by Stephen B. Oates
In October 1859, abolitionist John Brown led a raid on the federal armory at Harpers Ferry. His goal was to secure weapons and start a slave rebellion. The raid was a failure, but it galvanized the nation and sparked the Civil War.
Still one of the most controversial figures in American history, John Brown's actions raise interesting questions about unsanctioned violence that can be justified for a greater good.
For more than a hundred years after Brown's hanging, biographies of him tended to be highly politicized-then came historian Stephen B. Oates' biography of Brown. Since its publication, Oates' work has come to be recognized as the definitive biography of Brown, a balanced assessment that captures the man in all his complexity.
"The most objective and absorbing biography of John Brown ever written. Its title captures perfectly Browns own conception of his role in the antislavery crusade. Oates describes with subtlety and detail John Browns early career, his struggles with poverty, illness and death, the desperate straits the man was put to in support of his large family of twenty children. ... To Oates's credit he describes John Brown's crime [at Pottawatomie Creek] as unflinchingly as he describes his hardships." -Willie Lee Rose, New York Review of Books
"Browns life was filled with drama, and Oates tells his story in a manner so engrossing that the book reads like a novel, despite the fact that it is extensively documented and researched." -Eric Foner, The New York Times Book Review
"A major work, based on research in a wide variety of sources, including some manuscript collections not available to previous biographers. It is a full-scale biography that treats in detail Browns career before he went to Kansas and his actions in that territory, as well as the blazing climax at Harpers Ferry." -T. Harry Williams, Saturday Review