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The Great Heart of the Republic: St. Louis and the Cultural Civil War Hardcover – November 29, 2010

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Editorial Reviews


An ambitious, innovative, and engaging look at the pivotal role St. Louis played in the cultural contest to determine the destiny of the United States. (Stephen Aron, author of American Confluence)

A sweeping, illuminating work that offers a fresh perspective on the period from the Mexican War to the post-Reconstruction era. Adding a western dimension to the sectional crisis of the Civil War era, Arenson's narrative is revelatory. (Michael A. Morrison, author of Slavery and the American West)

In compelling prose that balances brilliant analyses with rich narrative details and lively anecdotes, Arenson offers an important new argument about nineteenth-century U.S. history. His book combines the most thorough scholarship with the pleasures of a frontier romance. (Aaron Sachs, author of The Humboldt Current)

From the Great Fire of 1849 to the completion of the Eads Bridge in 1874, Arenson examines the cultural civil war through a city that aspired to be the unifying center of the American continental empire. St. Louis' successes and failures richly illuminate national travails as the promise of Manifest Destiny succumbed to the politics of slavery. (Louis S. Gerteis, author of Civil War St. Louis)

Arenson sets St. Louis at the center of nineteenth-century America's 'cultural civil wars' as dramas of competing visions of the nation played out on the city's streets and docks and in its courtrooms, churches, and classrooms. In this beautifully crafted book, the national stories we thought we knew take some surprising turns. (Ann Fabian, author of The Skull Collectors)

Arenson's beautifully told story of the rise and fall of St. Louis's efforts to invent itself as a center of American enlightenment and empire in the long Civil War era shows Manifest Destiny as a lived reality, with intoxicating and toxic implications for ordinary Americans. (Iver Bernstein, author of The New York City Draft Riots: Their Significance for American Society and Politics in the Age of the Civil War)

This is a superb book. Careful and bold all at once, it reminds us that the 'gateway to the West' played a major role not only in the coming of the Civil War but in the contests― cultural, social, and racial―it so tragically provoked. (William Deverell, Director, Huntington –USC Institute on California and the West)

Arenson's The Great Heart of the Republic...reveals the fresh and complex insights that close study of Missouri can yield for our understanding of nineteenth-century American history...Arenson's book offers a much broader interpretation of the Civil War than a typical work of local history. Rather than provide a comprehensive account of St. Louis's past, he uses the city's story to reveal a "nuanced, intimate history of the Civil War era from the heart of the republic." The result is a beautifully written and strikingly original interpretation of the causes, conduct, and consequences of the war. Like the authors of several recent works, Arenson wishes to reorient the discussion of sectionalism and the Civil War by emphasizing the West's importance in shaping the conflict. In Arenson's recounting, the war looks less like a fight between North and South over slavery, and more like a messy struggle between northerners, southerners, and westerners from a variety of ethnic, racial, and religious backgrounds...Arenson's work is wide ranging and ambitious, covering art, architecture, and historical memory as well as the history of politics and policy...Readers will discover a creative history of mid-nineteenth-century America in microcosm. (Andre M. Fleche History News Network 2011-06-01)

In the elegantly written, extensively researched The Great Heart of the Republic Adam Arenson looks at Civil War St. Louis and tells how it was unable to set aside sectional differences to transform itself into a truly national city. (Jane Henderson St. Louis Post-Dispatch 2011-12-04)

Arenson has something new to add to the literature of the Civil War, and he does so with a wonderfully nuanced argument and deft pen. Sure to have an enduring impact, this book delivers on its promise. (Stephen D. Engle American Historical Review 2011-12-01)

About the Author

Adam Arenson is Associate Professor of History and Director of Urban Studies at Manhattan College.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; 1St Edition edition (January 3, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674052889
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674052888
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.6 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,304,350 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Adam Arenson writes about the history and memory of North America and the global nineteenth century, concentrating on the cultural and political history of slavery, Civil War, and Reconstruction, as well as the development of cities--from California to the Yukon Territory, from the province of Ontario to St. Louis to El Paso.

Writing accessible history, and engaging a wide audience, Arenson has written for The New York Times, Washington Post, The Atlantic, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and I have been a contributor to Civil War Memory and the Making History Podcast. My latest popular publications--whether op-eds, blog posts, or tweets--can be accessed via

Originally from San Diego, Adam now lives with his family in Los Angeles, before moving to New York to become an associate professor of history and the director of urban studies at Manhattan College. He is researching the history of African Americans returning from Canada, after the Underground Railroad, and the remarkable public art commissioned by Home Savings of America banks and produced by Millard Sheets's studio.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Mark_I on January 8, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I agree with the previous reviewers to say that the information Mr. Arenson has in this book is outstanding! It goes to show that the conflicts that led to the Civil War were very regional in nature and that war might have been avoided if the transcontinental railroad had been started sooner. It is also interesting for us in St. Louis to imagine what our city would be like now had somehow the nation's capital been relocated here. 5 STARS for the content.

HOWEVER - 1 star for the Kindle version. The Kindle version of this book omits ALL MAPS AND ILLUSTRATIONS! On the Kindle, you are politely advised "[To view this image, refer to the print version of this title.]" SERIOUSLY? If I need to refer to the print version every time I want to see a map or illustration, I would have bought the print version and not the Kindle version.

Given the fact that the maps and illustrations are no more complicated than others that are rendered very well in Kindle versions of other books, I can only assume that this is a publisher issue, not an Amazon issue.

Having seen both the Kindle and print versions of the book - I HIGHLY recommend the printed version.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Howard Park on July 13, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you like history, St. Louis, or the Midwest, buy and read this book.

The Civil War was about a lot more than Lee and Grant in Virginia. St. Louis, then the most interesting city in the country, was a microcosim of the national struggle. "The Great Heart of the Republic" is vivid and well written as the author brings the past to life. This is what a history book should be.

I've read virtually every book about St. Louis history. This is simply the best. Arenson captures the national importance of mid-nineteenth century St. Louis, it's rise and slow decline and enduring greatness. The book also embodies a vision of how the nation might have been spared civil war if political giant Thomas Hart Benton had been able to broker a compromise and focused the nation on western growth rather than slavery.

This book is a real achievement and was a sublime pleasure to read.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Shirley on June 17, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In reading this book, I got my first understanding of what was really going on in America in the confusing years of 1815 to the Civil War. Arenson points out that the real war was between the north, the south, and the west. Expanding the nation to the west created a contest between the free states and the slave states to dominate the future of the country. The political struggle ended with a life-or-death struggle - the deadliest war in American history.
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