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A Disease in the Public Mind: A New Understanding of Why We Fought the Civil War Hardcover – May 7, 2013


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press; 1st Edition, 1st Printing edition (May 7, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0306821265
  • ISBN-13: 978-0306821264
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.2 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (75 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #239,909 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Titles regularly appear that posit the cause of the American Civil War—one indication that the war has no unassailable explanation. The prolific Fleming, for decades a fixture among American historians, pinpoints public opinion as the proximate origin of the war, specifically its acquisition by 1860 of a polarized, paranoid character, pitting Northerners’ fear of “slave power” against Southerners’ terror of a race war sparked by Northern abolitionists (John Brown was their nightmare made real). Fleming recounts attitudes of prominent Founders toward slavery, emphasizing how their general recognition of its injustice never quite trended, during the early decades of the 1800s, toward emancipation. Instead of declining, the peculiar institution retrenched and expanded. Without understanding white Southerners’ predicaments, Fleming argues, abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison damned them, their region, and the Union. An array of Southerners’ ripostes to Northern criticisms peppers Fleming’s narrative of each section’s exacerbating willingness to impute baleful motives to the other. Making a plausible presentation of antebellum attitudes and illusions, Fleming is sure to spark lively discussion about the Civil War. --Gilbert Taylor

Review

Kirkus Reviews, March 2013
“[A] thesis-driven tour.”

Booklist, 4/1
“The prolific Fleming, for decades a fixture among American historians, pinpoints public opinion as the proximate origin of the war…Making a plausible presentation of antebellum attitudes and illusions, Fleming is sure to spark lively discussion about the Civil War.”

Publishers Weekly, 3/18
 “[Fleming is] always a quirky, contrarian writer-historian.”

What Would the Founders Think?, 4/10/13
“An interesting and readable book. In the course of Fleming’s narrative he casts light on some little discussed related events.”

Roanoke Times, 4/26/13
“A thoughtful examination of the root cause of that costly conflagration that interrupted the lives of the entire nation…Fleming’s trademark as an historian is his ability to tell a story without interjecting his bias or his own opinions, unless they are supported by facts. In this book, Fleming continues that tradition of professional observation…Fleming’s story about our ‘disease in the public mind’ is the very essence of good history.”

Library Journal, 5/1/13
“Controversial.”

New York Journal of Books, 5/7/13
“Do we really need another book about the Civil War? Mr. Fleming makes a solid, compelling case in the affirmative. His narrative weaves new threads through this seminal event in American history. Through his exposition of largely ignored events he affords us a clearer, much more succinct picture of antebellum America…Fleming’s scholarship digs further into the prevailing Southern and Northern attitudes and mores of the period to draw into sharper relief the more widespread concerns, political and public, behind the Civil War…Certainly this book will provoke controversy of some manner, but we can ill afford to take as gospel truth what has typically been passed off as general history…A Disease in the Public Mind is not simply a thoughtful read, it is another call never to forget our sordid past, to face and conquer our fears.”

Wall Street Journal, 5/25/13
“A great deal of fine scholarship…Mr. Fleming more than supports his arguments…Well-researched and well-written…[A] superbly revisionist book.”

American History, August 2013
“Thoughtful and provocative…The prewar arc of divisive national self-destruction he describes looks eerily, unhappily familiar today.”

ForeWard, Summer 2013
“Extremely captivating…Ties together disparate people and events in revealing ways…Fascinating and entertaining.”

Philadelphia Tribune, 5/23/13
“Makes a convincing case that the polarization that divided the North and South and led to the Civil War began decades earlier than most historians are willing to admit…A Disease in the Public Mind is an attempt to offer understanding and forgiveness for both sides of a war the continues to challenge the country’s founding principles of liberty and equality.”

Garden Grove Journal, 5/23/13
“[Fleming’s] research is excellent…This book presents an interesting perspective on the Civil War and its causes that is a clear departure from most of the literature on that subject.”



Bookviews, June 2013
“Though it is early in the year, I am inclined to believe that one of the best new books about U.S. history will be Thomas Fleming’s A Disease in the Public Mind…[It] provides an insight that few others about the Civil War have done…I heartily recommend reading this book to understand what led to the Civil War—a long process—and the failed compromises that could not deter it.”

InfoDad, 5/30/13
“Thomas Fleming has done a genuine service in writing A Disease in the Public Mind…Consistently fascinating in the new dimensions it brings to historical figures whom readers may think they know but in fact understand only imperfectly…Americans who read A Disease in the Public Mind will see their country and what was, for many, its defining conflict, in a very different way from the typical one, and will understand that the book’s title refers to an illness that neither the Civil War, nor the peace afterwards, nor the intervening century and a half, has completely cured.”

