October 5, 2015

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Pick of the Day: A Volcano Beneath the Snow

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A Volcano Beneath the SnowMarrin, Albert. A Volcano Beneath the Snow: John Brown’s War Against Slavery. 256p. further reading. index. maps. notes. photos. reprods. websites. Knopf. Apr. 2014. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9780307981523; lib. ed. $22.99. ISBN 9780307981530; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9780385753401. LC 2012043231.
Gr 7 Up–Marrin offers a multisided look at the events and controversy surrounding John Brown’s role in the banishment of slavery and his ongoing inspiration for current events. Chapters present the history of the “peculiar institution” (slavery) both here and abroad, details of Brown’s life and family, his relationship with the abolitionists, his radicalization leading to the killings at Pottawatomie, Kansas, and, eventually, the uprising at Harper’s Ferry and his trial and hanging. Brown’s motivations, his religious fervor, charisma, and leadership skills are all examined. The politics of the time and key players both for and against slavery, secession and disunion are introduced. Brown’s role in the beginning of the Civil War and the introduction of the Emancipation Proclamation are explained. The role of slaves and free blacks before, during and after the war is also included. The Civil Rights Movement and more recent radical events, including the attack on the World Trade Center, are looked at through the lens of John Brown’s actions. From beginning to end, readers are asked to consider the philosophical questions Brown raised regarding “breaking a ‘bad’ law in democracy.” The double-column text is rich with relevant excerpts from writings, speeches, songs, and poetry of the era. Well-chosen captioned and dated black-and-white illustrations include period photos, portraits, artwork, maps, fliers, and posters. Extensive notes and further-reading suggestions are included. This will be an excellent resource for U.S. history collections.–Carol S. Surges, formerly at Longfellow Middle School, Wauwatosa, WI