Ecstatic Nation: Confidence, Crisis, and Compromise, 1848-1877
Brenda Wineapple. HarperCollins, $35 (736p) ISBN 978-0-06-123457-6
This lavish record of the eventful decades surrounding the Civil War explores a divided nation through the personalities of its growing and ideologically diversifying populace. Lincoln emerges as the iconic celebrity of the era%E2%80%99s central conflict, but the real stars are the supporting characters. Politicians, poets, slaves, slave holders, transcendentalists, Mormons, women%E2%80%99s suffragists, and Native American chiefs are just some of the colorful characters who run the gamut from %E2%80%9Cprolific and daring and conventional%E2%80%9D to %E2%80%9Cspare and iron-willed%E2%80%9D and %E2%80%9Cexcessive and homegrown.%E2%80%9D Acclaimed biographer Wineapple (White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award) gracefully choreographs a staggering number of primary sources, weaving disparate voices together into one revelatory thread. In her depiction of the bloodshed of the Civil War, she eschews %E2%80%9Cstatistics [that] defy comprehension,%E2%80%9D focusing instead on specific scenes and personal stories that capture the magnitude of a pivotal moment before fleshing them out with analyses of contemporaneous reactions. The result reads like a series of biographies-in-miniature, a marvelous survey of both familiar and unsung American stories, contextualized and framed within one sweeping canvas. This is sure to enrich any reader%E2%80%99s understanding of the complicated history of Civil War%E2%80%93era America. Agent: Lynn Nesbit, Janklow & Nesbit.
Reviewed on: 05/13/2013