most commonly described in stereotypes — as a madman, martyr, or enigma. Not until Patriotic Treason has a biography or history brought him so fully to life, in scintillating prose and moving detail, making his life and legacy-and the staggering sacrifices he made for his ideals-fascinatingly relevan ...more
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Published December 1st 2006 by Tantor Media (first published August 29th 2006)
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Jan 12, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There are times when the way we remember history is almost as interesting as the history itself. This phenomenon often occurs with regards to the American Civil War. The Civil War is as much a shared memory as it is a series of historical events. Much of its realties have been obscured by an agreed-upon myth. Every once in awhile, though, the dust gets shaken from that myth, and we are left to confront and argue about the past. Indeed, it seems we have to refight all the old battles every time s ...more
Sep 30, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I remember John Brown from high school history class as some weird crazy, quasi-terrorist man who killed people to free the slaves. Yet it wasn't until I read the conclusion to this book that I put it all into perspective:

"Had Brown been an escaped slave or a free northern black man who acted and spoke exactly as the historical John Brown did, professional historians of the last fifty years would not have labeled him mad. Radical, militant, enraged, desperate, impatient, self-aggrandizing, perha
This is a well researched, extremely readable and slightly white supremacist apologist biography of John Brown.

The author does an excellent job of presenting most white Abolitionists as white supremacists and racists. The vast majority of white abolitionists mostly cared about the impact that owning human beings had on the souls of white folks. They recognized that unlimited power breeds unlimited corruption and they were legitimately afraid that generations unchecked of this behavior in white f
Apr 01, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I saw this book sitting on the "new" shelf at the public library and picked it up on a whim. I knew very little about John Brown prior to reading this book - so little, in fact, that I thought his ill-fated raid at Harper's Ferry was a one-off. Boy, was I in for a surprise!

This is definitely one of my top reads so far this year. Carton does an amazing job of bringing John Brown to life in the pages of this book. Brown was a radical abolitionist for most of his life - from his early teenage years
Amy Holiday
Jun 08, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Nice history, even if a little boring. You only hear casual mentions of John Brown, even when you go to Harpers Ferry. "And here is where John Brown tried to raid the United States arsenal in 1859." Um, excuse me, what?

But there was a lot more to it than that, of course. Just like Brown's actions could be considered one of the events that set the Civil War in motion, there was a lot of other events that led him to that point. I found the details of his life and his passion to abolish slavery, as
Garrett Peterson
I know there are some historians that take issue with the selectivity of the authors framing of John Browns life in a more or less positive light. However, I really enjoyed this book as it gave a very good picture of the whole life of a man that most of us have only been told was "the crazy guy that started the Civil War by attacking an army base". Clearly there was more to his story and the tableau that lead our country to that great conflict, and this book does a great job of showing both.
Geoff Sebesta
First, I liked this book. It was a good book. It had new information and good presentation and occasional moments of insight. It discusses Brown's time in Kansas, which no other book seems to, and spares no effort to examine his motivations and get inside his head.

But. I hate to say it, this book contains actual mistakes. For example, the first person killed in the raid was not Shepherd Heyward. It was Heyward Shepherd. It may not sound important, but when you realize that his death is probably
Aug 08, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A mural of John Brown graces my blog, mostly because, well, he has a heck of a beard. But I've long viewed Brown as something of a psychopath--a glazed eye zealot who happened to mis-serve the right cause. I remember this from high school history, and a few ventures onto wikipedia.

This excellent, highly readable, and well-documented historical narrative of his life shifted my viewpoint. It humanizes Brown, giving real insights into his character through contemporary records and Brown's own writi
May 07, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting read. This story would make a great movie. Truly truth is stranger than fiction which is why I really enjoy non-fiction.

I realize this is one person's interpretation of the events surrounding Harpers Ferry and John Brown, but he makes a strong case for this episode from the past being a major driver towards the Civil War. And he drove it there deliberately, believing there was no alternative.

In thinking about it, this seemed to be the 19th century version of 9/11 - very loosely
Sep 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
While there is no possible way to gloss over his brutally violent history in Kansas, John Brown is one of those polarizing characters that has been largely vindicated by history. This book is an amazingly detailed and intimate retelling of his life. It provided insight into the political and moral arguments over slavery and African-Americans in the 1850s, much beyond what is usually presented in historical texts (which tend to either be oversimplified or focus on the economic aspects). The raid ...more
Feb 01, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a hard read and a hard subject - but I learned a lot about abolition not as lived by Washington insiders, but as lived by a white man driven to right the injustice of slavery. His religious life is very offputting 150 years later, but he was thoughtful and intentional in trying to right what he saw as the wost wrong a society could have - putting production above right treaetment of other people. In the book it mentions that he was the only white man in America who treated blacks as equa ...more
B. Anderson
Sep 07, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an exceptional look at the life of John Brown. Carton's book is well-researched, paying special attention to the Brown family's correspondence, giving a slightly different, more personal feel to the subject.

The narrative is like the best thrillers. I kept turning pages, wanting to know more--even though I knew how the story ended.

