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  • Published: 15 February 2021
  • ISBN: 9780593295373
  • Imprint: Random House Diversified
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 752
  • RRP: $57.99

The Zealot and the Emancipator

John Brown, Abraham Lincoln, and the Struggle for American Freedom




From the acclaimed historian and bestselling author: a page-turning account of the epic struggle over slavery as embodied by John Brown and Abraham Lincoln—two men moved to radically different acts to confront our nation’s gravest sin.

John Brown was a charismatic and deeply religious man who heard the God of the Old Testament speaking to him, telling him to destroy slavery by any means. When Congress opened Kansas territory to slavery in 1854, Brown raised a band of followers to wage war. His men tore pro-slavery settlers from their homes and hacked them to death with broadswords. Three years later, Brown and his men assaulted the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, hoping to arm slaves with weapons for a race war that would cleanse the nation of slavery.

Brown’s violence pointed ambitious Illinois lawyer and former officeholder Abraham Lincoln toward a different solution to slavery: politics. Lincoln spoke cautiously and dreamed big, plotting his path back to Washington and perhaps to the White House. Yet his caution could not protect him from the vortex of violence Brown had set in motion. After Brown’s arrest, his righteous dignity on the way to the gallows led many in the North to see him as a martyr to liberty. Southerners responded with anger and horror to a terrorist being made into a saint. Lincoln shrewdly threaded the needle between the opposing voices of the fractured nation and won election as president. But the time for moderation had passed, and Lincoln’s fervent belief that democracy could resolve its moral crises peacefully faced its ultimate test.

The Zealot and the Emancipator
is the thrilling account of how two American giants shaped the war for freedom.

  • Published: 15 February 2021
  • ISBN: 9780593295373
  • Imprint: Random House Diversified
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 752
  • RRP: $57.99

About the author

H W Brands

H. W. Brands is the author of The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin, shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize, the Los Angeles Times Book Award and a New York Times bestseller. He is Distinguished Professor and holder of the Melburn G. Glasscock Chair in American History at Texas A &M University.

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Praise for The Zealot and the Emancipator

“[Brands] scrupulously narrates the relevant facts and trusts readers to form their own conclusions. . . The Zealot and the Emancipator relates these familiar events skillfully. . . [Brands] recognize[s] that the contrast between Brown and Lincoln offers a lesson that has never been timelier. Prudence and idealism are complementary virtues. And zeal unencumbered by a concern for consequences is indistinguishable, in practice, from bloodlust.” The Wall Street Journal “Brands’s study of Brown and Lincoln [is] at heart an appraisal of contrasting political designs and personas in prerevolutionary times. . . [The Zealot and the Emancipator] builds on strengths long evident in Brands’s books, combining expert storytelling with thoughtful interpretation vividly to render major events through the lives of the chief participants. . . This book presents a gripping account of the politics that led to Southern secession, war and the abolition of slavery.” The New York Times Book Review “Gripping. . . [Brands poses] a worthy question for any era but particularly for the one we’re living through. . . Brands offers a nuanced middle path. In Brown and Lincoln, he presents two perfectly imperfect heroes who act in ways that both excite and disappoint us. . . The Zealot and the Emancipator feels particularly well timed. . . The lessons it contains about America’s slow progress toward a more perfect union, even during a time of literal disunionification, are legion, but the takeaway is clear.” —The Washington Post “[The Zealot and the Emancipator is] a tale told by a master storyteller, with a momentum and a power appropriate to the subject. In these pages we have the hare (Brown) and the tortoise (Lincoln). In these pages it is no fable, but instead one of the greatest, but surely the bloodiest, American stories.” —The Boston GlobeThe Zealot and the Emancipator deftly recounts two martyrs’ disparate approaches to ending slavery. . . Engaging. . . Brands concludes his fast-paced book with a grand flourish, bringing the seemingly disparate legacies of Brown and Lincoln into sync.” Washington Independent Review of Books “Fascinating. . . This book is the work of a master historian at the top of his craft.” New York Journal of Books “Featuring the riveting narrative sweep, sharp eye for detail, and original analysis we have come to expect from H. W. Brands, The Zealot and the Emancipator vividly illuminates the convulsive battles to fulfill the long-deferred American dream of freedom for all. Along the way, Brands makes thought-provoking connections between these two extraordinary men—a revolutionary and a president—that have eluded most historians for generations. Here is a book that deserves to become foundational reading for America’s new reckoning with slavery, race, and racism.” —Harold Holzer, author of The Presidents vs. the Press and winner of the Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize   “Frederick Douglass appreciated both Abraham Lincoln, whom he deemed ‘emphatically the black man’s president,’ and John Brown, whose zeal in the cause of black freedom he acknowledged ‘was far greater than mine.’ Similarly, H. W. Brands evenhandedly portrays both of those martyrs to African American free­dom as they trod their separate and distinct paths toward the same goal. This volume is a worthy companion to Brands’s earlier biographies of FDR, Benjamin Franklin, and other eminent Americans.” —Michael Burlingame, author of Abraham Lincoln: A Life "Fascinating"

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