Ecstatic Nation: Confidence, Crisis, and Compromise, 1848-1877

Ecstatic Nation: Confidence, Crisis, and Compromise, 1848-1877

A New York Times Notable Book of 2013A Kirkus Best Book of 2013A Bookpage Best Book of 2013Dazzling in scope, Ecstatic Nation illuminates one of the most dramatic and momentous chapters in America's past, when the country dreamed big, craved new lands and new freedom, and was bitterly divided over its great moral wrong: slavery. With a canvas of extraordinary characters, s...

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Title:Ecstatic Nation: Confidence, Crisis, and Compromise, 1848-1877
Author:Brenda Wineapple
Rating:
Edition Language:English

Ecstatic Nation: Confidence, Crisis, and Compromise, 1848-1877 Reviews

  • David Ebershoff

    This is the best work of history I've read this year -- and I'm pretty sure you'll feel the same way. If you like Doris Kearns Goodwin, Joseph Ellis, Jon Meacham, Annette Gordon Reed, then I promise you will love Brenda Wineapple.

  • Jaylia3

    Ecstatic Nation caught me up completely with its a sweeping, exuberant, unflinching cultural and political history of the era surrounding the American Civil War, 1848--1877, years when the country was deeply divided by slavery, fiercely debating the rights of women, and bent on expanding westward into what was to have been lands set aside for Native Americans. Not just a series of events, Ecstatic Nation also tells the stories of the people of the time and their changing schemes, viewpoints, des

    Ecstatic Nation caught me up completely with its a sweeping, exuberant, unflinching cultural and political history of the era surrounding the American Civil War, 1848--1877, years when the country was deeply divided by slavery, fiercely debating the rights of women, and bent on expanding westward into what was to have been lands set aside for Native Americans. Not just a series of events, Ecstatic Nation also tells the stories of the people of the time and their changing schemes, viewpoints, desires, values, moods, and circumstances.

    Embedded in the narrative are incisive mini biographies of characters famous and not, including George Armstrong Custer, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Frederick Douglass, Lydia Maria Childs, Jefferson Davis, Walt Whitman, Red Cloud, P. T. Barnum, William T. Sherman, and Ralph Waldo Emerson among far too many others to note them all here. Fascinating and eye-opening, with almost 600 pages of text supported by over 100 pages of notes Ecstatic Nation still manages to rip along presenting a lively sometimes disturbing but almost always compelling back-story of today’s United States.

  • Mike

    I've been making an attempt, in the past 4 years, to learn as much as I possibly can about the United States in the 19th Century, because I deeply believe that the fuller understanding I am able to achieve about the America in the 1800s, the better I will understand the USA now. I've had the pleasure, over the past few years, of reading some masterful historians (Wills, Goodwin, Foner, Millard, Goodheart, Horwitz, Ackerman, McPherson, Oates, to name a few)and it's with great joy that I am able t

    I've been making an attempt, in the past 4 years, to learn as much as I possibly can about the United States in the 19th Century, because I deeply believe that the fuller understanding I am able to achieve about the America in the 1800s, the better I will understand the USA now. I've had the pleasure, over the past few years, of reading some masterful historians (Wills, Goodwin, Foner, Millard, Goodheart, Horwitz, Ackerman, McPherson, Oates, to name a few)and it's with great joy that I am able to add Brenda Wineapple's name to that list.

    Ecstatic Nation is a riveting and lyric masterpiece, brilliantly told and transporting. Wineapple manages to swing her narrative through the sectional conflicts of the 1850s, through the Civil War, and the debacles of Reconstruction and the massacres of Indians. It's compelling storytelling, made all the more amazing through her masterful prose. Highly recommended.

  • Steven Walle

    This was a faboulas book by a prised historian and author. It covers the times band after the American Civil war. She speaks of America's strengths hopes and desires as well as her shames of womens inequality and slavery. The breadth and scope of this book are breath taking. I recommend this book to all interested in American history.

    Enjoy and Be Blessed.

    Diamond

  • Robin Friedman

    Brenda Wineapple's new book, "Ecstatic Nation: Confidence, Crisis, and Compromise, 1848 -- 1877" (2013) offers an unusual, passionate portrayal of the United States from the years following the end of the War with Mexico through the Civil War, and to the conclusion of Reconstruction in 1877. Wineapple writes with literary flair, with an emphasis on both characters, familiar and unfamiliar, and on the telling incident or detail, The author or editor of many books primarily on Nineteenth Century A

    Brenda Wineapple's new book, "Ecstatic Nation: Confidence, Crisis, and Compromise, 1848 -- 1877" (2013) offers an unusual, passionate portrayal of the United States from the years following the end of the War with Mexico through the Civil War, and to the conclusion of Reconstruction in 1877. Wineapple writes with literary flair, with an emphasis on both characters, familiar and unfamiliar, and on the telling incident or detail, The author or editor of many books primarily on Nineteenth Century American literature, Wineapple is the Doris Zemurray Stone Professor of Modern Literary and Historical Studies at Union College. She also teaches in the MFA programs at the New School University and Columbia University.

