Although I love American history, the Civil War seemed a sad chapter in our nation's history and never held much interest for me. So, I'm not sure why I thought Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War by Tony Horwitz looked interesting. I didn't even know who John Brown was!
Brown's ill-conceived raid at Harper's Ferry, Virginia (a slave state) in October of 1859 failed to free any slaves but his example in standing up for his convictions – even if it meant going to the gallows – inspired many in the North. It also heightened fears in the South that Northern abolitionists would forcibly take their “property” from them and provoked calls for secession. And less than two years later, the country descended into the chaos of the Civil War where over 600,000 men lost their lives.
Perhaps in an effort to present the story as neutrally as possible, Brown is portrayed as neither heroic nor even particularly likeable. And while it's a fairly easy read I found it only mildly interesting until the end of the book. Mr. Horwitz brings the story together nicely with a summary of the impact John Brown and the raid on Harper's Ferry had on attitudes in both the North and the South, leading to disunion and war. Brown’s willingness to sacrifice himself inspired others to confront the issue of slavery, and his words at the end of his life became far more powerful than his actions had been – his heart was in the right place even if his plans and tactics weren't – and Horwitz's conclusions regarding Brown’s motives seem reasonable. And this greater understanding of the events that led to the War was what made the book worthwhile reading for me. (I received this book from Amazon Vine).