Milwaukee Shepherd-Express, 6/10/13   
“[Fleming’s] fast-moving, erudite, yet accessible account will keep most readers turning the pages…Fleming adeptly shows the inexorable buildup of mutual hatred and paranoia between North and South, primarily over slavery. He illustrates potential turning points along the sad road to national catastrophe, the ‘what ifs’ that make history so interesting.”

Reference & Research Book News, June 2013
“Written in plain language for general readers, the book describes the roles and personalities of key figures, some almost forgotten by posterity and others well known.”

WomanAroundTown.com, 6/2/13          
“One of the most engaging authors of our time…Fleming deftly explains the passions and polarization that led to the horrific conflict.”

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 6/16/13
“Counterintuitive…One of those books where you wish you had the author in the room with you to defend and discuss his positions.”

Morristown Green, 6/27/13
“If they had a Hall of Fame for historians, Thomas Fleming would be a shoo-in.”

The Weekly Standard, 7/22/13
“It comes…as a welcome relief when a historian of the stature of Thomas Fleming takes it upon himself to set the record straight about the complex, irresistible causes of the Civil War…Well-researched and well-documented…[A] splendid story.”

Washington Times, 7/9/13
“For a different take on the Civil War and for those of us with a contrarian mindset, Thomas Fleming is a delightful and provocative historian.”
 
PJmedia.com, 7/5/13
“Thomas Fleming is known for his provocative, politically incorrect, and very accessible histories that challenge many of the clichés of current American history books.  Fleming is a revisionist in the best conservative sense of the word.  His challenges to accepted wisdom are not with an agenda, but with a relentless hunger for the truth and a passion to present the past as it really was, along with capturing the attitudes and culture of the times…A Disease in the Public Mind [is] perhaps his most provocative book yet.”
 
Politics & Patriotism (blog), 7/10/13
A Disease in the Public Mind is just what we need in this era of growing frustrations over government intrusion and fears of domestic and international terrorism…It is my sincere hope that thoughtful examinations of our past like this can help us avoid such extreme socio-political upheavals in the future.”


Bloomington Pantagraph, 7/30/13
“[Fleming] digs deep into why there was a War Between the States, starting years before anyone picked up a gun at Fort Sumter . This isn’t a book one would want to browse—it’s detailed down to the smallest item—but scholars of the Civil War will find it very interesting and, perhaps, thought-provoking.”

TrulyArts.com, 7/31/13
“A new take of the origins and background of the Civil War by one of the pre-eminent scholars and writers on the era…There are plenty of anecdotes in here to surprise you regardless of your stance or political leanings.”

The Waterline, 8/1/13
“Fleming is a regular staple among those who wish to understand America’s Revolutionary history…Those with a true passion for American history will enjoy this new book.”

Veterans Reporter, August 2013
“This book is a breath of fresh air concerning the ever-growing library of work regarding the Civil War.”

PJmedia.com, 8/16/13
“Fleming has brought us an intelligent yet accessible account of part of this country’s early history. He posits compelling new reasons to add to the debate over the causes of the Civil War.”

America, October 2013
“A highly recommended narrative history that is dominated by this provocative theme: the public mind of the United States, ever since the nation’s colonial beginnings, has been infected by a damaging disease. Fleming, by diagnosing the causes, symptoms and spread of that disease, serves up controversial conclusions about why Americans fought the Civil War…Fleming’s richly detailed and eminently readable account of events leading up to the Civil War is like a complex melodrama, populated by an intriguing assortment of heroes, villains, victims and plenty of surprises—some of which are very disturbing. Loaded with provocative insights, this book is a well-argued answer to that persistent question: Why did Americans fight the Civil War?”

Civil War Book Review, Fall 2013
“A sweeping work…The author traces the rise of the slavery issue from the American Revolution through the Civil War in a number of fast-paced chapters which are generally quite well-executed in a literary sense, and are based on secondary sources that will be familiar to historians of the era. He provides brief but lively summaries of the evolving views on slavery of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington.”

