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Midnight Rising by Tony Horwitz

Midnight Rising (2011)

by Tony Horwitz

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Tony Horwitz, one of my favorite authors, presents a compelling history of John Brown and his followers and the keystone event of their raid on Harpers Ferry. Brown's life and family are discussed from childhood, to his involvement in Utopian abolition movements, and their targeted assassinations of pro-slavery advocates in "Bleeding Kansas." It's eerie that the rhetoric and tactics of Brown and his followers while targeting the noble cause of abolition still resemble those of today's Tea Party/2nd Amendment activists.The raid on Harpers Ferry took considerable planning and secrecy, although curiously it is uncertain what result Brown expected. Did he really expect it to spark a nation-wide uprising, or did he intend a blood sacrifice? Similarly, his changes in tactics during the raid itself contradict the planning. What's interesting is that while the raid was widely condemned, even by ardent abolitionists, Brown's real influence came in his words and letters while in jail and on trial. Even people who despised Brown and all he stood for came to admire his bravery and determination. Horwitz's book is an interesting account on this key event in American history and the ripples it would have throughout the country. ( )
1 vote Othemts | May 21, 2015 |
Tale of John Brown and the life and social/political contemporary events that led him to lead his ill-fated raid on Harper's Ferry. Unusual for Horowitz in his lack of a travelogue, this is a pure history book of a man who is portrayed in our current world as a wild-eyed, wild haired lunatic carrying a gun. The story of John Brown is so much more than that, and Horowitz tells this story with aplomb and commitment. ( )
  cyclops1771 | Nov 11, 2014 |
Horowitz always has a way of making history easy to read and follow. His style of writing it in "story form" rather than a plodding, dry, and super dense compilation of dates, names, facts, and figures draws the reader in and holds their attention - at least it always does for me. I fancy myself as kind of a Civil War "nut" but this book filled in some gray areas in my knowledge - thank you to the author. I am really looking forward to his next book - hopefully it won't be too long a wait ! ( )
  labdaddy4 | Apr 8, 2014 |
This book is quite a change of pace from Tony Horwitz' usual fare, but it is well worth reading. Horwitz begins with the forces that shaped Brown - his strict Calvinist father, the early loss of his mother, the abolitionist community, life on the frontier, the Nat Turner rebellion. John Brown's father, Owen Brown, was an early trustee of Oberlin College, which accepted both blacks and women.

Like his father, John Brown fathered many children, although only a handful survived to adulthood. Unlike his pacifist father, Brown was willing, even eager, to take his battles to the enemy. He identified strongly with a number of Old Testament figures, including Gideon and Sampson, and he committed to the abolitionist cause early, at one point initiating his wife and several small children into a secret society dedicated to eradicating slavery.

Brown was talented and capable in many ways, but was a poor money manager throughout his life, a fact that led to many business failures, caused his family to live in poverty, and contributed to the eventual failure of his raid on the federal armory at Harpers Ferry, Virginia.

He moved his family to upstate New York, in an attempt to help escaped slaves learn how to farm on poor quality land that had been donated by wealthy abolitionists. But soon his attention was drawn to Kansas, where several of his young adult sons had relocated in response to the Fugitive Slave Act, the Kansas Nebraska Act, and drought conditions in Ohio. Soon they felt threatened by pro-slavery forces, and John Brown traveled there to help. Two of Brown's sons were captured in a raid, and were not released in response to an agreed prisoner exchange; another son was killed in another raid. Brown led family members and neighbors in several battles, which gave him a degree of fame in the abolitionist community.

Brown then headed east, where he began fundraising and planning for the next phase in his battle against slavery. Brown's planning for the raid on Harper's Ferry showed some of the strengths and weaknesses he had exhibited throughout his life. He was tireless and dedicated, and had the foresight to investigate the disposition of military troops that might respond, but he failed to secure the bridges that were essential to the success of his raid. Brown had delusions that the slave population would rise against their masters, but he attacked a town where there the few local blacks were mostly free, including the first man killed by the raiders. He made no effort to alert slaves in the surrounding area.

The raid was a failure, and Brown lost most of his men, including two more of his sons. Yet he took advantage of the time between his capture and his execution to disseminate his opinions throughout the country. At his trial, given an unexpected opportunity to speak for himself, Brown gave an extemporaneous speech that impressed even southerners with his sincerity and integrity.

On the way to his execution, Brown handed a note to a guard who had asked for an autograph. "I John Brown am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land: will never be purged away; but with Blood." Less than one year after Brown's execution, Abraham Lincoln was elected President, and by February 1861, 7 southern states had voted to secede.

