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Mightier Than the Sword: Uncle Tom's Cabin and the Battle for America Paperback – 18 Jan 2013


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Review

You can always count on David Reynolds to surprise and delight, and in his latest work, he does not disappoint. This time, he sets his sights on the far-ranging and fascinating impact of Harriet Beecher Stowe's mammoth bestseller, Uncle Tom's Cabin. In Reynolds s gifted hands, Mightier Than The Sword is nothing less than an intellectual feast. Bravo for yet another superb book.--Jay Winik, author of "April 1865" and "The Great Upheaval"

With his masterful biographies of John Brown and Walt Whitman, David Reynolds joined the ranks of the great historians of nineteenth-century America but with Mightier than the Sword Reynolds has written his best book yet. Deeply researched and compulsively readable, Mightier the Sword is both the definitive account of the strange but true career of Uncle Tom s Cabin and a sweeping two-hundred year history of race in America. Compact, clear, and packed with astonishing facts and provocative insights, this book will fascinate everyone from the general reader to the professional historian.--Debby Applegate, Pulitzer Prize winner for "The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher"

Reynolds is a virtuoso writer A fitting tribute to the 200th anniversary of Harriet Beecher Stowe s birth.--Mike Harvkey

Starred Review: A provocative overview of the life and afterlife of one of American literature s most important texts .A sharp work of cross-disciplinary criticism that gives new power to a diminished novel. Reynolds successfully repositions the novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe as a major political work, crucial not just to the abolitionist movement, but as kindling for the Civil War and an important inspiration to the cultural discussions of race relations through most of the 20th century

Bravura work .Reynolds has given us another cultural history of assured mastery, a history that combines deep erudition, lightly worn, with a lively and readable style.

Insightful, .informative, .rewarding.

A wonderful history of what may justly be considered America s national epic.--Joan Hedrick, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning "Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Life"

Fascinating a lively and perceptive cultural history.--The New Yorker

Consistently enlightening Mightier Than the Sword deftly explores the social-intellectual context and personal experience out of which Stowe s novel evolved into a grand entertainment and a titanic engine of change.

A subtle and splendid history of the novel s effect on American culture.

Deeply researched and compulsively readable Both the definitive account of the strange but true career of Uncle Tom s Cabin and a sweeping two-hundred year history of race in America.--Debby Applegate, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning "The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher"

A splendid and subtle history. --Fergus M. Bordewich"

Consistently enlightening. . . . Mightier than the Sword deftly explores the social-intellectual context and personal experience out of which Stowe s novel evolved into a grand entertainment and a titanic engine of change. --Dan Cryer"

A splendid and subtle history.--Fergus M. Bordewich

Reynolds has given us another cultural history of assured mastery, a history that combines deep erudition, lightly worn, with a lively and readable style.--Tim Redman

About the Author

David S. Reynolds is Distinguished Professor of English and American Studies at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. His books include Walt Whitman's America: A Cultural Biography; John Brown, Abolitionist; Beneath the American Renaissance: The Subversive Imagination in the Age of Emerson and Melville; Mightier Than the Sword: "Uncle Tom's Cabin" and the Battle for America; Waking Giant: America in the Age of Jackson; Walt Whitman; George Lippard; and Faith in Fiction: The Emergence of Religious Literature in America. Reynolds is the editor or coeditor of seven books, including Whitman's Leaves of Grass: The 150th Anniversary Edition, A Historical Guide to Walt Whitman, Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin: The Splendid Edition, and George Lippard's The Quaker City; or, The Monks of Monk Hall. He is the winner of the Bancroft Prize, the Christian Gauss Award, the Ambassador Book Award, the Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Prize and has been a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. He is a regular contributor to the New York Times Book Review.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x8dd54354) out of 5 stars 18 reviews
31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8e16ab40) out of 5 stars Rewriting Racial Narratives from the Civil War & a Great Choice for Book Groups 6 July 2011
By David Crumm - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I am not alone in praising Mightier than the Sword: Uncle Tom's Cabin and the Battle for America, by American Studies scholar David Reynolds. The New York Times published an extended review about the book's significance--and particularly underscored the fresh challenges of returning this best-selling melodrama with all its problematic content to American classrooms. Reappraising Harriet Beecher Stowe's accomplishment makes for quite an educational challenge.

Nevertheless, as the Times pointed out: "If ever there was a publishing event to prove the principle that timing is everything, Uncle Tom's Cabin was it. On both sides of the sectional divide the timber was dry--and Stowe struck the igniting spark. In the North, Frederick Douglass rejoiced that she had `baptized with holy fire myriads who before cared nothing for the bleeding slave.'"

That's why I'm giving American Studies scholar David S. Reynolds' new book 5 stars. This is more than an individual book of history. It's part of the dramatic rewriting of what Americans thought we knew about the Civil War era and its long legacy. There are countless examples involving all aspects of that turbulent era--but, simply within the realm of racial politics, a great deal is changing in our assumptions about the Civil War's legacy. One example is the work of historian David Blight in a book like Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory, where he completely overturns our previous nostalgic memories of Memorial Day. A second example, further along in that legacy, is Daniel L. Buttry's new book Blessed Are The Peacemakers, which includes a series of fresh profiles of Freedom Riders that helps to rewrite our assumptions about their origins and training as nonviolent activists in the South. This vital area of American history and culture is starting to look quite different in today's college classrooms.

In his new book, Reynolds invites readers to turn their assumptions on end about Uncle Tom's Cabin and Stowe's influence on our history. I've been a journalist covering issues of culture and diversity for more than 30 years--but as a Baby Boomer who majored in literature and writing in the early 1970s, no professor even suggested we should read Uncle Tom's Cabin. Now, we recognize that this best-selling 19th-century melodrama ranks with Dickens and even surpasses Dickens' ability to spark real change in the world.