More About the Author

"How do you write a book?" 24 year old Thomas Fleming asked bestselling writer Fulton Oursler in 1951. "Write four pages a day," Oursler said. "Every day except Sunday. Whether you feel like it or not. Inspiration consists of putting the seat of your pants on the chair at your desk." Fleming has followed this advice to good effect. His latest effort, "The Intimate Lives of the Founding Fathers," is his 50th published book. Twenty three of them have been novels. He is the only writer in the history of the Book of the Month Club to have main selections in fiction and in nonfiction. Many have won prizes. Recently he received the Burack Prize from Boston University for lifetime achievement. In nonfiction he has specialized in the American Revolution. He sees Intimate Lives as a perfect combination of his double talent as a novelist and historian. "Novelists focus on the imtimate side of life. This is the first time anyone has looked at the intimate side of the lives of these famous Americans, with an historian's eyes." Fleming was born in Jersey City, the son of a powerful local politician. He has had a lifetime interest in American politics. He also wrote a history of West Point which the New York Times called "the best...ever written." Military history is another strong interest. He lives in New York with his wife, Alice Fleming, who is a gifted writer of books for young readers.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Suzanne M. Crockett on September 8, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Being from Virginia, which was so pivotal in the War for Independence and the War Between the States, I was hoping to learn more about why my state seceded, and I did. I'm a history major, and I've taught history, and in all my studying I've never learned what I learned in this well written book. If you want to have a better understanding of the root causes of the Civil War, you will gain it here.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Robert Bookman on September 9, 2013
Format: Hardcover
If you want to read one book to understand why the Civil War not only occurred but had a certain fatalistic inevitability, look no further than Thomas Fleming's A DISEASE IN THE PUBLIC MIND (Da Capo Press). The distinguished historian poses the fresh and timely question: Why is it that of all of the Western slaveholding nations, The United States was the only one that needed a Civil War to end it? The analysis of the answer that Fleming slowly and methodically develops involves both the fundamentalism of the abolitionists and the fear of insurrection in the slave states. There were statistically speaking very few slaveowners in the slave states, but the populace was driven by fear that freeing the slaves would lead to a repeat of the slaughters from the slave insurrection in Haiti led by Jean-Jacques Dessalines in 1804 and the smaller but much closer to home violent rebellion of Nat Turner in Virginia in 1831, or worse. Even if you think you know the history that led to the slaughter of a now-estimated 825,000 lives (out of a population of approximately 32 million) this page turner will take you step by step from the coming of slavery to America to Appomattox Court House in a way that truly is "A New Understanding of Why We Fought the Civil War".
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Thomas B. Fowler on September 25, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I love to learn...and Fleming loves to teach, I think. When we think we know all about John Brown or Robert E. Lee--Fleming brings out really important nuggets of gold that enrich our comprehension of these men. Plus, Thomas Fleming seems to display a bit of philosophy when he was struck by Pres. Buchanan's observation about the temporary insanity that started such a huge war. North and South. I was delighted to find very little Northern bias, just the historian uncovering the truth about flawed humans, who manage to launch horrible wars to ''solve'' some imagined problem.

I recommend this book to America...to the schools as well as to the crusty old professor who has taught the subject for decades.

Tell me more, please, Thomas.
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46 of 61 people found the following review helpful By Frank Manfredi on May 28, 2013
Format: Hardcover
First, the book is clearly and crisply written, It moves with speed and is an enjoyable read. Obviously there are hundreds of books written on the causes of the Civil War, and yet the question remains - Why? Did it have to be fought? Wasn't there anyway out?

Mr. Fleming offers an interesting perspective. Despite the brilliance of our founding fathers, they could not resolve the one issue that would tear our country apart. The reason offered from this work was two distinct deep seated fears. The uncompromising position of the abolitionist of the North, with the fear of race wars in the south.

The book is well reasoned and the history of the situation on both sides is well documented. I found the experience of the threatened succession of New England in 1815 to be of particular import. The political nuance of the times made be believe that things never change. Politics is the same today as it was then.

If you are interested in the Civil war - read it.

Unfortunately, after putting the book down, I was forced to think about our current political climate, and wondered about whether there are like diseases at work in our society today.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Rich Marsh on January 7, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Why did the Americans fight their Civil War? It isn't what you've heard all your life. Flemming looks at what people at the time actually said, and it is his contention that the facts of the matter were not visible to most proponents. Bombast and verbal domination overruled the facts on the ground.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By The Professor on March 14, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is objective, fair and unsparing in its criticism of people who ought to have known better than to say and do what they did. A very thought-provoking examination of the unfolding of the tragedy that was the War Between the States also known as the American Civil War. Well written.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By doug k on June 2, 2014
Format: Paperback
The book is very good in many ways as far as it goes. However, like many books that are arguments about history, the author does not articulate clearly what would have been an alternative to the unfortunate course of history -- the Civil War -- if the extremists had not prevailed.

Would it have been possible for cooler heads to have worked out a compromise e.g. that would have led to the nation compensating slaveholders for the loss of their property when slaves were freed and encouraging them to offer the freed slaves employment essentially equal to that which happened after the war, i.e., low wages with minimal benefits. Other issues, such as full voting rights took many decades (as much as 100 years) even with the Civil War and the brief period of Reconstruction. These things might have been worked out as well or better without the carnage of the war. Freed slaves should have been free to migrate North or West. Some enforcement of black rights would have been necessary. Was there any chance for such a compromise? Or was war inevitable? It certainly would have been a good thing to have avoided the war. A great part of the problem then and now involves racial prejudice and fears. We have not dealt sufficiently with that.
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