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Reviews for The Demon Of Unrest

by Erik Larson

Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

Larson's latest work of history, an account of the bombardment of Fort Sumter and the events leading up to it, could have been inspired by “Mars, the Bringer of War,” from Gustav Holst's orchestral suite, The Planets. Not only is the subject war, but Larson’s writing mirrors the music's rising, inexorable pace. The story is presented chronologically in seven sections that capture the mounting tensions between North and South. Larson deftly blends swift and vivid writing with in-depth research in primary sources, bringing alive people who are now less-known than Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis but key to shaping events. Larson portrays secessionist firebrands Edward Ruffin and James Hammond, describing how Hammond sexually abused his wife’s nieces and raped an enslaved woman and her daughter. In near solitude, Major Robert Anderson, Sumter’s commander, tried to balance maintaining the Union and avoiding war. Using Anderson’s wife’s letters and writer Mary Chesnut’s Civil War diary, Larson brings in women’s views of the crisis. In his epilogue and coda, Larson summarizes how people in the book fared during and after the Civil War, while his acknowledgments offer a fascinating investigation of his research methods. Compelling details, fresh perspectives, and lively writing make this a standout view of the antebellum and Civil War eras.HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Best-selling Larson's passionate readers will be primed, while this will also attract readers keen on Civil War history.

Publishers Weekly
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

In this twisty and cinematic account, bestseller Larson (The Splendid and the Vile) recreates the five-month period between Abraham Lincoln’s 1861 election and the outbreak of the Civil War, focusing on the intensifying showdown over Fort Sumter in Charleston, S.C., where Maj. Robert Anderson, the U.S. Army commander, faced a swelling Confederate force with his outgunned garrison of 75 soldiers. Larson mirrors Anderson’s struggle to hold his post while avoiding provocations that might lead to war with Lincoln’s tight-rope-walk attempt to stand firm against secession without goading the South into it. As he traveled to Washington, D.C., to take office—arriving in disguise after dodging a rumored assassination plot in Baltimore—Lincoln vacillated over whether to resupply Fort Sumter or surrender it. In Larson’s telling, Anderson’s ordeal makes for a superb war story—his secret Christmastime redeployment from Charleston’s indefensible Fort Moultrie to Fort Sumter, for instance, emerges as a masterpiece of psychological deception. The author probes the Southern perspective as well—via acerbic diarist Mary Chesnut among others—and assesses the ideologies and errors that birthed the Civil War, including a violent pro-slavery mob’s efforts to stop Congress from certifying Lincoln’s Electoral College victory. The result is a mesmerizing and disconcerting look at an era when consensus dissolved into deadly polarization. Photos. (Apr.)

Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

The bestselling author is back with an intriguing tale from the beginning of the Civil War. In his latest appealing historical excavation, Larson, author of The Splendid and the Vile, Dead Wake, and other acclaimed books of popular history, examines the run-up to the Civil War during the six months between Lincoln’s November 1860 election and the surrender of Fort Sumter: a dismal period when bumblers, not excluding Lincoln, and fanatics dominated. People will fight for their freedom, but more will fight for their money, a fact that persuaded the Founding Fathers to continue the practice of slavery. Abolition became a major issue in the North early in the 19th century, enraging southerners. At the time, there was a widespread belief that Black men and women were fit for nothing better than being enslaved. All major southern religious traditions agreed, along with scholars, educators, journalists, and scientists. Most northerners agreed but hated that enslaved people worked for nothing; this depressed wages so there was opposition to slaves moving into territories and new states. Powerless before taking office, Lincoln vastly overestimated pro-Union sentiment in the South. He assured northern audiences that matters would calm down, believing (against all evidence) that secessionists were rational and that slavery in existing states was inviolate. Popular history demands a hero, so Larson concentrates on Maj. Robert Anderson, commander of the forts in Charleston harbor. Although he was a slaveowner, he did his duty, defending Fort Sumter until it became impossible and returning to the North to great acclaim. True to his style, Larson includes interesting portraits of obscure peripheral figures that enrich the narrative, including James Hammond, a wealthy but obnoxious planter and senator, and Mary Chesnut, wife of an even wealthier planter who kept an invaluable diary. A welcome addition to any Civil War buff’s library. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.