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1877: America's Year of Living Violently Hardcover – August 10, 2010

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: New Press, The; First Edition edition (August 10, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1595584412
  • ISBN-13: 978-1595584410
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #545,137 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

If you think the United States has problems today, try 1877. That single year, according to historian Bellesiles, saw an unprecedented surge in lynchings, racism, homicides, army attacks on Indians, labor violence (including a near national general strike), quack theories to explain it all, and a political crisis whose resolution on the backs of African-Americans scarred the nation until Johnson's Great Society. Offering a thorough review of this crisis-ridden year, Bellesiles, author of the controversial Arming America, makes the case that 1877 was also a year of breakthroughs in thought and creativity (Thomas Edison made the first voice recording, and Wannamaker's, the first department store, opened). But it is the violence that preoccupies the author, and he attributes it at least in part to Americans, in the midst of a depression, struggling "to come to terms with their new industrial society...." No reader will come away from this sobering work without a greater understanding of violence so extreme that contemporaries and numerous historians have commented on it (one historians called it "a symbol of shock, of the possible crumbling of society"). It's not easy reading, but it is solid, deeply informed history.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Lionized with the prestigious Bancroft Prize, Bellesiles’ Arming America (2000) scandalized historians when a committee of academics found him “guilty of unprofessional and misleading work.” The Bancroft was rescinded, and Bellesiles resigned his professorship from Emory. The present work is his bid to redeem his reputation. Sizing up a newsworthy year of a disputed presidential election, the termination of Reconstruction, the army’s pursuit of the Nez Percé Indians, a nationwide railroad strike, and gunplay in the Old West, Bellesiles extensively mines a verifiable source: newspapers. Quoting dispatches from small towns to burgeoning cities, Bellesiles succeeds in conveying an unsettled time of economic depression and class and racial conflict. A resumption of civil war appeared possible; southern blacks were terrorized back into subservience; and industrial strife upended Pittsburgh and St. Louis. Bellesiles also profiles a number of individuals prominent in 1877: both scoundrels such as Billy the Kid and reformers such as Frances Willard, an activist in the temperance and women’s suffrage movements. Absent challenges to its footnotes, this work should revive its author’s standing as it informs readers about 1877. --Gilbert Taylor

Customer Reviews

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His writing is engaging, lively and intelligent.
Anne Hendershott
This should be an entertaining read for those who want to learn more about the so-called "good old days".
Acute Observer
This book should be read by every person in America.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on November 18, 2010
Format: Hardcover
1877: America's Year of Living Violently follows the aftermath of the American Civil war, when the country was gripped by depression and white supremacist mobs in the South drove out the last of the Reconstruction state governments. It was a period of scandal, violence, confusion and even many high-profile murders as well as some of the last battles between the U.S. Army and Native Americans. The lives of famous and lesser-known Americans come to life in this fine survey of 1877's lasting impact on modern life and values.
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8 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Michael T. Clifford on April 18, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
1877: America's Year of Living Violently

I read this book at the same time I preached a sermon on non violence. I used quotes as well as major themes to show how complex societal violence really is. There are many examples of people who eschewed violence in the book and many who embraced it. Clearly when people are deprived of an ability to feed themselves, keep their land or who experience extreme injustice, a backlash is inevitable.
At a time in our history when the government was depriving Native Americans of their land and industrialists were depriving workers of their wages, the vacuum in leadership lead to a country in chaos.
The book is an opportunity to look at the personal side of all this and at the people who won and lost. A thorough and sobering volume. I bought the book after borrowing it from the library because I did not want to be without it as a reference.

Michael C
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6 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Scrapple8 on November 27, 2010
Format: Hardcover
It was the end of reconstruction, in the midst of a depression during the Second Industrial Revolution. President Hayes was elected over Tilden in an election more controversial than 2000. It was the year of anti-Coolies, anti-tramps, anti-reds, and anti-Molly McGuires. And, of course, it was the year of the Great Insurrection, a country-wide strike organized mainly by railroad workers, independently.

1877: America's Year of Living Violently by Michael Bellesiles gives an interesting look back at a period of time, and issues, that are not often recollected.
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16 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Paul Gelman on August 15, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Michael Bellesiles has written a gripping and spellbinding book about one yeat in American history:1877.
Writing such a microhistory is not an easy task for the serious historian, because he has to use as many and as varied sources as he can in order to reconstruct his subject.This Mr.Bellesiles has done in a suberb and magisterial way.His sources are newspapers, books, articles,diaries, statistics and official documents.
After the Civil War,the country was gripped by a deep depression which had devastating effects on anyone. White supremacists mobs were everywhere in the South, while in the West there were innumerable battles between the U.S Army and the plain Indians. In fact, the US government was conducting a war of extermination agaist the Sioux and the Cheyenne. As if this was not enough, there were regular conflicts which erupted at the border between Mexico and the USA since the Texan independence from Mexico in 1836. For California's Hispanics, 1877 was the year of lynchings.Many of them were killed by the mob because the bigotry against the Latinos was widespread. Chinese immigrants suffered from the same fate.
This period was also characterized by extreme poverty everywhere and this,in turn,led to the phenomenon of tramps.
Here Mr. Bellesiles is at his best decribing the appalling conditions of the tramps. The depression that started in 1873 devastated "the American working class.Those lucky enough not to lose their jobs saw their wages cut. Those who lost their jobs enjoyed no social safety net beyond the generosity of some churches and the willingness of the local jail to put them up on a cold night. Not surprisingly, many jobless workers took to the road and the rails in search of work: tramping was thus a rational response to unemployment".(p.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Mike Kilianski on March 26, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
At first I thought because of some slow reading passages, I would give Mr. Bellesiles work only 3 stars, but after considering what a Tour de Force of Gilded Age issues 1877 really is, I find that I have to rate it more highly.

Essentially, 1877 points out that at this period in American history the relationship between labor and capital replaced race as the preeminent social issue of the time, with freed African Americans ostensibly being thrown under the bus, so to speak, as the Era of Reconstruction came to a premature end. It would take, as Mr. Bellesiles points out, nearly 100 years to right the wrongs of reconstruction.

The year 1877 also marked the greatest mass labor unrest in our nation`s history when what has been called The Great Strike of 1877 took place in July of that year. Mr. Bellesiles does an excellent job of describing how violence played such an integral part in all aspects of American life at this time, but he especially focuses on the way violence was used as a reaction to and against labor unrest and wealth disparity. Out of the cataclysm of American Civil War grew a late 19th century nation that a legacy of government sanctioned violent behavior and this legacyimpacted all aspects of American life in the year 1877.

Perhaps the most interesting part of this work is they way Bellesilles profiles certain personalities like Jacob Riis, Walt Whitman and Frances Willard at the end. However, some parts of the book are a little redundant and do make for reading that is a bit on the slower side.
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More About the Author

Michael A. Bellesiles teaches history at Central Connecticut State University. The author of numerous books, including Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture, he lives in Connecticut.

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