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John Brown's War against Slavery Hardcover – June 15, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The insurrectionary abolitionist John Brown has been made a caricature of altruism, villainy and madness; this probing biographical study attempts a more integrated portrait. Drawing on detailed exegeses of Brown's letters and other writings, University of Hawaii historian McGlone closely scrutinizes a handful of critical events for clues to Brown's character and motives, including his puzzling and fatal dawdling for hours during the 1859 Harpers Ferry raid, until his escape routes were cut off. McGlone's sympathetic but critical portrait shows an intensely religious but not naïve or delusional man, a fanatical but rational abolitionist capable of ruthless violence, who adroitly used language and symbolism to transform himself from murderer to martyr. The author ties Brown's evolving mission to his religious beliefs, his concerns about his sprawling clan—fear they would be attacked partly motivated his massacre of proslavery settlers at Pottawatomie Creek—and, less convincingly, to conflicts stemming from his relationship with his domineering father. McGlone's prose can be dense, repetitive and larded with psychological analysis, but his careful research and nuanced, many-faceted analysis make this a valuable contribution to our understanding of Brown. (July)
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Review

"McGlone fully captures the complexities in both the man and the times, and his deeply researched, convincingly argued assessment will more than hold its own among the many other treatments of Brown with which it must compete." -John C. Inscoe, North and South

"This biography of John Brown, based on strong empirical evidence from the primary sources, supported by strong theoretical underpinnings, and built on a sophisticated understandings of nineteenth century theology and culture, is a pleasure to read and the most complete story of John Brown that we have. McGlone seamlessly interweaves a narrative of the events and time of Brown with the problems of the interpretative literature on Brown."
-Orville Vernon Burton, Coastal Carolina University, Author Age of Lincoln

"In this fascinating and nuanced book, Robert McGlone explores in great depth the volcanic life of the most troubling and important terrorist in American history. With meticulous research and always-thoughtful use of personality theory, McGlone challenges earlier, often glib assessments and unravels many of the mysteries of Brown's psyche. With considerable originality, he explores the deeply meaningful social and psychological patterns of Brown's extended family, from the experiences of Brown's grandparents to those of his children. McGlone's analysis of the Harpers Ferry raid is notable for its accuracy and complexity of meanings. His approach is both detached and compassionate: he seeks to understand what others have merely judged."
-Michael Fellman, Emeritus, Simon Fraser University, Author of In the Name of God and Country: Reconsidering Terrorism in American History

"This will be the standard for judging John Brown books for years to come. It is the most thoroughly researched Brown book I have ever seen. McGlone has gone everywhere, looked at every known source and found sources that have heretofore been unknown. He has questioned the standard biographers correcting their mistakes in analysis and fact, and explaining where they went wrong. McGlone's analysis of the Harpers Ferry raid is the best I have seen and his analysis of related topics, including the 'forgotten surrender' and the contributions of slaves to the raid is ground-breaking. He interrogates the stories and myths surrounding Brown and shows which will wash and which simply wash out. McGlone offers the most complex, sophisticated, and impressive study of Brown that any scholar has ever written."
-Paul Finkelman, Albany Law School

"Robert McGlone, in his compelling new study of John Brown, has resituated a major figure in American history. John Brown's War on Slavery carefully dissects the ideals and motives of the controversial Brown. Rejecting conclusions that have polarized our national understandings, McGlone instead presents a nuanced interpretation of John Brown that is thoroughly exhaustive in terms of research, but at the same time, in that most difficult of achievements, immensely readable. McGlone is especially persuasive in his analysis of Brown's motivations and how his actions, most famously in Kansas and at Harpers Ferry, emerge from his mental life, his family's circumstances and his religious orientations."
-Jean H Baker, Goucher College

"With this well-researched and compellingly written work, McGlone (Univ. of Hawai'i-Manoa) has ensured that any future studies of John Brown, slavery, and the sectional conflict will have to begin here. Essential." -Choice

"...an admirably human portrayal of the controversial abolitionist...and a man both deliberate nad inconsistent in his actions." -Philip Mills Herrington, The Virginia Quarterly Review

"The strength of the book lies in the author's detailed knowledge of John Brown's life and relationships. McGlone's familiarity with what he calls the Brown 'family connection' deepens our understanding of Brown's motivations and his humanity, giving us a real sense of Brown's private troubles and triumphs."
The New England Quarterly, David Reynolds, City University of New York

"In today's context of increasingly prevalent terrorism, Robert E. McGlone's Brown biography is especially timely..." -The Journal of American History, Tilden G. Edelstein

"McGlone's book is the new gold standard of Brown scholaship." -American Historical Review, John Patrick Daly

"...required reading for anyone seeking to understand Brown's crucial role in bringing on the Civil War." -Nicole Etcheson, Civil War History

"...McGlone has set down a marker for the next generation of Brown scholars. This book was worth the wait." -Jonathan Earle, Journal of the Civil War Era

"...pathbreaking work..." -Kristen K. Epps, American Studies Journal
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 462 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; First Edition edition (June 15, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521514436
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521514439
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.3 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,954,147 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Gderf on March 19, 2014
Format: Hardcover
This is a well researched informative biography of John Brown. Starting with his family, descended from Peter Brown, who signed the Mayflower Compact. McGlone draws on the work of, heretofore definitive, biographer Stephen B. Oates with discussion of Oates's account. There is discussion of Brown's legacy as well as his life. It covers Brown's career in Kansas including the Battle of Black Jack and the Pottawatamie massacre as well as the famously failed on Harper's Ferry.

McGlone considers Brown's place in the ante bellum abolitionist movement.
Webster, Lloyd Garrison, David Thoreau, Wendell Phillips and many others are cited. Lincoln and most other abolitionists distanced themselves from Brown.

The book sheds some light on Brown's financing. The Secret Committee of Six, was a group of men who promoted and funded the 1859 raid on Harper's Ferry by John Brown. After the raid the work of the investigative tribunal headed by Virginia Sen. Mason is covered.
Conventional wisdom has Brown with a thorough control over his sons and followers. However Brown's hold over his sons was incomplete as they abjured their Puritan heritage. That's one aspect of the book where I would have appreciated more detail.

In Frederick Douglass's view Brown didn't end the war on slavery, but he started the war. Brown embellished his legacy with many letters as he awaited execution. One letter he didn't answer was from Mahala Doyle, wife and mother of Pottawatomie victims.
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9 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Christian Schlect VINE VOICE on July 7, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Professor McGlone has written a well-researched (and extensively footnoted) book for those who seek detailed answers to John Brown's motives for his bloody acts in Kansas, and later on at Harper's Ferry. If his sanity or religious impulses are questions you wish to explore in greater depth buy this book.

However, if you are a general reader you may be frustrated in that there is little discussion of such important elements of John Brown's story as the Secret Six (who funded his later work), the actual trial that resulted in his death sentence, or his lasting place in history.

As the song goes, he "died that the slave might be free." I do not think he died in vain.

For future editions a correction should be made on p.198 where Pilgrim's Progress is attributed to "Paul" Bunyan, not John.
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