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Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War Hardcover – October 25, 2011

4.5 out of 5 stars 174 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“A hard-driving narrative of one of America's most troubling figures… Horwitz describes the disaster in riveting terms… It's impossible to read this fine book without thinking about modern-day Browns.” ―Kevin Boyle, The New York Times Book Review (a New York Times Notable Book, 2011)

“Horwitz's skills are a good match for this enormously compelling character, and his well-paced narrative incorporates masterful sketches of Brown's family, foot soldiers, financial backers, admirers and prosecutors… The result is both page-turning and heartbreaking--a book to engage mind and soul.” ―The Boston Globe

“Horwitz, an exceptionally skilled and accomplished journalist, here turns his hand to pure history with admirable results. Midnight Rising is smoothly written, thoroughly researched, places Brown within the context of his time and place, and treats him sensitively but scarcely adoringly.” ―The Washington Post(Best of 2011, Notable Work of Nonfiction)

Midnight Rising is a richly detailed and engaging history… Horwitz's moment-by-moment account of the doomed raid unfolds with such immediacy that he reintroduces suspense to a story we all know from textbooks.” ―The San Francisco Chronicle

“Horwitz describes guerrilla action and the run-up to war with a deadline writer's immediacy… A brilliant researcher, he integrates diverse sources into a cogent adventure.” ―The Washington Times

“What do you call John Brown? Is he a terrorist or a freedom fighter? ... Tony Horwitz settles upon the word insurgent -- and the label seems just right, as does Horwitz's book as a whole… Midnight Rising rolls through a series of indelible scenes… The book becomes a graceful narrative, ever engaging, with the reader allowed to connect Brown and his contemporaries to conflicts that continue to our day.” ―Seattle Times

“In captivating detail, Horwitz animates the wild-eyed, long-bearded crusader . . . Make no mistake, the infamous October 1859 raid on the federal armory at Harpers Ferry by John Brown and his 18 men was the stone that began the avalanche that became the Civil Wars.” ―The Cleveland Plain Dealer

“A brave and highly successful attempt to revive the legend of Brown's martyrdom for the 21st century reader…. Horwitz's vivid writing style… makes for a superb historical narrative.” ―Buffalo News

“A beautifully crafted, richly detailed, and riveting narrative of a pivotal episode in American history . . . Midnight Rising is at its best reconstructing the lives (and deaths) of the relatively anonymous conspirators – especially the African-Americans.” ―The Florida Courier

“Horwitz's potent prose delivers the facts of this bellwether incident in riveting fashion… It is an absorbing portrait of the often frustrated but passionately driven firebrand who successfully convinced a country of the shame of slavery and, to the South's great regret, earned martyr status in the aftermath of his execution. Brown qualifies as America's first important post-revolution terrorist… Horwitz brings events to life with almost cinematic clarity, and for American history and Civil War aficionados, Midnight Rising is required reading.” ―Bookpage

“Horwitz's description of the little band of idealists and adventurers who signed on for Brown's offensive – including five black men and two of Brown's own sons – is both fascinating and touching. His careful recreation of the bloody events of October 16, 1859, the day of Brown's disastrous raid on Harpers Ferry, is both suspenseful and heartwrenching.” ―Christian Science Monitor (one of the 15 Best Nonfiction Books of 2011)

“In Midnight Rising, [Horwitz] not only gives us an action-packed adventure story, but also provides detailed historical background and vivid character portraits of the principals involved… Assiduously researched using archival sources, Horwitz's riveting tale is on sound factual footing. And he does a wonderful job of bringing to life the fascinating, messianic leader who, on the way to the gallows, would incite a nation toward civil war.” ―St. Petersburg Times

“Compelling reading.” ―Wichita Eagle

“The lively narrative focuses on the 1859 attack on an armory in Harpers Ferry, W.Va, by Brown and his ragtag followers -- the event credited with lighting the fuse on the deadliest conflict in U.S. history.” ―San Jose Mercury News

“A groundbreaking study of the Harper's Ferry raid that makes a number of fascinating points: Brown was not a madman or a fanatic, he knew his death would serve as a moral lightning rod, and the fallout from his actions has echoed for generations.” ―Oregonian