You'll enjoy this book, including its sprinkling of illustrations. It's great for group discussion, and at only 273 pages in the main text, you'll find that even the slower readers in your group will finish this book quickly. They'll come to your discussion circle with lots to talk about!
27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8e16ab94) out of 5 stars The Impact Of A Great American Novel 25 Jun. 2011
By C. Hutton - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Mr. Reynolds had researched and written a readable account of the impact that "Uncle Tom's Cabin" (1852) had upon American history and society. Arguably, no other novel had such influence upon America as this anti-slavery tale of the South. The author is not claiming that it is the best-written novel of that century (readers can argue that "Moby Dick" or "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" or other books merit that claim), merely that its depiction of slavery as a moral evil created a commercial and cultural phenomenon that continues to this day. Image, if you will, that "Silent Spring" had the PR and financial success of the music album "Thriller" or the movie Titanic", and then the reader will have a concept of "Uncle's Tom Cabin." This book framed the popular debate that led to the Civil War. "Mightier Than The Sword" has over 250+ pages of narrative and can be read easily in two evenings.
17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8d32e2c4) out of 5 stars glass half full 18 July 2011
By Jane F. Gerhard - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Reynold's first four chapters on Uncle Tom's Cabin's creation in the hot house of American popular culture is fabulous. He situates Stowe in a fascinating web of narratives and genres. I found his argument that the novel helped change public opinion about the inhumanity of slavery and specifically the Fugitive Slave Act to be very convincing. I found, however, that Reynold's analysis of the cultural work done by UTC after the civil war was less so. The second life of Stowe's masterwork on stage and in novels in the 1860s, 70s, and 80ss is well documented but its hard to hold to the author's conviction that UTC is still doing good work as the country slips into Jim Crow and the reinstitutionalization of white power. The connection between UTC, Birth of a Nation, and Gone with the Wind has been theorized more eloquently by LInda Williams in Playing the Race Card. What Reynold's does do well in the final two chapters is give us lots of historical detail about how UTC was expanded and contracted by popular tastes. the very agent of its initial rise to importance. I'd have liked to hear the author address how it is that UTC rose the wave of popular culture before the war and helped change hearts and minds ("mightier than the sword") but when the tides turned and racism was on the move, its portraits of African American humanity could not change public opinion. Having Eva and Tom float to heaven together did not do much cultural work in 1890, from where I sit, interesting staging noted.

The writing is engaging and clear; there is alot of material for students looking for good research avenues as well as general readers looking for a detailed portrait of American popular culture in the 19th century. Stowe's UTC is unique in American letters and Reynold's to his credit, never lets that out of his sight.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8e16ae1c) out of 5 stars Mightier Than the Sword: Uncle Tom's Cabin 24 Nov. 2012
By Kim Burdick - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
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This is an impressive study of the role "Uncle Tom's Cabin" played, and continues to play, in American literature and race relations.

"Mightier Than the Sword" starts quietly with a look at how Harriet Beecher Stowe accumulated the material for this novel, speculation on whom the characters were based upon, and a heavy dose of the standard commentary about Stowe's impact on the abolition movement and the American Civil War.

The second part of the book rises to a crescendo, examining the almost accidental marketing of the book through multiple pirated reprintings, theatre productions, movie productions, and an astounding seventy-seven years of world-wide popularity.

We learn that highly-educated 19th century Blacks like W.E.B. duBois, Frederick Douglas and James Weldon Johnson, praised Harriet Beecher-Stowe's efforts at consciousness-raising.

The denouement looks at the backlash of the 1960's, when patience with Victorian story telling was very limited. Uncle Tom's gentle strength was no longer in fashion and his name became used as an epithet.

Reynolds winds up his study by noting that 21st century opinion is moving towards an appreciation of the contributions of talented Americans once labeled "Uncle Toms," including Booker T. Washington, Louis Armstrong, Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays.

"Mightier Than The Sword" is carefully researched and well-thought-out. The book provides superb reading and discussion material for book clubs, church groups, college-level Sociology, Pop-Culture, and History students.

The moral of this tale is that the cultural and social norms of each generation of readers influences that generation's perceptions of "Uncle Tom's Cabin." One hundred and sixty years after it was first published, it remains an important American milestone. No matter how much praise or how much scorn is heaped upon the book, "Uncle Tom's Cabin" is still read and still taken seriously.

Recommended.

Kim Burdick
Stanton, Delaware
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8e16d078) out of 5 stars Great Overview of "Uncle Tom's" Impact and Legacy 2 Jan. 2013
By J. Jamakaya - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I thought "Mightier Than the Sword" was an excellent overview of the impact and legacy of "Uncle Tom's Cabin." It offers interesting biographical background about Harriet Beecher Stowe and her motivations for writing the novel. It sets "Uncle Tom's Cabin" in the context of other anti-slavery literature and describes the immediate impact it had on the escalating debate over slavery. It shows what an incredible publishing phenomenon it was and how it became universally familiar to all Americans through hundreds of stage and music hall productions and, later, films. I found most interesting the author's discussion of how the story became trivialized and caricatured over the decades, including how the essentially noble Uncle Tom has morphed into a symbol of weakness and accommodation. There is a lot of interesting information about Stowe, her book, racial attitudes, the entertainment industry and much more in this book, all presented in a clear, well-organized way. It's a thoughtful read, packed with information. It's also inspired me to reread "Uncle Tom's Cabin" and to reassess it in the light of what I've learned from this study.
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