The words of Brown's final note are echoed in Lincoln's second inaugural address: "...Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man's 250 years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said 3,000 years ago, so still it must be said, 'the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether'."

Horwitz ends the book by describing the fates of the other members of Brown's raiding party, and of the surviving members of his family. ( )
  oregonobsessionz | Mar 30, 2014 |
47. Midnight Rising : John Brown and Raid that Sparked the Civil War (Audio Book) by Tony Horwitz, narrated by Daniel Oreskes (2011, 384 pages in paper format, listened Oct 5 -16)

I always wondered about John Brown, and imagined he must have been one quite curious figure close up. It seems I was wrong. A failed businessman with a pattern - over confidence in risky endeavors with little sense of the risk involved and no effort to protect himself. That's my summary. I don't think Horwitz put it that way. Anyway - the same kind of thing happened at Harper's Ferry - the midnight raid of the books title. The raid never had a chance of any kind of success, but Horwitz shows us the tactics in close detail...and they were moronic.

But something odd happened after the raid. Brown somehow survived, one of two to be captured alive and not executed on the spot during the raid. Then he was questioned and put on trial. And while he was a terrible speaker, his words traveled in print. In a very simple and elegant logic Brown cleanly and clearly undermined, really to it's core, slavery. And he did it in such a way that it hit home with the gentlemanly south. On trial and death row, Brown's words had a weight that accomplished everything he had hoped Harper's Ferry would. The infamous maniac of bleeding Kansas became a rallying point, and may have been the spark that finally led to the American Civil War.

I listened in audio. I thought it a little strange that Daniel Oreskes narrated so seriously, since I tend to see Horwitz's reporting as characterized with a slightly sly humor. But, if that is here, Oreskes buries it. He does one other weird thing. When a character is quoted, he changes his voice for the quotation...but then he doesn't change his voice back after the quote.

As it was an audio book I listened to while commuting, it was painless...but I didn't enjoy the book. Horwitz spends an exorbitant amount of time on Brown's background, his story leading up to Harper's Ferry and all the planning done for Harper's Ferry - all of which turns out to not be that interesting, at least not to me. Disappointing since I like Horwitz. Read at your own risk, and then keep your expectations low.

To see the review within the context of my lt thread go here: http://www.librarything.com/topic/160515#4353417 ( )
1 vote dchaikin | Nov 6, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 29 (next | show all)
Horwitz, an exceptionally skilled and accomplished journalist — his best, and best known, book is “Confederates in the Attic” (1998) — 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.

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Oreskes, DanielNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Sometimes there comes a crack in Time itself.
Sometimes the earth is torn by something blind.

Stephen Vincent Benét,
"John Brown's Body"
To Nathaniel and Bisu,
my in-house insurrectionists
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(Prologue) "Men, get on your arms," the Captain said. "We will proceed to the Ferry."
John Brown was born with the nineteenth century and didn't launch his attack on Virginia until he was nearly sixty.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 080509153X, Hardcover)

A New York Times Notable Book for 2011
A Library Journal Top Ten Best Books of 2011
A Boston Globe Best Nonfiction Book of 2011

Bestselling author Tony Horwitz tells the electrifying tale of the daring insurrection that put America on the path to bloody war

Plotted in secret, launched in the dark, John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry was a pivotal moment in U.S. history. But few Americans know the true story of the men and women who launched a desperate strike at the slaveholding South. Now, Midnight Rising portrays Brown's uprising in vivid color, revealing a country on the brink of explosive conflict.

Brown, the descendant of New England Puritans, saw slavery as a sin against America's founding principles. Unlike most abolitionists, he was willing to take up arms, and in 1859 he prepared for battle at a hideout in Maryland, joined by his teenage daughter, three of his sons, and a guerrilla band that included former slaves and a dashing spy. On October 17, the raiders seized Harpers Ferry, stunning the nation and prompting a counterattack led by Robert E. Lee. After Brown's capture, his defiant eloquence galvanized the North and appalled the South, which considered Brown a terrorist. The raid also helped elect Abraham Lincoln, who later began to fulfill Brown's dream with the Emancipation Proclamation, a measure he called "a John Brown raid, on a gigantic scale."

Tony Horwitz's riveting book travels antebellum America to deliver both a taut historical drama and a telling portrait of a nation divided—a time that still resonates in ours.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:15 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Chronicles the 1859 raid by radical abolitionist John Brown on Harpers Ferry, revealing how his acts, deemed terrorism by the South, prompted a counterattack by Robert E. Lee and galvanized Northern supporters during Lincoln's election campaign.

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