    How, in Wineapple's view, was the United States an "ecstatic" nation in the decades surrounding the Civil War? Her answer is complex and focus on the brashness, self-confidence and yet inwardness of Americans in the mid-19th Century. Wineapple begins her answer with Ralph Waldo Emerson's description of the United States as a "country of beginnings, of projects, of designs, and expectations" before qualifying Emerson's answer in her own voice. "[T]he present was and the future would also be a time of delirium, failure, greed, violence, and refusal; refusal to listen and to find -- or create -- that hard common ground of compromise; refusal to bend, so great was the fear of breaking; refusal to change and refusal to imagine what it might be like to be someone else. ...In short, American was an ecstatic nation; smitten with itself and prosperity and invention and in love with the land from which it drew its riches -- a land grand and fertile, extending from one sea to another and to which its citizens felt entitled. Yet there was a problem -- a hitch, a blot, a stain. The stain was slavery."

    Again, Wineapple writes: "For in the roiling middle of the nineteenth century, when Americans looked within, not without, there was an unassailable intensity and imagination and exuberance, inspirited and nutty and frequently cruel or brutal. There was also a seemingly insatiable and almost frenetic quest for freedom, expressed in several competing ways, for the possession of things, of land, and -- alas-- of persons. And in many instances there was a passion, sometimes self-righteous, sometimes self-abnegating, for doing good, even if that good included, for its sake and in its name, acts of murder."

    Besides the bravura of America, Wineapple focuses on the conflict between compromise and principle. The discussion frequently moves into the realm of secularism -- the use of human reason and laws to explain and justify courses of conduct and the resort to a "higher law", usually religious, to which human institutions must respond. The tension between compromise and principle and the claimed resort to "higher law" have large ramifications througout the study. Wineapple also explores how the American vision of freedom and opportunity all too often narrowed into a pursuit of financial success and, still more tragically, brushed aside the aspirations of some Americans, particularly in the case of slavery.

    Although lengthy at nearly 600 pages of text, the book is short for the period it considers. The study consists of three large parts, the first dealing with the pre-Civil War years 1848 -- 1861, the second dealing with the Civil War itself, 1861 -- 1865, and the concluding section with Reconstruction, 1865 -- 1877. Each of these time periods has been the subject of many extended studies. Wineapple's study thus offers a broad overview which tries to find continuities and trends in this pivotal 30 year period. The study is suggestive rather than thorough and it flows quickly. Wineapple's approach tends to rely more on literature than would be the case in most historical studies. She relies and discusses the works of famous writers, including Emerson, Hawthorne, Melville, and Whitman as well as lesser-known authors, such as the Southern poet, Henry Timrod. She pays a great deal of attention as well to photography as it developed during this period, to newspapers, and to the showman P.T. Barnum.

    The book frequently reads like a a series of moving biographies. The narrative will reach a person that Wineapple considers worth pursuing, and she will discuss that person at length, sometimes at different points in the study. She does so throughout with the novelist's eye for details that illuminate character. Some of her characters, of course, are the key figures of the era: Lincoln, Johnson, Grant, Frederick Douglass, Jefferson Davis. Others are less well known. For example Wineapple discusses the abolitionist and children's book author Lydia Martin Child, (the author of the song "over the river and through the woods, to grandmother's house we go") the feminist and free love advocate Victoria Claffin Woodhull, and the explorer and scientist Clarence King. Wineapple also focuses on details that frequently receive little attention in histories, such as the tragic Pemberton Mill Collapse in 1860, resulting in hundreds of deaths to millworkers in Lawrence, Massachusetts. The result is a book that both takes a broad perspective and makes large claims and also uses stories and details of people to create an intimate account.

    The book is a collage and portrayal of the United States, its conflicted goals, and the way the nation achieved or failed to achieve these goals. Overall, the section of the book dealing with the Civil War is the least effective as Wineapple focuses more on details than on the history of the conflict. The approach works better for the pre-Civil War years and, for the most part for Reconstruction. Portions of the history are perhaps treated too quickly.

    Wineapple has written a thoughtful provocative book on the United States as an "ecstatic nation". The book will encourage its readers to reflect upon American history and upon the conflicts and tensions from the Civil War era that remain with Americans today.

  • Peter Mcloughlin

    This history about the civil war era through Reconstruction is different. It doesn't hit the topic straight on by recounting simply famous events but illuminates the era by taking many sideways journeys off the beaten path. It uses curious historical figures like red cloud or utopian socialist movements of the antebellum era to highlight the spirit of the times. The prose is well put together and the author tells many fascinating stories of this period. By going down meandering paths and side t

    This history about the civil war era through Reconstruction is different. It doesn't hit the topic straight on by recounting simply famous events but illuminates the era by taking many sideways journeys off the beaten path. It uses curious historical figures like red cloud or utopian socialist movements of the antebellum era to highlight the spirit of the times. The prose is well put together and the author tells many fascinating stories of this period. By going down meandering paths and side tours of phenomenon of the time the reader gets a deeper picture of the times and the thinking of the people in this momentous period which is also known as the second founding of the United States. Their are a lot of interesting characters and details to be found in this history and it is enjoyable to read.

