From the "preeminent historian of Reconstruction" (New York Times Book Review), the prize-winning classic work on the post-Civil War period that shaped modern America.
Eric Foner's "masterful treatment of one of the most complex periods of American history" (New Republic) redefined how the post-Civil War period was viewed.
Reconstruction chronicles the way in which Americans—black and white—responded to the unprecedented changes unleashed by the war and the end of slavery. It addresses the ways in which the emancipated slaves' quest for economic autonomy and equal citizenship shaped the political agenda of Reconstruction; the remodeling of Southern society and the place of planters, merchants, and small farmers within it; the evolution of racial attitudes and patterns of race relations; and the emergence of a national state possessing vastly expanded authority and committed, for a time, to the principle of equal rights for all Americans.
This "smart book of enormous strengths" (Boston Globe) remains the standard work on the wrenching post-Civil War period—an era whose legacy still reverberates in the United States today.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
With its fascinating insights and jaw-dropping anecdotes, historian Eric Foner’s book is the ultimate guide to the pivotal period in American history known as Reconstruction. Foner uses down-to-earth language to unpack this momentous, tumultuous era, which stretches between the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 and the economic depression of the late 1870s. He surveys the most important historical events of the period, exploring how each episode ultimately affected the South and the U.S. as a whole. This is stuff we’re rarely taught in school, like how the 15th Amendment—which granted Black men the right to vote—was essentially meaningless throughout the South, where poll taxes, literacy tests, and state-sanctioned violence made voting all but impossible for Black men. Foner’s depiction of Black soldiers’ contributions to the Union’s cause makes their disenfranchisement even more infuriating. Packed full of unbiased takes on events that continue to affect us today, Reconstruction is a must-read.
Essential and formidable though imperfect
This could probably be shortlisted as essential reading in American history, though it’s not perfect. For one, it’s not necessarily good coherent history: Foner kind of stitches together disparate topics and is also kind of discursive in his presentation. He also kind of fills in the cracks or the blanks with a tacit socialist or Marxist ideology (which this reviewer does not necessarily view as a problem), but this Marxist narrative impulse leads to digressions such as the chapter “Ambiguities of Free Labor,” which takes momentum established by the first three chapters, which are much stronger. I think it also leads him to de-emphasize the evangelical, Enlightenment, and classical liberal origins of the abolitionist movement and also, throughout the book, marginalize the impact of black church institutions. However, it’s ultimately extremely rigorous and thoroughly researched. It’s not going to blow over anytime soon, even though I think he goes too far, verging on iconoclasm, to the point of derogating the American South outright. I think it’s been over thirty years since he published this, and it still endures and will probably continue to do so. I would think the abridged version of this book would be a better experience, especially on an “e-reader,” than this tome.