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Mightier than the Sword: Uncle Tom's Cabin and the Battle for America Hardcover – June 13, 2011

ISBN-13: 978-0393081329 ISBN-10: 039308132X Edition: First Edition

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 351 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; First Edition edition (June 13, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 039308132X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393081329
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 0.1 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #368,960 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“Reviewers’ Favorites of the Year,” - The New Yorker

"Best of the Year in Nonfiction," - Kirkus
“Top Spring Nonfiction Picks,” - Publishers Weekly and Library Journal

“Expansive and illuminating….One of the pleasures of "Mightier Than the Sword" is discovering that "Uncle Tom"'s fingerprints on history are almost everywhere.” - Adam Goodheart, “Slate”

“Starred Review: A provocative overview of the life and afterlife of one of American literature’s most important texts….A sharp work of cross-disciplinary criticism that gives new power to a diminished novel. Reynolds successfully repositions the novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe as a major political work, crucial not just to the abolitionist movement, but as kindling for the Civil War and an important inspiration to the cultural discussions of race relations through most of the 20th century” (Kirkus Reviews )

“Consistently enlightening…Mightier Than the Sword deftly explores the social-intellectual context and personal experience out of which Stowe’s novel evolved into a grand entertainment and a titanic engine of change.” (The Boston Globe )

“Reynolds is a virtuoso writer…A fitting tribute to the 200th anniversary of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s birth.” (Mike Harvkey - Publishers Weekly )

“Fascinating…a lively and perceptive cultural history.” (The New Yorker - Annette Gordon-Reed )

“Bravura work….Reynolds has given us another cultural history of assured mastery, a history that combines deep erudition, lightly worn, with a lively and readable style.” (Dallas Morning News )

“A subtle and splendid history of the novel’s effect on American culture.” (Wall Street Journal )

“Insightful,….informative,….rewarding.” (New York Times Book Review )

“You can always count on David Reynolds to surprise and delight, and in his latest work, he does not disappoint. This time, he sets his sights on the far-ranging and fascinating impact of Harriet Beecher Stowe's mammoth bestseller, Uncle Tom's Cabin. In Reynolds’s gifted hands, Mightier Than The Sword is nothing less than an intellectual feast. Bravo for yet another superb book.” (Jay Winik, author of April 1865 and The Great Upheaval )

“A wonderful history of what may justly be considered America’s national epic.” (Joan Hedrick, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Life )

“Deeply researched and compulsively readable…Both the definitive account of the strange but true career of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and a sweeping two-hundred year history of race in America.” (Debby Applegate, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher )


“Expansive and illuminating….One of the pleasures of "Mightier Than the Sword" is discovering that Uncle Tom's fingerprints on history are almost everywhere.” – (Adam Goodheart, "Slate")

More About the Author

David S. Reynolds, a Distinguished Professor at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, is the author or editor of 15 books, including "Mightier than the Sword: Uncle Tom's Cabin and the Battle for America," "Walt Whitman's America," "John Brown, Abolitionist," "Waking Giant: America in the Age of Jackson," "George Lippard," "Faith in Fiction," and "Beneath the American Renaissance." He is the winner of the Bancroft Prize, the Christian Gauss Award, the Ambassador Book Award, the Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Award, and finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. He has been interviewed on shows including NPR's "Fresh Air," "Weekend Edition," and "The Diane Rehm Show," ABC's "The John Batchelor Show," and C-SPAN's "After Words," Brian Lamb's "Book Notes," and "Book TV." He is a regular contributor to "The New York Times Book Review" and is included in "Who's Who in America." David Reynolds was born in Providence, Rhode Island. He received the B.A. magna cum laude from Amherst College and the Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley. He has taught American literature and American Studies at Northwestern University, Barnard College, New York University, Rutgers University, Baruch College, the Sorbonne-Paris III, and, since 2006, at the CUNY Graduate Center. His wife, Suzanne Nalbantian, is a professor of comparative literature and is the author or editor of six books, including "Memory in Literature: From Rousseau to Neuroscience" and "The Memory Process: Neuroscientific and Humanistic Perspectives."

Customer Reviews

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This is truly one of the greatest books I've ever read.
It's great for group discussion, and at only 273 pages in the main text, you'll find that even the slower readers in your group will finish this book quickly.
David Crumm
I thought "Mightier Than the Sword" was an excellent overview of the impact and legacy of "Uncle Tom's Cabin."

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 30 people found the following review helpful By David Crumm on July 5, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I am not alone in praising Mightier than the Sword: Uncle Tom's Cabin and the Battle for America, by American Studies scholar David Reynolds. The New York Times published an extended review about the book's significance--and particularly underscored the fresh challenges of returning this best-selling melodrama with all its problematic content to American classrooms. Reappraising Harriet Beecher Stowe's accomplishment makes for quite an educational challenge.

