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ECSTATIC NATION by Brenda Wineapple Kirkus Star

ECSTATIC NATION

Confidence, Crisis, and Compromise, 1848-1877

By Brenda Wineapple

Pub Date: Aug. 6th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-06-123457-6
Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

A sweeping look at the Civil War in the context of its social, cultural and intellectual climate.

Wineapple (Modern Literary and Historical Studies/Union Coll.; White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson, 2008) begins with a bang: the death of John Quincy Adams on the House floor, after decades of fighting to end slavery. From there, she takes up the narrative of some 50 years of turbulent American history, full of grand schemes, bitter conflicts, brilliant characters and unforgettable stories. Among the plotlines are the effort by Southern slaveholders to find new territories to expand into, so as to preserve the balance between slave and free states in the Senate; the abolitionists’ appeal to higher laws; the rise of transcendentalism, spiritualism and other quasi-religious philosophies; and the settlement of the West. It would be hard for a master novelist to top the cast of characters, who run the gamut from politicians to writers, soldiers, ministers, nurses, journalists and outright frauds. Wineapple covers the grand sweep of history, from the run-up to secession and the war itself to the Reconstruction era and its ultimate betrayal. Secondary plots abound, from plans to annex Cuba to the Indian Wars. Throw in all the quips, slogans, insults and grand sentiments of an age when educated men and women prided themselves on their eloquence, and you’ve got the recipe for a wonderful saga. Wineapple gives all the major players a turn in the spotlight and, in the case of the true giants of the era, Abraham Lincoln especially, their full due. The author effectively draws in all the currents of the time, from popular culture and polemical journalism to the grand literary monuments. Best of all, she brings it together in a compelling narrative that will enlighten readers new to the material and thoroughly entertain those familiar with it.

History on the grand scale, orchestrated by a virtuoso.