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  • The Demon of Unrest

  • A Saga of Hubris, Heartbreak, and Heroism at the Dawn of the Civil War
  • By: Erik Larson
  • Narrated by: Will Patton, Erik Larson
  • Length: 17 hrs and 18 mins
  • 4.6 out of 5 stars (1,158 ratings)

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The Demon of Unrest

By: Erik Larson
Narrated by: Will Patton, Erik Larson
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Publisher's summary

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • The author of The Splendid and the Vile brings to life the pivotal five months between the election of Abraham Lincoln and the start of the Civil War in this “riveting reexamination of a nation in tumult” (Los Angeles Times).

“A feast of historical insight and narrative verve . . . This is Erik Larson at his best, enlivening even a thrice-told tale into an irresistible thriller.”—The Wall Street Journal

On November 6, 1860, Abraham Lincoln became the fluky victor in a tight race for president. The country was bitterly at odds; Southern extremists were moving ever closer to destroying the Union, with one state after another seceding and Lincoln powerless to stop them. Slavery fueled the conflict, but somehow the passions of North and South came to focus on a lonely federal fortress in Charleston Harbor: Fort Sumter.

Master storyteller Erik Larson offers a gripping account of the chaotic months between Lincoln’s election and the Confederacy’s shelling of Sumter—a period marked by tragic errors and miscommunications, enflamed egos and craven ambitions, personal tragedies and betrayals. Lincoln himself wrote that the trials of these five months were “so great that, could I have anticipated them, I would not have believed it possible to survive them.”

At the heart of this suspense-filled narrative are Major Robert Anderson, Sumter’s commander and a former slave owner sympathetic to the South but loyal to the Union; Edmund Ruffin, a vain and bloodthirsty radical who stirs secessionist ardor at every opportunity; and Mary Boykin Chesnut, wife of a prominent planter, conflicted over both marriage and slavery and seeing parallels between them. In the middle of it all is the overwhelmed Lincoln, battling with his duplicitous secretary of state, William Seward, as he tries desperately to avert a war that he fears is inevitable—one that will eventually kill 750,000 Americans.

Drawing on diaries, secret communiques, slave ledgers, and plantation records, Larson gives us a political horror story that captures the forces that led America to the brink—a dark reminder that we often don’t see a cataclysm coming until it’s too late.

©2024 Crown (P)2024 Random House Audio

Critic reviews

“Larson, one of today’s pre-eminent nonfiction storytellers, trawls a variety of archives to explore the historically momentous months between Abraham Lincoln’s election and the Battle of Fort Sumter.”—The New York Times

“Perhaps no other historian has ever rendered the struggle for Sumter in such authoritative detail as Larson does here. . . . Few historians, too, have done a better job of untangling the web of intrigues and counter-intrigues that helped provoke the eventual attack and surrender.”—The Washington Post

“A feast of historical insight and narrative verve . . . Larson’s great gift is his uncanny ability to spin a chronological story whose ending we already know—secession, rebellion, victory, emancipation and assassination—yet keep the narrative as crisp and suspenseful as an Anthony Horowitz suspense novel. . . . This is Erik Larson at his best, enlivening even a thrice-told tale into an irresistible thriller.”—The Wall Street Journal

Editorial Review

The Civil War in the hands of a narrative master
"The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there." That quote from L.P. Hartley has always stayed with me. It nails why I love history so much: It feels like travel. I’m a bit frustrated I don’t have a time machine so I can see the living, breathing past for myself. But in lieu of a time machine, I have Erik Larson. Few writers transport me so wholly as this master of narrative history, author of such favorites as The Devil in the White City and In the Garden of Beasts. His latest takes us to the fraught five-month period between Abraham Lincoln’s election and the start of the Civil War. In Larson's hands, dimly lit figures from the past come into full view, enlightening us on a world that feels at once so distant and so near to our own, a moment of incomparable consequence in American history, and one with continued relevance in our own troubled times. —Phoebe N., Audible Editor