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All on Fire: William Lloyd Garrison and the Abolition of Slavery Paperback – February 22, 2000

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Born in poverty, and self-educated while working in a print shop, William Lloyd Garrison was one of the United States' greatest crusading editors, putting out a weekly anti-slavery newspaper, The Liberator, for 35 years, beginning in 1831. A product of the rough and tumble political journalism of the day, Garrison wrote with extreme passion and from an uncompromising point of view. Yet the man who emerges from the pages of All on Fire is a deeply thoughtful person who, despite barely escaping lynch mobs himself, had a great sense of humor and a very polite demeanor. Historians have tended to minimize Garrison's impact on America, and some consider him a fringe character. But Henry Meyer, in this hefty biography, places Garrison at the center of his century, noting that Garrison's thought and tactics influenced not only the country's changing view of slavery, but also inspired the incipient feminist movement. The Lincoln administration noted Garrison's influence by inviting him to help raise the flag over the recaptured Fort Sumter. All on Fire goes into great detail on Garrison's life and work, providing the close and copious examination this activist's life fully deserves. --Robert McNamara --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Dead for almost 120 years, Garrison (1805-1879) tends to be caricatured in U.S. history books, if he's mentioned at all. That caricature shows a single-issue fanatic who had right on his side but possibly did more harm than good by agitating abolitionists and slavery advocates alike. Garrison was raised largely by his mother, a Baptist who marched "through life with 'high views' of its duties, and with the firmness of a Christian soldier." For her son, once roused by the Quaker Benjamin Lundy to the evils of slavery, there could be no compromise. There must be complete, immediate emancipation grounded in the U.S. Constitution. Anything less would cheapen human life and national dignity. Mayer's triumph is to show Garrison as a complicated human being, a fanatic to be sure, but one with a devoted family, a sense of humor and a brilliance of mind unexpected of one with so little formal education. Mayer, an independent historian living in Berkeley, Calif., and author of a biography of Patrick Henry (Son of Thunder), has done impressive research, especially in his use of Garrison's Boston-based newspaper, the Liberator, to explain its editor. The writing is first rate, and Mayer bucks contemporary trends by both his relentless adherence to chronology and his generous assessment of his subject. Few historians make the past more accessible than Mayer has.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 704 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin; 1st edition (February 22, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312253672
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312253677
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.6 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,265,977 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

33 of 33 people found the following review helpful By "areaderinnyc" on March 20, 2000
Format: Paperback
I read a great number of biographies that deal with American history, and this is simply one of the finest works I have ever read. In terms of scope and ambition and writing style, I compare ALL ON FIRE with Robert Caro's THE POWER BROKER. Henry Mayer should come to be known as one of America's finest living biographers. In addition to being the definitive biography of William Lloyd Garrison, this is also a brilliant retelling of nineteenth-century American history as seen through the eyes of its greatest Abolitionist leader. This is social and intellectual history at its finest, for Mayer uses Garrison as a focal point to tell the story of the political leaders, writers, agitators, and early women's rights advocates whose lives were affected by the fight to abolish slavery. I realize that this book will take you a good chunk of time, but it is worth every minute. ALL ON FIRE becomes an absorbing, tragic tale, yes, an epic, with all events leading to the carnage of the Civil War and the emancipation of the slaves. Once you have finished this book, you will put Garrison before Lincoln as the one person most responsible for setting free the slaves. It's hard to imagine a time in American history when people were so socially and politically responsible (read the section where 10,000 people encircle a Boston prison to protest the removal of an escaped slave back to South Carolina, for example). There is a great tradition in America of social protest. This book is really a colossal achievement that harkens back to an age when people and ideas still mattered.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Toby Joyce on October 2, 2000
Format: Hardcover
If God had decided to destoy the United States in the 1830s as an iniquitious country, he might have stayed his hand on account of the existence of William Lloyd Garrison. So long derided as a fanatic who spread discontent and brought about the Civil War, Garrison is here re-habilitated as a man dedicated to racial equality and liberty, and even a figure of some pragmatism and moderation. Indeed, he should be praised and elevated by those who profess to see America as 'a shining city on a hill', except that probably their motives are baser than Garrison's. Garrison went so far as to burn the Constitution in public as a 'pact with slavery'. Yet he was always a dedicated pacifist. This is a brilliant biography bringing to life the man and the turbulent era in which he lived. A must for anyone with even a remote interest in antebellum history of the USA, or anyone who likes to become immersed in biography at its best.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 27, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I thought I knew my American history reasonably well until Henry Mayer taught me how much I had missed. Garrison certainly was far more than the hot-headed crusader on the nut fringe I read about in one text after another. But this book also is more than a correction of an historial footnote; Mayer breathes life into the moral arguments about slavery before the Civil War and weaves America's history from the signing of the Constitution to the passage of the 14th Amendment into a colorful, lively tapestry. This is biography raised to its finest form.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 4, 1998
Format: Hardcover
I cannot recommend it highly enough. A rich read about a great American hero for all times. Mayer obviously loves and admires Garrison, but this did not keep him from portraying this hero with his blemishes as well as strengths. The most startling thing about this great read is just how important Garrison was to America's most tumultuous time --- the abolitionist of all abolitionists, a leader who appreciated how deep religious beliefs and moral politics go together, who believed in the power of the written and spoken word, who helped perhaps as much as anyone in our history to move our nation and free it of slavery. Truly a companion biography to go with the best biographies of Lincoln --- no understanding of the Civil War can be complete without knowing about Garrison, and this is definitely the way to know about Garrison. To say it simply: no one can claim to be a Civil War buff without knowing about Garrison, and no one can know about Garrison any better way than by reading this book. Highest kudoes to Mayer!
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Norman Rabkin on October 15, 1998
Format: Hardcover
All on Fire is a superb book. Written in a style that combines lucidity with passion, an enormous amount of factual information with a historical imagination that brings everything described to vivid life, it covers the years during which what may be the defining issue in American history led to civil war and to a settlement that transformed our lives. By focusing on one man Mayer is able to present a coherent, constantly dramatic narrative that never loses its way. Garrison himself is a unique phenomenon: thorny, admirably and sometimes infuriatingly faithful to a rigorously held set of principles that gave him the power to influence history by sheer force of will and intelligence. By following Garrison's thirty-five hears as editor of his paper The Liberator while reconstructing the history in which that journal participates Mayer brilliantly brings mid-nineteenth century America to life, simultaneously presenting people, places, and events with a novelist's imagination and animating moral and political issues with judicious understanding. The result is a powerful reading experience. Without preaching Mayer implicitly raises important questions about our own polital life: race and gender are enduring problems that one would expect, but the underlying question of the role of uncompromising adherence to personal ideals in public life asks us to think about our own politics. As a beautifully imagined recreation of a crucial period in American life (wonderful passages explaining the mechanics of typesetting and printing, for example, or describing travel by land and sea), as an analytic study of what lies beneath the surface of mere storytelling (the demographics of slaveholding, as a typical example), as a constantly illuminating exploration of political history, and not least as the studiously researched, moving, and sympathetic biography of a fascinating man, All on Fire is a book I can wholeheartedly recommend.
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