  • Bfisher

    A very nice survey of events in the US in the immediate antebellum period, during the Civil War, and during reconstruction. It was very readable; including an especially interesting chapter on the post Civil War struggle for women's sufferage, and the chapter on Clarence Rivers King. Overall, the post war section was more interesting. I had expected more coverage on the role of women in the antebellum antislavery movement, on the antebellum women's rights movement, and on the religious tie-ins.

    O

    A very nice survey of events in the US in the immediate antebellum period, during the Civil War, and during reconstruction. It was very readable; including an especially interesting chapter on the post Civil War struggle for women's sufferage, and the chapter on Clarence Rivers King. Overall, the post war section was more interesting. I had expected more coverage on the role of women in the antebellum antislavery movement, on the antebellum women's rights movement, and on the religious tie-ins.

    One oddity in Chapter 11:

    “the hero of First Manassas (?), Albert Sidney Johnston, mortally wounded at Shiloh” - Albert Sidney Johnston was not at First Manassas

  • Christopher Saunders

    Brenda Whiteapple's

    offers a sprawling, picaresque look at America in the mid-19th Century, from the Mexican War through the Civil War and Reconstruction, with numerous stops and side roads in between. The book's major flaw is the lack of a real through-line, ultimately becoming more a collection of vivid anecdotes and character sketches than a comprehensive history like, say, Battle Cry of Freedom, which covers roughly the same period. But what anecdotes and character sketches!

    Brenda Whiteapple's

    offers a sprawling, picaresque look at America in the mid-19th Century, from the Mexican War through the Civil War and Reconstruction, with numerous stops and side roads in between. The book's major flaw is the lack of a real through-line, ultimately becoming more a collection of vivid anecdotes and character sketches than a comprehensive history like, say, Battle Cry of Freedom, which covers roughly the same period. But what anecdotes and character sketches! Besides the obvious figures you'd expect (Lincoln, Grant, Mark Twain), Whiteapple spends time on fascinating side characters (Cuban-American filibuster Narciso Lopez, feminist Victoria Woodhull, numerous abolitionists and racial activists) and forgotten incidents (the Christiana riot against Southern slave catchers, the violent Reconstruction battles in South Carolina and Louisiana) that demonstrate the lengths to which America would contort and torture its self, compromise and redefine its values in an effort to remain whole - even at horrendous cost in blood and moral authority.

  • Cora

    Not entirely sure what prompted Brenda Wineapple to write a general history of the US during the Civil War/Reconstruction period. (Okay, I'm lying, I know this was probably more marketable than a niche history book.) The book shines when she has the opportunity to examine nooks and crannies of the period, from war correspondents during the Civil War to nature photography as a way to celebrate a unified America during the postwar period. Her emphasis on American imperialism in Latin America was a

    Not entirely sure what prompted Brenda Wineapple to write a general history of the US during the Civil War/Reconstruction period. (Okay, I'm lying, I know this was probably more marketable than a niche history book.) The book shines when she has the opportunity to examine nooks and crannies of the period, from war correspondents during the Civil War to nature photography as a way to celebrate a unified America during the postwar period. Her emphasis on American imperialism in Latin America was a welcome surprise. And her discussion of radical politics during the era feels very vital. Wineapple finds in figures like Victoria Woodhull and Wendell Phillips a comprehensive critique of American society that is (sadly) still relevant in the 21st century, as well as a long-running friction between white feminists and supporters of black civil rights that has never entirely gone away. There is in ECSTATIC NATION a book of essays that I would give five stars too.

    Then there's the Civil War, which can have a stations-of-the-Cross quality in popular history because of the familiarity of the major events. Wineapple can't escape that, and often falls back on tired cliches. So we learn that Robert E. Lee was graceful and dignified, but not that his Army of Northern Virginia kidnapped and enslaved black people during the Gettysburg campaign. She presents Lincoln as inactive during the succession crisis, ignoring his correspondence with Seward (which makes it clear that Lincoln was actively directing the Republican response as president-elect). And she laments that no politician during the 1850s was creative enough to develop a compromise that would satisfy North and South, but never says what compromise would have done that. (I would argue, along with Lincoln and Seward, that there was none; and beyond that, it's not clear to me that a compromise that may have preserved slavery for decades would have been preferable to war.) In short, it's not that different from the Civil War narrative in my high school textbook, and in some ways it felt seriously outdated.

    If you're looking for general narratives of the Civil War and Reconstruction, there are better books out there. ECSTATIC NATION was a disappointment, in part because it can be very good when Wineapple covers something that engages her.

  • Caeser Pink

    A pretty interesting book that looks at the Civil War through it's politics and cultural events. A perspective I've never read read before.

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