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On Hallowed Ground: The Story of Arlington National Cemetery Hardcover – October 27, 2009

4.7 out of 5 stars 369 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“Gracefully written, often deeply affecting history. like the nation itself, Arlington bears the scars of its history, as Robert Poole eloquently shows.” ―Fergus Bordewich, Washington Post.

“Engaging. Robert Poole is an adroit sketcher of historical events, but even more of character.” ―The Economist

“Graceful and dignified…perhaps more than any other secular site in America, Arlington casts a religious spell. The effect is not accidental…there is ample evidence of sacramental need in the many Arlington rituals that Mr. Poole relates in such moving detail.” ―Wall Street Journal.

“Vivid, compelling, filled with rich and unexpected detail, On Hallowed Ground tells the little-understood story of Arlington National Cemetery and in the process chronicles how we have honored--and sometimes dishonored--those who gambled everything on our behalf. Robert M. Poole is a fine storyteller and this is a great story.” ―Geoffrey C. Ward, author of The Civil War and The War: An Intimate History 1941-1945

“Improbably gripping and often deeply moving, On Hallowed Ground chronicles both the evolution of our national cemetery and the profound ways in which treatment of the war dead reflects a nation's soul. Readers interested in political, social or military history from the Civil War on will want to read this book.” ―Caroline Alexander, author of The Endurance

“Most Americans, especially most historians, think they know all about Arlington Cemetery. They respect what it represents, and revere the heroes resting there. But only Robert Poole has brought to life all the historic figures, from privates to presidents, who made this national shrine and populate its rolling hills. On Hallowed Ground is a memorable combination of historical research, first-hand reporting and sensitive writing--a definitive work that should last as long as the eternal flame at John Kennedy's grave site.” ―Ernest B. Furgurson, author of Freedom Rising: Washington in the Civil War

“In his stirring, evocative style, Robert Poole blends Arlington's untold story with America's own story, as Robert E. Lee's home, a prize of war in a divided nation, evolves--through wars and peace--into America's most hallowed ground.” ―Thomas B. Allen, coauthor of The Bonus Army

“Robert M. Poole not only captures the history of a venerable American institution but with it the politics of commemoration and reconciliation. Absolutely first rate.” ―Paul Dickson, coauthor of The Bonus Army

“Robert Poole has coupled superb storytelling with meticulous research and produced a gem. On Hallowed Ground is by turns illuminating, informative, and enormously readable. In the future you will never think of Arlington Cemetery withut recalling the tales contained in this marvelous book.” ―Robert Timberg, author of The Nightingale's Song and State of Grace: A Memoir of Twilight Time


"This engaging history of Arlington National Cemetery, America's most hallowed military burial ground and home to over 300,000 soldiers, officers and statesmen, is also the story of America's maturation through death and war .... An editor and journalist, [Poole] is an adroit sketcher of historical events, but even more of character."--"Hope Eternal" in The Economist.

"Mr. Poole recounts the somewhat shameful origins of what would become a national treasure, going on to tell the Arlington's story down to the present day .... Arlington's later history, as told by Mr. Poole in graceful and dignified prose, is ... inspiring .... War for Americans has become a sort of sacrament ... There is ample evidence of sacramental need in the many Arlington trituals that Mr. Poole relates in such moving detail."--"Grave Matters: The Surprising Origins and Enduring Importance of Arlington National Cemetery" in The Wall Street Journal

"Poole's book tells the stories of many of those buried in 70 sections across these rolling hills just across the Potomac from Washington, D.C. On Hallowed Ground is part history less, part tourist guide, part mystery novel."--"Arlington, alive with history: On Hallowed Ground tells stories of veterans from the Civil War to the fresh 'saddest acre in America'" in USA Today


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Walker Books; Fourth Edition edition (October 27, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802715486
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802715487
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.5 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (369 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #152,605 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Related Media

