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Freedom's Cap: The United States Capitol and the Coming of the Civil War Hardcover – February 28, 2012

4.7 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“[A] meticulously detailed history... Ironies abound.” —Abigail Meisel, The New York Times Book Review

“The construction of the [United States] Capitol as the world has known it since ‘Freedom’ was put in place in the late autumn of 1863 is a story unto itself . . . and Guy Gugliotta tells it superbly in Freedom’s Cap . . . With this book, he joins that estimable group of non-professional historians who have revived the practice of narrative history, one cherished by serious readers . . . Gugliotta writes lucidly and engagingly, he brings to life a huge cast of characters, he captures the physical setting of Washington in the mid-19th century and the mood of a city where ‘every transaction seemed to be poisoned by the issue of slavery,’ and he has done a stupendous amount of research . . . Gugliotta has paid the great building, and the people who did so much to bring it into being, handsome tribute indeed.” —Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post

“Guy Gugliotta, in his splendid new book . . . gives us a fascinating tale of the struggles to design, fund and construct the new Capitol . . . Gugliotta deftly weaves a narrative of the difficult and massive construction project and the politics surrounding it.” —Al Kamen, The Washington Post

“[A] painstakingly researched, thoroughly intriguing historical detective story . . . [Gugliotta] adeptly orchestrates the intricate re-creation of a stormy episode in a particularly tempestuous era . . . Freedom’s Cap is a classroom model of historical investigation and writing, the narrative colorful and captivating in its minutest detail.” —Dale L. WalkerThe Dallas Morning News

“[A] fascinating new book . . . A tale of political intrigue, famous personalities, technological innovations and bitter feuds, all under the pervasive shadow of slavery and the threat of secession and Civil War . . . Gugliotta tells the story well.” —Steve Raymond, The Seattle Times

“Excellent and exhaustive . . . Mr. Gugliotta deftly demonstrates . . . how everything—everything—was political, from the shape and size of the dome that ultimately capped the building to the statuary, paintings and furnishings inside it.” —Roger K. MillerPittsburgh Post-Gazette

“[An] intensely researched historical gem . . . Gugliotta has turned out a superb mixture of mid-19th-century American culture and technology with the turbulent history of the period.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“A prodigiously researched, generously illustrated account of the transformation of the U. S. Capitol from a cramped, cold, noisy, inadequate and ugly structure into today’s massive marble symbol of democracy . . . There are surprises on virtually every page . . . Impressive research underlies a well-told story.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“An engrossing and surprising chronicle that shifts between the rebuilding of the Capitol and the slow disintegration of the Union . . . This is a superbly written account.” —Jay Freeman, Booklist

“Wonderfully detailed . . . Gugliotta’s research and narrative are outstanding, and one of the best aspects of Freedom's Cap is the side alleys and byways of the story that he uncovers.” —William C. Davis, History Book Club

“In this fascinating and well-written narrative, Guy Gugliotta tells the story of the rebuilding of the U.S . Capitol, an enterprise that occupied more than a decade before and during the Civil War. Combining the history of politics, art, and engineering, it shows how the monumental project’s party, personal, and sectional rivalries reflected the crisis, and triumph, of a divided nation.” —Eric Foner, DeWitt Clinton Professor of History, Columbia University, and Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery

“In this splendidly researched and engagingly written new book, Guy Gugliotta deftly tells the intimately connected stories of the construction of the Capitol and the destruction of the Union. This is an original and compelling tale of how history really happens.” —Jon Meacham, former editor of Newsweek and Pulitzer Prize–winning author of American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House

“This fascinating narrative ties together America’s preeminent architectural symbol and its most wrenching struggle. The building of the Capitol dome, an expression of unity, occurred as the nation was tearing itself apart in the lead-up to the Civil War. Guy Gugliotta’s deeply researched tale features Montgomery Meigs and Jefferson Davis, whose partnership and subsequent clash mirrored their turbulent times.” —Walter Isaacson, former chairman and CEO of CNN and author of Steve Jobs

About the Author

Guy Gugliotta covered Congress during a sixteen-year career as a national reporter for The Washington Post and for the last six years has been a freelance writer. He has written for The New York Times, National Geographic, Wired, Discover, and Smithsonian. He is the coauthor of Kings of Cocaine.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Hill and Wang; First Edition edition (February 28, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0809046814
  • ISBN-13: 978-0809046812
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.6 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,478,520 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Catherine Clinton on February 28, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This was a real revelation to me, not because I did not think Gugliotta could write such a great book---but because Congressional politics in the nineteenth century was never so riveting before, but in Guy Gugliotta's capable hands we are swept back into a saga so captivating that even the familiar seems fresh---and there is much new and remarkable throughout this account--- I was unable to put the book down,, except to check the footnotes.

