FICTION

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.
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RedReviewStarGr 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
According to Marrin, John Brown's raid at Harpers Ferry helped "set the stage for the Civil War." The book begins with a chapter on Brown’s life, then takes a broader look at the history of slavery; the final chapter comments on Brown's influence on the militant arm of the civil rights movement. Archival photographs round out an intelligent, important volume. Reading list, websites. Ind.
According to the prologue, John Brown's raid at Harpers Ferry helped "set the stage for the Civil War." His violent actions raise an issue that still resonates today: to what extremes may a person go to change an unjust law? The book begins with a chapter on Brown's life, then takes a broader look at the history of slavery. The man himself gets lost in the (somewhat unwieldy) sections on the American frontier, Arab slave traders, and the rise of the Atlantic slave trade, but they do set the scene for Brown's actions. The final chapter, "Legacy," offers a brief commentary on Brown's influence on the militant arm of the American civil rights movement along with the way he inspired contemporary terrorists Paul Hill and Timothy McVeigh (both of whom, chillingly, cited Brown in their belief that they were avenging innocents and waging war on evil). Like authors Marc Aronson and Steve Sheinkin, Marrin is not just reporting history, he's shaping a discussion to prove its relevance for the present generation. Archival photographs along with a thorough bibliography and list of websites round out an intelligent and important volume. dean schneider

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