New Nonfiction: Ecstatic Nation – Brenda Wineapple

After several decades of kicking around the book business, I approach a new Civil War book with trepidation… Really, is there anything new to say? Well, if it’s a book like this, the answer is yes.

Wineapple landed on my radar when she wrote a spectacular book on yet another overworked subject—Emily Dickinson. That book covered the people, the time, the culture and politics in a really dynamic, eye-opening way. It ended up as a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.

In this new book she is able to lay out the tensions of the times by bringing the people who lived to life. Both famous characters and everyday people take the stage as we come to see how a young country tore itself apart over conflicting ideas of freedom and justice. Additionally, the editor notes that “Ecstatic Nation is set in an era of failed compromise, and Wineapple draws important comparisons between the rhetoric and debates of that fractured political moment and our own.”

Advance reviews are good, including the starred PW review below. And a number of major historians have endorsed it.

Lincoln emerges as the iconic celebrity of the era’s central conflict, but the real stars are the supporting characters. Politicians, poets, slaves, slave holders, transcendentalists, Mormons, .women’s suffragists, and Native American chiefs are just some of the colorful characters … [Wineapple] gracefully choreographs a staggering number of primary sources, weaving disparate voices together into one revelatory thread… [focusing] 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’s understanding of the complicated history of Civil War–era America.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Wineapple has distilled the turbulent spirit of mid-19th century America, both in its lofty aspirations and sordid compromises, with the most uncanny exactitude. Beautifully written, artfully constructed, and passionately argued on every page, Ecstatic Nation stands forth as a model of narrative history.”
— Ron Chernow, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Washington: A Life

“This is a marvelous book. With narrative grace and surehanded scholarship, Brenda Wineapple has written a compelling account of an epochal (and too little understood) age. From the death of John Quincy Adams through the Civil War to the tragedy of Reconstruction, Wineapple tells the American story brilliantly.”
— Jon Meacham, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of American Lion

Ecstatic Nation: Confidence, Crisis, and Compromise, 1848-1877 (9780061234576) by Brenda Wineapple. $35.00 hardcover. 8/6/13 on sale.

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