I marvel at the superb research, powerful prose and vivid characters coming to life on every page. What I would recommend is to buy early (Feb. 28th) and often! Read it and cheer on a wonderful storyteller who has found another lost chapter of Civil War history. Read it and keep your mind alive with comparisons, the modern day Congressional battles measure up certainly, to a Robert Harris thriller about the Roman republic, to a ripping good yarn with heroes, villains, and shades between.

Enjoy a marvelous mystery--will the dome go ahead? and how and when? and what will the consequences be?
Read Freedom's Cap and find out!
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Guy Gugliotta's sparkling prose and street reporter's eye have combined to make a rollicking yarn out of what could have been a turgid academic deep dive into archival trivia.
And what compelling, and nutso, characters he has to work with! Here's Jeff Davis, who would tear the country apart, as the driving force behind the creation of the Capitol as the soaring symbol of national unity.
And here's dour Monty Meigs, who would kick Bobby Lee out of his house, as the nuts-and-bolts engineer who brought in everything on time and under cost in the pre-Halliburton era. Go get this thing.
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A quite interesting story of the enlargement of the United States Capitol in the decade leading up to the Civil War, a tale culminating with the building's majestic dome being capped in late 1863 by the statute "Freedom."

Three main characters provide the narrative thread: the military engineer ( Captain Meigs), the architect (Mr. Walter), and the politician (surprisingly, Jefferson Davis). Given the author, Guy Gugliotta, covered the Hill during his own newspaper days, the book is packed with acute observations on the political processes that both propelled and retarded the major changes that were made to the building, which provides for offices and the deliberative meeting places of the Senate and House of Representatives (and also then the U.S. Supreme Court).

The end result is an excellent primer on federal appropriations and contracting; why and how such an important building needed remodeling; art in public places; the division of powers within our federal government--between the two legislative branches as well as the executive; the intense partisan political turmoil of the era; the unifying nature of the Capitol; and the individual forces, many times petty, that merged, in spite of intense conflict, to build a masterpiece.

I have visited the U.S. Capitol many times. Mr. Gugliotta's book has provided me with a new understanding of the forces that came together to create this most powerful and beautiful of our nation's, if not any nation's, public buildings.
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Focused on the extraordinary story of the construction and design of the U.S. Capitol, Guy Gugliotta has produced a spell-binding and meticulously researched tale of the years leading up to the Civil War, the moral and ideological conflicts, as well as the logistical challenges of erecting the immense stone and iron structure when labor was supplied by bare handed men. The struggle to preserve the Union, the struggle between the free-state and proslavery states, the story of how America became the world's first `exceptional nation', and the detailed account of how each pillar, beam, and joist was hoisted are woven together seamlessly. There is no more brilliant writer of the American past and no author more skilled in conveying the grit and artistry required to erect the iconic dome. Gugliotta is a peerless technical writer who also brings to life the human dimension - the startling rivalry of the complex, gifted men, southerners and northerners, who competed and cooperated to create the Capitol. Freedom's Cap breathes color into the Federal City -- carefully documenting the construction of the Capitol complex with a vast selection of rare photographs and drawings. A page turner and an eye opener, this book is essential reading not only for students of politics and of the Civil War, but for all those who visit Washington.
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Freedom's Cap is an engaging, well told story of the design and construction of the US Capitol Building that is hard to put down once started.

Guy Gugliotta has focused on the engineers, artists,architects, soldiers and politicians who eventually found a common ground that made the project complete and tells stories of heroes who are treated poorly and politicians who are possibly more dysfunctional,corrupt, and partisan than the ones we now read about daily. Freedom's Cap is an apt title describing the head cover worn by freed slaves that was the original design of the bronze monument at the Capitol dome peak.

The history focuses about the 1850's and 1860's and the personalities that dealt with the slavery and union issues. The Know Nothing party is well described. Armed congressmen who brawl are among the participants.

On finishing the book, I felt that current US Congress is not as bad as that of the 1850's and have a greater appreciation of the designers of Washington, D.C., their art and their ability to come up with solutions.
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