The Zealot and the Emancipator: John Brown, Abraham Lincoln, and the Struggle for American Freedom

H.W. Brands. Doubleday, $30 (448p) ISBN 978-0-385-54400-9
University of Texas historian Brands (Dreams of El Dorado) delivers an entertaining and insightful dual biography of revolutionary abolitionist John Brown and President Abraham Lincoln. Brown’s participation in the 1856 murder of five pro-slavery settlers in Kansas and the 1859 attack on the federal armory at Harper’s Ferry, Va., filled Lincoln with horror, according to Brands. To Lincoln, who promised voters during his presidential campaign that he had no intention of eradicating slavery in the Southern states, Brown was a fanatic whose “lawless invasion” threw slavery’s supporters on the defensive and undermined the attempts of moderates to limit its power. In short, tightly focused chapters alternating between Brown’s and Lincoln’s perspectives, Brand narrates their progress, as Brown becomes convinced that he’s God’s chosen weapon against human bondage, and Lincoln emerges as a leader in the Republican Party and evolves his attitudes toward slavery. Though they never met, Brown and Lincoln both died as martyrs to “slave power,” Brands writes, and spent much of their lives trying to answer the question “what does a good man do when his country commits a great evil?” Though much of Brands’s material is familiar, he provides essential historical context and intriguing insights into both men’s characters and decision-making. American history fans will be thrilled. (Oct.)
Reviewed on : 06/01/2020
Release date: 10/06/2020
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 715 pages - 978-0-593-29537-3
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