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Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War    by Tony Horwitz order for
Midnight Rising
by Tony Horwitz
Order:  USA  Can
Macmillan Audio, 2011 (2011)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Tony Horwitz's thoroughly researched Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War looks at what is known of the life of the man who led the raid on Harpers Ferry on October 17, 1859; at the events that lead up to it; and at what followed, from Brown's execution by hanging to the onset of the Civil War. The unabridged audiobook (9 CDs, 11 hours) is masterfully narrated by Daniel Oreskes, whose range of Southern accents I particularly enjoyed.

In John Brown, the author portrays a charismatic man of strong convictions, one who saw slavery as the great evil of his time, an institution that contradicted the very founding principles on which his country was built. Though clearly a man of vision, Brown also often failed in execution, particularly in business matters. His large family was usually impoverished, and he did not hesitate to sacrifice his own children to the ideals they shared, first involving them in the fighting in Kansas between abolitionists and supporters of slavery, and later in the Harpers Ferry raid itself.

Brown made contact with many well known individuals - from Frederick Douglass and Henry David Thoreau to Harriet Tubman - who shared his beliefs, but not necessarily his approach to remedying the situation. He also won financial support from key sympathizers at high levels in the North. The author lays out Brown's history and the harsh times in which he lived, illuminating the abolitionist movement and the strong economic power (fueled by slavery) held by the Southern states in the Union.

As always, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Tony Horwitz (who also wrote A Voyage Long and Strange, Blue Latitudes, Confederates in the Attic, and Baghdad Without a Map) tells a compelling story. Before reading Midnight Rising, all I knew of John Brown was the song. Though he lost the battle at Harpers Ferry, it seems that his actions eventually won the cause for which he fought. Reading the book did make me wonder, though, without Brown, would slavery have ended more slowly but with less overall casualties than resulted from civil war?

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