“Superb and amply researched… [Horwitz] renders with empathy and insight the lives of the individuals Brown touched, whether they were family members, victims, or the idealistic raiders who followed him to Harpers Ferry… Brown's raiders thus appear more human, poignant, and fallible and the whole venture more noble, futile, benighted, heroic, and sadder than heretofore.” ―American Scholar

“Gripping, disturbing and heartbreaking... Horwitz brings all his gifts of character building and storytelling to Brown's rise and self-promotion… Horwitz's Brown did not die in vain. By recalling the drama that fired the imagination and fears of Brown's time, Midnight Rising calls readers to account for complacency about social injustices today. This is a book for our time.” ―Library Journal (a Top Ten Book of the Year, 2011)

“Lucid and compelling… The author's archival sleuthing pays off with a rich narrative.” ―Kirkus Reviews

“[Horwitz's] vivid biographical portrait of Brown gives us an American original: a failed businessman and harsh Calvinist with a soft spot for the oppressed and a murderous animus against oppressors… Brown's raiders--a motley crew of his sons and various idealists, adventurers, freedmen, and fugitive slaves--come alive as a romantic, appealing bunch; their agonizing deaths give Horwitz's excellent narrative of the raid and shootout a deep pathos.” ―Publishers Weekly

“There's a brilliance to this book that put me in mind of Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, only Horwitz's Midnight Rising is set deeper in America's dark past. With stunning, vivid detail, he has captured the sheer drama and tragedy of John Brown and that bloody raid at Harpers Ferry that helped propel America toward civil war.” ―Erik Larson, author of The Devil in the White City and In the Garden of Beasts

“Tony Horwitz's gifts as a vivid narrator of dramatic events are on full display in this story of John Brown's wars in Kansas and his climactic Harpers Ferry raid in 1859. Brown's family and the men who joined him in these fights against slavery receive a more fully rounded treatment than in any other account. Of special note is the discussion of Brown's self-conscious emulation of Samson by pulling down the temple of bondage and dying a martyr in its ruins.” ―James M. McPherson, author of Battle Cry of Freedom

Midnight Rising is a deeply compelling work, richly researched and elegantly written. The events surrounding the raid on Harpers Ferry--and the complex character of John Brown himself--come vividly to life in Tony Horwitz's irresistibly readable account.” ―Annette Gordon-Reed, author of The Hemingses of Monticello

“With his customary blend of rich archival research, on-location color, and lyrical prose, Tony Horwitz has delivered a John Brown book for our time. Part biography, part historical narrative, Midnight Rising is a riveting re-creation of the Harpers Ferry raid, told with an unblinking sense of Brown's tragic place in American history. Writing with enveloping detail and a storyteller's verve, Horwitz shows why Brown was--and still is--so troubling and important to our culture.” ―David W. Blight, author of American Oracle: The Civil War in the Civil Rights Era

“Tony Horwitz knows how to tell a story, and here his considerable gifts as a writer bring John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry alive in a style that is just as electric as its subject.” ―Joseph J. Ellis, author of Founding Brothers and First Family

“Beautifully written and sparkling with fresh insights, Midnight Rising resurrects the multiple faces of John Brown: avenging angel or murderous terrorist; slavery's nemesis or deluded fanatic; abolitionist hero or subversive insurrectionist. In this thrilling, magnificent and essential book, Tony Horwitz shows how one man and a single event set the nation on a doomed course where the crimes of a guilty land could only be purged by blood.” ―James L. Swanson, author of Manhunt and Bloody Crimes

About the Author

Tony Horwitz is the bestselling author of Midnight Rising, A Voyage Long and Strange, Blue Latitudes, Confederates in the Attic, and Baghdad Without a Map. He is also a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who has worked for The Wall Street Journal and The New Yorker. He lives in Martha's Vineyard with his wife, Geraldine Brooks, and their two sons.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.; First Edition edition (October 25, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080509153X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805091533
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (174 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #465,474 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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By Malvin VINE VOICE on August 8, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"Midnight Rising" by renowned historian Tony Horwitz presents the riveting story of John Brown, whose attack on the U.S. armory in Harpers Ferry, (West) Virginia might well have been the first salvo of the U.S. Civil War. Mr. Horwitz delivers a fresh perspective on one of 19th Century's most pivotal events in a way that is certain to reinvigorate the debate about Brown's legacy for many years to come. Exceptionally well researched and written, this thoroughly engaging book is destined to become a must-read for serious students of U.S. history.