Nevertheless, as the Times pointed out: "If ever there was a publishing event to prove the principle that timing is everything, Uncle Tom's Cabin was it. On both sides of the sectional divide the timber was dry--and Stowe struck the igniting spark. In the North, Frederick Douglass rejoiced that she had `baptized with holy fire myriads who before cared nothing for the bleeding slave.'"

That's why I'm giving American Studies scholar David S. Reynolds' new book 5 stars. This is more than an individual book of history. It's part of the dramatic rewriting of what Americans thought we knew about the Civil War era and its long legacy. There are countless examples involving all aspects of that turbulent era--but, simply within the realm of racial politics, a great deal is changing in our assumptions about the Civil War's legacy. One example is the work of historian David Blight in a book like Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory, where he completely overturns our previous nostalgic memories of Memorial Day. A second example, further along in that legacy, is Daniel L. Buttry's new book
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26 of 29 people found the following review helpful By C. Hutton on June 25, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Mr. Reynolds had researched and written a readable account of the impact that "Uncle Tom's Cabin" (1852) had upon American history and society. Arguably, no other novel had such influence upon America as this anti-slavery tale of the South. The author is not claiming that it is the best-written novel of that century (readers can argue that "Moby Dick" or "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" or other books merit that claim), merely that its depiction of slavery as a moral evil created a commercial and cultural phenomenon that continues to this day. Image, if you will, that "Silent Spring" had the PR and financial success of the music album "Thriller" or the movie Titanic", and then the reader will have a concept of "Uncle's Tom Cabin." This book framed the popular debate that led to the Civil War. "Mightier Than The Sword" has over 250+ pages of narrative and can be read easily in two evenings.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Jane F. Gerhard on July 17, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Reynold's first four chapters on Uncle Tom's Cabin's creation in the hot house of American popular culture is fabulous. He situates Stowe in a fascinating web of narratives and genres. I found his argument that the novel helped change public opinion about the inhumanity of slavery and specifically the Fugitive Slave Act to be very convincing. I found, however, that Reynold's analysis of the cultural work done by UTC after the civil war was less so. The second life of Stowe's masterwork on stage and in novels in the 1860s, 70s, and 80ss is well documented but its hard to hold to the author's conviction that UTC is still doing good work as the country slips into Jim Crow and the reinstitutionalization of white power. The connection between UTC, Birth of a Nation, and Gone with the Wind has been theorized more eloquently by LInda Williams in Playing the Race Card. What Reynold's does do well in the final two chapters is give us lots of historical detail about how UTC was expanded and contracted by popular tastes. the very agent of its initial rise to importance. I'd have liked to hear the author address how it is that UTC rose the wave of popular culture before the war and helped change hearts and minds ("mightier than the sword") but when the tides turned and racism was on the move, its portraits of African American humanity could not change public opinion. Having Eva and Tom float to heaven together did not do much cultural work in 1890, from where I sit, interesting staging noted.

The writing is engaging and clear; there is alot of material for students looking for good research avenues as well as general readers looking for a detailed portrait of American popular culture in the 19th century. Stowe's UTC is unique in American letters and Reynold's to his credit, never lets that out of his sight.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Kim Burdick on November 24, 2012
Format: Paperback
This is an impressive study of the role "Uncle Tom's Cabin" played, and continues to play, in American literature and race relations.

"Mightier Than the Sword" starts quietly with a look at how Harriet Beecher Stowe accumulated the material for this novel, speculation on whom the characters were based upon, and a heavy dose of the standard commentary about Stowe's impact on the abolition movement and the American Civil War.

The second part of the book rises to a crescendo, examining the almost accidental marketing of the book through multiple pirated reprintings, theatre productions, movie productions, and an astounding seventy-seven years of world-wide popularity.

We learn that highly-educated 19th century Blacks like W.E.B. duBois, Frederick Douglas and James Weldon Johnson, praised Harriet Beecher-Stowe's efforts at consciousness-raising.

The denouement looks at the backlash of the 1960's, when patience with Victorian story telling was very limited. Uncle Tom's gentle strength was no longer in fashion and his name became used as an epithet.

Reynolds winds up his study by noting that 21st century opinion is moving towards an appreciation of the contributions of talented Americans once labeled "Uncle Toms," including Booker T. Washington, Louis Armstrong, Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays.

"Mightier Than The Sword" is carefully researched and well-thought-out. The book provides superb reading and discussion material for book clubs, church groups, college-level Sociology, Pop-Culture, and History students.

The moral of this tale is that the cultural and social norms of each generation of readers influences that generation's perceptions of "Uncle Tom's Cabin.
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