More About the Author

Robert M. Poole is an editor and writer whose assignments for Smithsonian and National Geographic have taken him around the world. A native of North Carolina and a veteran journalist, his stories have appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Smithsonian. In 2001 he retired as executive editor of National Geographic after a 21 year career. He is the author of Explorers House: National Geographic and the World It Made, published by the Penguin Press. He is a contributing editor at Smithsonian and lives in Virginia.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This history of the Arlington National Cemetery kept me thoroughly completely engaged throughout. An chronological accounting of our nation's cemetery through individual stories of the people who were buried there, it made an great companion to the more thematically structured and excellent Civil War history by Drew Gilpin Faust, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War, which I had previously completed.

Poole's account details the complex political and bureaucratic processes around the selection of unknown soldiers, and the developing culture of memorial to war dead as well as the role of the cemetery in attempting to heal internal national divisions (Civil War, Vietnam "war"). His detailing of how Robert E Lee's wife's family plantation was slowly appropriated alone is well worth the reading time. I also greatly appreciated how Poole's highlighting the design--land use, vistas, monuments, tombstones, rituals etc--deftly demonstrates that attention to detail reinforces beliefs and values. Examples include the categorization--by war, race and sex--of people buried, to a soldier's description of the practice needed folding a flag apparent simplicity of folding the flag at a state funeral.

There many things and further questions (areas of inquiry) that came to my mind as I read this book.
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Format: Hardcover
Robert Poole comes closer to the heart and soul of Arlington than any other book that has been written. Much of the other information that has been published before is guidebook/history information. Unlike other superficial accounts that show pictures of the grandeur of the cemetery and the ceremony, there is much background, including how close our ceremonies are to those of the Grecian warrior's and how no other country goes to the extent the United States does to honor their common military men, including returning them to their home country.

I have been with the military all of my life. Arlington is a family and friend's cemetery, a very personal place and `On Hallowed Ground" comes the closest to touching the feelings that those of us that regard Arlington have as our personal hallowed remembrance as any book.
With that said I wish that there was more of the tales of the common military man here. Out of 267 pages more than 80 are devoted to the very detailed history of the Lees, the Civil War and the acquiring of the Lee land for this cemetery. I wish there was less of Lee, which has been previously covered by other books and more of the soul of the men and women of Arlington. The Old Guard is covered, but not to a great extent.

There is little of the expansion of the cemetery in and after the Vietnam era, which he attributes not to the war but to the popularity after Kennedy's burial, which he does a magnificent job of describing. But I remember an officer whose office suddenly overlooked the growing number of headstones as being insulted that, that was now the view from his office; and I of course could not reply what I was thinking, that maybe that is what he needed to see.
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Format: Hardcover
Millions of people come to Arlington Cemetery every year, some come as visitors and take the standard tour, some come to mourn and seek the grave of a loved one, and many come solemnly as a part of multiple daily funeral processions. Having done all three and having had the opportunity to drive by and around the National Cemetery on a daily commute for almost two decades I still found it to be a mysterious and, if given into, a mentally overwhelming place. "On Hallowed Ground, the Story of Arlington National Cemetery, by Robert Poole, takes out the mystery. But his work only pushes the mentally overwhelming nature of Arlington, and what it stands for, to new heights.

I received this book as Christmas gift this year from a disabled Iraqi vet making a new life for himself along the Space Coast with me here in Florida. We have become friends. In honesty my initial reaction to the gift, was of course gracious, but as I thought about the pile of unread books seeking priority, my gut told me, having lived in Northern Virginia most of my life, what more stories about the old cemetery did I need to hear? Well, for whatever reasons, I cracked the cover. Ironically on a flight from Orlando to Regan National I read about the history of the land once belonging to Robert E. Lee as my flight covered the whole of the Confederacy in just less than two hours. I was hooked on the story. I assume Mr. Poole chose the word "story" as opposed to history, because the history of the cemetery is more appropriately contained within the lives of the thousands upon thousands of individuals now resting eternally.
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