Mr. Horwitz vivdly reconstructs the startingly different time in which Brown was born and raised. Often living a harsh frontier existence with few luxuries and beset by personal tragedy, Brown nonetheless cared deeply for his family and worked hard for their comfort in the steadfast belief that all were made equal before God. The fact of slavery's evil coexistence alongside free, industrious people deeply affected Brown, moving him to speak out against slavery and provide whatever assistance he could to the African- and Native American peoples he met.

Mr. Horwitz reminds us that in 1850s America the southern states were often able to impose their will, if not politically then by force. We learn that Brown first gained notoriety by fighting back against southern aggression in Kansas, whereupon his life changed forever as he moved underground to avoid arrest. As Brown subsequently spent much of the decade plotting his next, more ambitious move to take the offense and strike at the heart of the slave power, he came into contact with many of the leading progressives of the era including Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Henry David Thoreau and Harriet Tubman. Mr.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
It's a commonplace that real history is much more interesting than what's taught in American schools, but the accuracy of the observation struck me anew as I read Tony Horwitz's book on John Brown and the Harpers Ferry raid. The rough outline of those events will be familiar to anyone who retains memories of high school history classes, where they're dutifully and rapidly treated as a precursor to the American Civil War. But it's the nuances of the situation that are truly fascinating. I'm tempted simply to repeat some of the more surprising nuggets of information here, but just as the reviewer of a comedy ought not spoil the good jokes, the reviewer of a popular history ought not spoil the good "factoids." Suffice it to say that Horwitz has the gift of any good popular historian: the ability to assemble the myriad details of the historical record into a generally coherent and compelling narrative.

I gather from other early reviews that Horwitz generally mixes his history with contemporary and personal observations, and that the absence of the latter from this book, which stays rooted in the nineteenth century, is a disappointment to some readers. That's fair enough, and it's certainly true that Midnight Rising is a straightforward historical narrative lacking individual voice. However, as a reader unfamiliar with Horwitz but interested in history, I admired the book for what it was. The author handles his large cast of characters (nineteen raiders and about as many uninvolved allies, to say nothing of those, from government officials to soldiers to ordinary residents, who fought against the raid) deftly, providing enough memorable personal detail to make each player stand out. The only exceptions are male members of John Brown's extended family.
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Tony Horwitz has written a thoroughly researched and eminently readable account of the life of one of history's most complicated and vexing characters. John Brown was a visionary hero ahead of his time. He was also a radical outlaw willing to match violence for violence and even take life in cold blood. He was also a seriously flawed human being whose inflexible nature and single-minded devotion to his cause and utter inability to manage business affairs left his wife and brood of children in near poverty and very likely imperiled his own mission. There is simply no way to reconcile this singularly complex figure into any of the neat packages history has tried to stuff him into - whether hero, madman or villain. Yet this fanatical hero-villain, in the course of a blundered raid, lit the spark that ended slavery and exploded the "Southern Way of Life".

After a brief prologue setting the stage for the raid on Harper's ferry, Horwitz returns to the beginning to trace what is known - and what Brown himself reported - of Brown's childhood and early life. Brown was raised by a strict Calvinist who espoused hard work, piety, strident punishment of sins, and the equality of all people, including blacks - a radical idea at the time, even among abolitionists. John, left motherless at age eight by his mother's death in childbirth, seems to have emulated his father in both temperament and action.

Early in this life, Brown "consecrated" himself to the cause of ending slavery, and he enlisted his wife and sons as a sort of independent army. While his business affairs careened up and down, Brown's passion, determination and independence brought him the attention - and financial support - of wealthy Abolitionist backers from Gerrit Smith to William Lloyd Garrison.
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