This work, purportedly about the election of 1800, actually spends less than 1/4 of its length on the election & the various machinations associated with same. That is a good thing. Rather, it reviews, superficially yet very powerfully, the forces that in the years after 1776 brought forth the Federalists, anti-Federalists & Jeffersonian Republicans, as well as the sideward glance at the first glimmerings of a "political machine" in the hands of Aaron Burr. It is this interpretation of the 2 decades running up to the election that makes the election crystal-clear. This book also has outstanding narration. Someone who speaks with emphasis & doesn't have to be suffered through. The only weakness of the book, frankly, is the short section that follows the events of the elections, which treads on very well worn ground (Burr's post 1800 shenanigans, Hamilton, Jefferson/Adams correspondence) & does not add anything substantial to the record here. A very small complaint. It still deserves 5 stars in by book.
You would be justified if you thought there are too many books about the Civil War & about Lincoln. I believe there are more books about Lincoln than there are about any figure in the western canon. So I looked askance at yet another one. Since I had read 2 other excellent volumes by Foner, including one I highly recommend about reconstruction, I took the dive.
Foner has produced something unique here. He has followed the line of the history of antebellum racism and thought about slavery, in general, and Lincoln's thoughts and actions about it in particular. There may not be anything 100% new in the book, but the way it is all put in one place, chronologically and with ample evidence, is what makes it a valuable addition to history.
Lincoln was both a man of his time and a professional politician. That has to be the starting point for any discussion of his views and actions about slavery in the United States. As Foner makes clear, Lincoln always had an abhorrence of slavery and unpaid servitude in general. Which does not mean he was not a racist by our 21st century standards. Lincoln was not the most anti-slavery man, or politician of his time ... had he been so, we would not know his name today, because he never could have become so prominent in politics nor become president.
Foner's accomplishment is to show how Lincoln's views changed over his career. From someone not terribly concern about slavery (in the 1840s, for instance) but still against it, to someone increasing concerned about it (in the 1850s) but mainly in the context of territorial expansion, to someone who gradually recognized it as the central cause of the war between the states. Along the way, Lincoln did drag along some of his cherished (and now repudiated) ideas, like the idea of colonization (which he held until late in his presidency in some fashion). And a habit of demeaning blacks in his manner of talking (like using the n-word and telling jokes). Highly recommended.
Outstanding book of history, narrative history nicely mixed with pieces of economic history (but not boring) and lessons about the connections between economics and the environment (thankfully not preachy at all). The author weaves ordinary history by narrating the lives of the affected people on the Great Plains, relying on recollections, diaries, letters, contemporary (mostly local) news accounts, so that the reader is successfully sucked into the time itself. I came away with a new appreciation of what I had already read, or heard, or seen in the popular media (most affectingly the great movie version of Steinbeck's "Grapes of Wrath"). I highly recommend this book (I have already bought 2 hard copies to send to others in my family who, unfortunately, have yet to buy iPods). The narration is also excellent.
Runner, Commuter, Dietitian with a passion for U.S. History.
I remember the final tumultuous years of the 60's as a televised tableau of rioting and demonstrations capped by the horrific nightmare of back to back assassinations. Hampton Sides examines the people and motives behind the events. Be prepared for new perspectives on the familiar characters of the headlines. Martin Luther King can't give up his mistresses, LBJ can't fathom why his War on Poverty doesn't prevent a demonstration on his doorstep, and J. Edgar Hoover does the right thing in the end. The pathos of the widow's walk -Coretta Scott King, Jackie and Ethel Kennedy- is masterfully retold. I sympathized with Ralph Abernathy as he surveyed the muddy wreck that once was the Poor People's March and is forced to come to terms that he will never be the leader that MLK was. By far, however, the most complex character was James Earl Ray, the product of a dismally poor, dysfunctional family of many generation's duration, cunning yet clueless, and so unremarkable that most acquaintances describe him as ordinary, if they are able to remember him at all. Thousands of lawmen in five countries bring to a successful conclusion one of the most extensive and successful manhunts of the twentieth century. The re-telling of the story is fast paced enough to read like a thriller, yet detailed enough for fresh insight into the era. Hampton Side's narration is understated and well done. I highly recommend the book and the author to anyone with an interest in American history and especially to those too young to remember social upheaval of the 60's.