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Ecstatic Nation: Confidence, Crisis, and Compromise, 1848-1877 (American History) Hardcover – Deckle Edge, August 6, 2013

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Product Details

  • Series: American History
  • Hardcover: 736 pages
  • Publisher: Harper (August 6, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061234575
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061234576
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #419,278 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Its title borrowed from poet Emily Dickinson, this panorama of the Civil War era evokes the passions that presaged a war, were released by the war, and took energetic and bewildering directions after the war. By a notable literary historian, the work features vignettes of writers and journalists of the period among the parade of political and military personages, all expounding on or acting on Wineapple’s dominant theme: race. Implicated in nearly every controversy between North and South—from the antebellum rancor over slavery, slavery’s demise in the course of armed conflict, and throughout Reconstruction—race, and specifically the citizenship status of blacks, animates much of Wineapple’s presentation. Including overt events like the Dred Scott decision or postwar constitutional amendments, her narratives encompass many incidents that contested the rights of blacks, incidents in law or in violence that played out against the racial feelings of officials calling the shots: for example, Lincoln’s successor, Andrew Johnson, was a blunt white supremacist. With allied passages about women’s rights, Indian wars, and business buccaneers, Wineapple’s history creatively quavers with the tensions of the transformative times. --Gilbert Taylor


“This is a marvelous book. With narrative grace and surehanded scholarship, Brenda Wineapple has written a compelling account of an epochal (and too little understood) age. From the death of John Quincy Adams through the Civil War to the tragedy of Reconstruction, Wineapple tells the American story brilliantly.” (Jon Meacham, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of American Lion)

Ecstatic Nation is historical writing of the highest order. . . . With vivid portrayals of the principals of the period, Wineapple sets out the conflicts and causes that shaped the nation. . . . An indispensable guide to the forces that created our own time.” (The Boston Globe)

“Wineapple is a beautiful writer, at once lyrical and measured. . . . In providing a sense of the possibilities and tragedies or the era, of its passions and disappointments, Wineapple has given us a memorable book.” (The Christian Science Monitor)

“Brenda Wineapple portrays the years of sectional conflict, Civil War, and Reconstruction on a broad canvas that has room for Emily Dickinson and Ulysses S. Grant, Jefferson Davis and Walt Whitman. Blending cultural and political history, Ecstatic Nation offers new perspectives on this transformative era.” (James McPherson, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Battle Cry of Freedom)

Ecstatic Nation is a brilliant portrait of American society in the mid-nineteenth century. . . . Wineapple’s deep research, deft character studies, and rich and nuanced storytelling bring this transformative period alive. A must-read for all lovers of American history.” (Annette Gordon-Reed, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Hemingses of Monticello)

“There are good storytellers and there are good historians. Brenda Wineapple is both. Beautifully written and grounded in a prodigious mastery of the material, there is no other book like it. Seasoned scholars will be impressed. Interested readers will be riveted.” (James Oakes, author of Freedom National)

“A marvelous survey of both familiar and unsung American stories, contextualized and framed within one sweeping canvas. Sure to enrich any reader’s understanding of the complicated history of Civil War-era America.” (Publishers Weekly, starred review, "Review of the Week")

“A wonderful, unconventional narrative history, laced with finely-grained sketches of fascinating, conflicted people and harrowing events. Wineapple delivers for even the most avid readers about this era a series of surprises. This is the art of history informed by learning and written with style.” (David Blight, author of American Oracle)

“A masterful, sweeping synthesis of a transformative time. . . . In Ecstatic Nation, Wineapple offers a beautifully written and skillfully woven narrative that anyone interested in American history should enjoy.” (BookPage)

“A remarkable, mesmerizing book. . . . For many of us, the years before and after the Civil War have seemed hollow and empty, presided over by dreary, cowardly men. No longer, thanks to this book’s impeccable scholarship, vivid characterizations, and masterful storytelling.” (Robert K. Massie, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Catherine the Great)

“A splendidly lyrical portrait of the decades that encompass both the Civil War and Reconstruction. . . . Beautifully written, artfully constructed, and passionately argued on every page, Ecstatic Nation stands forth as a model of narrative history.” (Ron Chernow, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Washington: A Life)

“Entertaining.” (Elle)

“A rich, beautifully told chronicle of American politics and society between 1848 and 1877.” (Judith Thurman,

“Wineapple’s history creatively quavers with the tensions of the transformative times.” (Booklist)

“A splendid new history of the Civil War period. . . . Wineapple brings alive the vibrant, imperfect people behind the issues. . . . A masterly, deeply moving record of a crucial period in American history.” (David S. Reynolds, The New York Times Book Review)

Ecstatic Nation powerfully portrays life in the decades surrounding the Civil War, connecting history with modern-day debate. . . . A fresh and riveting account of America at war with itself. . . . Wide in scope and deep in detail.” (The Los Angeles Times)

“Wineapple takes up the narrative of 50 years of turbulent American history. . . . A compelling narrative that will enlighten readers new to the material and thoroughly entertain those familiar with it. History on the grand scale, orchestrated by a virtuoso.” (Kirkus (starred review))

“Extremely satisfying. . . . The narrative of Ecstatic Nation, so irresistible and perfectly-orchestrated, catches dozens of wonderful portraits in its net. . . . A triumph.” (Open Letters Monthly)

Ecstatic Nation is varied, original and engaging from cover to cover. All in all, this is a magnificent read for history lovers.” (Daniel Walker Howe, The Wall Street Journal)

“The most ambitious and thrilling new book I read this year. . . . A complex, densely peopled and relentlessly gripping political, cultural, and military history of America from the build-up to the Civil War to the crumbling of Reconstruction in its aftermath. . . . Magnificent.” (Geoff Dyer, The Guardian's Best Books of the Year)