If you are interested in the life of John Brown--one of the most intriguing, controversial, and complex figures in American history--I highly recommend PATRIOTI
Kathleen O'Neal
Nov 22, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an excellent biography of John Brown that does an excellent job of helping the reader to understand the man not as a lunatic, religious fanatic, or fool but as the complicated and in many ways exemplary individual that he was. In reading this book, I felt that I learned a great deal about Brown and the times in which he lived and yet the book has also prompted me to learn still more about Brown from other sources. Highly recommended.
Aug 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Evan Carton provides an intricate and exploratory biographical sketch of an abolitionist, who played a key role in the anti-slavery movement. Patriotic Treason weaves through the life of John Brown and compels the reader to fully examine his humanity through his life story that marked his course of action to assist in the abolishment of a crime inflicted upon the African race. Carton's narrative style provides an intimate view into John Brown's lens of patriotism.
Feb 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A biography of the historical John Brown. The author does a fantastic job of getting to the soul of the famous abolitionist radical; showing that he was no more terrorist than many of this country's founding fathers, while, not glossing over his crimes and eccentricities. John Brown is most definitely my favorite historical figure.
Apr 20, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really enjoyed this one. I'd say it's a 4.5er. Carton did a wonderful job providing a fair and objective look at John Brown. In school, I learned that he was a crazy killer. He was definitely more Malcolm X than MLK Jr., but he was a loving person that just wanted to do his part to free slaves.
Dec 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An awesome biography of a man who humbly marched through life's failures until he quietly became the match that lit the powder keg of the Civil War. John Brown was no mad man, but an American driven by the essence of patriotism and a man with a moral and wholly mortal destiny.
Jul 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is probably one of the best biographies I've ever read, and I've read a lot of biographies. Meticulously researched and beautifully written, it truly does its subject justice.
Steve Smits
May 20, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What are we to make of John Brown and his impact on the tensions between North and South that led to secession and war? The conceptions of him held by historians are far from alike. Was he a madman whose fanaticism on the issue of slavery culminated in his ill-conceived, suicidal raid on the Harper’s Ferry Armory? Was his belief that the raid would spark a general uprising of slaves completely delusional? In light of the growing rancor between the North and the South was Brown and his action jus ...more
Oct 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
John Brown is too complex a figure in American history to ever be deified in a way that, for example, George Washington, Ulysses S. Grant, or Abraham Lincoln were. All used violence as a means to free a people. But it seems the difference between Brown and other "American heroes" is that Brown worked without the benediction and carte blanche that a position in the government/military provides. In a nation that claims to cherish its freedom and yet at the same time adheres to rules and regulation ...more
Arthur Bartram
Nearly the first thing when you open this book is an author's note which reads, in part:

"There are crucial moments and passages in the historical story of John Brown to which the available record provides only a map, not a key. To enter into these moments and passages, to understand them more intimately, and to convey their living drama, I sometimes visualize the undescribed sensory and emotional particulars and imagine the unpreserved words, thoughts, and motives that animated them."

This, along
Jenny Yates
I learned a great deal about John Brown from this book, so it was definitely worth reading. I had only associated Brown with the raid at Harper’s Ferry, so I didn’t realize he had a highly successful previous career, fighting off the pro-slavery forces when Kansas was just forming as a state. He also did an enormous amount of planning and preparation, including seeking input from all the influential Black leaders of the day, such as Douglass, Still and Tubman. And he lost so much, including many ...more
Hank Pharis
Both of the books I listened to on John Brown were good.

John Brown was born in 1800, 5 months after the death of George Washington and on the same day as Nat Turner. His father, Owen was a Calvinist who was influenced by Jonathan Edwards Jr. to become an Abolitionist. He lost his mother as a young boy and grieved for her the rest of his life. His first wife was mentally ill as were some of his sons (one of them castrated himself). Most of his sons abandoned his faith and yet remained loyal to h
Glenn Robinson
Feb 03, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very well done bio on John Brown that fills in much of his life that other bios gloss over. This one is less on the actual raid in Harper's Ferry and more into the other periods of his life. He was rated as the leading expert on wool. I was not aware of this, but he was sought out in New York and New England for his expertise in wool, including being sent to Europe to sell wool. He took full advantage of his business network to build his abolitionist network which raised money and munitions to ...more
Jun 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the most enlightening and important books on slavery, racism and emancipation in American History that I have ever read. The author fills in many gaps in what is known about John Brown and the story is a bit of a novelization of this unheralded and militant abolitionist.
Still, the comparison of his contemporaries — Lincoln and Thoreau and John Brown — pose the challenge of violence or non-violence as a course to alleviate, finally, America's racist history.
Oct 15, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book really shows how complex the man was. I still can't decide if he was a man ahead of his time, a nutcase, or if he just really needed a mom to teach him how to tone down his passion and get along better with people in order to persuade them to his side. All of the historical information made it a bit harder to slog through, but was invaluable in helping me get a picture of how John Brown fit into the time in history.
Al Berry
A biography on John Brown; biggest take away from this Calvinist Anti Slavery Crusader, All of his sons, and there were many, were faithful to his Anti-Slavery Crusade, none were Christians.
Elizabeth Bell
Apr 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An outstanding book about an outstanding man.
Makda D
Jan 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Patriotic Treason; John Brown and the soul of America 387 pg April 1, 2009 Evan Carton
Patriotic Treason; John Brown and the Soul of America is a book about is one of the most underrated and miss understood figures in history. This book gives an insight of the life of an abolitionist by the name of John Brown during the time of pre- civil war. According to Carton, John Brown was a man categorized by his action. Until now Brown has been under a mask of judgment based on his radic
Alexandria Osborne
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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“The years of the Jackson presidency, 1829 through 1837, have been said to mark the rise of the common man in America. These were also the years in which America officially established the supremacy of the white man.
Of course, racial consciousness and discrimination long predated Jackson’s election. But in this period, immigration, westward expansion, and the intensifying debate about slavery prompted more categorical definitions and defenses of who had rights in and to the land and who did not.”
“The new white Americans often invoked racial solidarity to claim their political and economic rights and surmount their religious, cultural, and linguistic differences from the established population. As America industrialized, white workingmen’s associations were formed.” 0 likes
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