“For readers seeking a beautifully written, overall survey of mid-19th century America that leaves no major theme or character out, Wineapple’s account gets the highest recommendation.” (The Washington Times)

More About the Author

In addition to 'Ecstatic Nation' (a 'New York Times' "Notable Book") Brenda Wineapple is the author of 'White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson,' a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle award, a 'New York Times' "Notable Book," and named best nonfiction of 2008 in 'The Washington Post,' 'The Christian Science Monitor,' 'The Economist,' among many other publications. Her earlier books include 'Genêt: A Biography of Janet Flanner'; 'Sister Brother Gertrude and Leo Stein'; and 'Hawthorne: A Life,' winner of the Ambassador Book Award for the Best Biography of 2003. She has received a Pushcart Prize, a Guggenheim, an American Council of Learned Societies Fellowship, and two National Endowment Humanities Fellowships. Elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2012, in 2014 she received an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Customer Reviews

Wineapple does a great job of showing the full sweep of these years.
Robert Stirling
There's the ambivalence of the Constitution and founders towards slavery as well as legitimacy of our great Union.
This book was so engaging and creatively written I was compelled to read it again (more carefully).

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

62 of 71 people found the following review helpful By Chris Bram on August 9, 2013
Format: Hardcover
This is a high-speed impressionist painting of thirty years of American history, written with sweep and pace and style, full of lively details, pocket portraits and fine literary prose. "Ecstatic Nation" offers the pleasures of old-fashioned narrative history on a grand scale, but is built on modern scholarship and attitudes. I know this period thoroughly, but Wineapple taught me new things and offered perspectives I've never seen before.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A. A. Jager on September 20, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A great overview of all the cultural, political and spiritual forces and personalities that swirled around the madly boiling cauldron of the mid-nineteenth century. A peek into the inner workings of policy makers, generals, newspapermen, hucksters, saints and hypocrites. You'll frustrate to the inexorable forces that drew us into war and the heartbreak of that wars betrayal. If you love this book, which you're sure to do, I'd refer you to Patriotic Gore by Edmund Wilson, which compliments this book nicely.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Owl on October 9, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
I normally prefer to read fiction, and when I do read non-fiction, books on American history
are not at the top of my list. But this book is different, and once I started it I couldn't put
it down. Brenda Wineapple writes with all the narrative force of great fiction. Even when
I was familiar with the events she describes, it was like learning about them for the first time,
and I couldn't wait to hear what happened next. In short, her story is a real page-turner.
Lots has been written about the Civil War, but the war is really just a third of this book;
there's the beginning of the women's movement, technological changes like the Transatlantic
Cable and the railroad, spiritualism and Mormonism, literary figures, and, of course,
the movement westward and what it meant for native Americans. Behind all of this,
of course, is the moral questions raised by both slavery and its aftermath. It was as much
fun to read as a novel.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Robin Friedman HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 22, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Brenda Wineapple's new book, "Ecstatic Nation: Confidence, Crisis, and Compromise, 1848 -- 1877" (2013) offers an unusual, passionate portrayal of the United States from the years following the end of the War with Mexico through the Civil War, and to the conclusion of Reconstruction in 1877. Wineapple writes with literary flair, with an emphasis on both characters, familiar and unfamiliar, and on the telling incident or detail, The author or editor of many books primarily on Nineteenth Century American literature, Wineapple is the Doris Zemurray Stone Professor of Modern Literary and Historical Studies at Union College. She also teaches in the MFA programs at the New School University and Columbia University.

How, in Wineapple's view, was the United States an "ecstatic" nation in the decades surrounding the Civil War? Her answer is complex and focus on the brashness, self-confidence and yet inwardness of Americans in the mid-19th Century. Wineapple begins her answer with Ralph Waldo Emerson's description of the United States as a "country of beginnings, of projects, of designs, and expectations" before qualifying Emerson's answer in her own voice. "[T]he present was and the future would also be a time of delirium, failure, greed, violence, and refusal; refusal to listen and to find -- or create -- that hard common ground of compromise; refusal to bend, so great was the fear of breaking; refusal to change and refusal to imagine what it might be like to be someone else. ...In short, American was an ecstatic nation; smitten with itself and prosperity and invention and in love with the land from which it drew its riches -- a land grand and fertile, extending from one sea to another and to which its citizens felt entitled. Yet there was a problem -- a hitch, a blot, a stain.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By HT on September 28, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
A very good history of the United States from the Compromise of 1850 to the Compromise of 1877. The Compromise of 1850 was a stop gap measure to soothe tensions between the North and South over slavery in the territories. The South wanted to allow popular sovereignty in the new states where they could vote on the slavery question. The North wanted to restrict slavery to new states south of the Missouri Compromise line. The biggest win for the South was enactment of the Fugitive Slave Act where escaping slaves could be arrested in the North and returned to their owners.

As we know the compromise did not hold for long and just a little over a decade later the Civil War broke out. Reconstruction followed; even though the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments were passed the blacks did not end up getting the protection they needed. The Supreme Court ruled against many of the enforcement provisions effectively relegating control to the whites. There was a LOT of violence in the South including massacre of blacks and Liberal Republicans who tried to support civil rights. Eventually, the North tired of the conflict and the country's attention turned to the west.

The election of 1876 ended in a dispute between Republican Rutherford B. Hayes and Democrat Samuel J. Tilden. The Compromise of 1877 gave the election to Hayes in return for the removal of federal troops from southern states and the support for a new transcontinental railroad in the south.

The book does a wonderful job of covering all this history in three sections: pre-Civil war, Civil War, and Reconstruction. Like our government today, compromise was seen as betrayal. Both sides felt that the compromises built into the Constitution that tacitly allowed for slavery would eventually doom the country to conflict.
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