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A Volcano Beneath the Snow: John Brown's War Against Slavery

A Volcano Beneath the Snow: John Brown's War Against Slavery

by Albert Marrin

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John Brown is a man of many legacies, from hero, freedom fighter, and martyr, to liar, fanatic, and "the father of American terrorism." Some have said that it was his seizure of the arsenal at Harper's Ferry that rendered the Civil War inevitable.

Deeply religious, Brown believed that God had chosen him to right the wrong of slavery. He was willing to kill and die


John Brown is a man of many legacies, from hero, freedom fighter, and martyr, to liar, fanatic, and "the father of American terrorism." Some have said that it was his seizure of the arsenal at Harper's Ferry that rendered the Civil War inevitable.

Deeply religious, Brown believed that God had chosen him to right the wrong of slavery. He was willing to kill and die for something modern Americans unanimously agree was a just cause. And yet he was a religious fanatic and a staunch believer in "righteous violence," an unapologetic committer of domestic terrorism. Marrin brings 19th-century issues into the modern arena with ease and grace in a book that is sure to spark discussion.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
★ 03/24/2014
National Book Award finalist Marrin adds to his acclaimed collection of history books, and while the subject of this latest—fervent abolitionist John Brown and his efforts to end slavery in the United States—is not easy to read about, Marrin's narrative style is entirely accessible. Nine chapters effortlessly bridge topics that include Brown's upbringing, the global history of slavery, the “peculiar institution" (as slavery was known in the pre–Civil War south), and the legacy of Brown's actions. Marrin sets out “to place this man within his world and then to see how he helped bring about the most terrible conflict in American history," and he accomplishes that and more. The book winds down with Brown's execution, the Civil War, and President Lincoln's assassination, and a final chapter raises thoughtful topics for discussion. Should people in a lawful society follow the law or their own conscience? Was John Brown a martyr, a terrorist, or both? Archival photos, maps, and documents break up lengthy sections of text, and an index, notes, and suggestions for further reading are included. Ages 12 –up. (Apr.)
Voya Reviews, April 2014 (Vol. 36, No. 1) - Sharon Martin
A Volcano Beneath The Snow is a masterful, eminently accessible, and readable work. Extensively researched and succinctly written, it presents John Brown’s life and his impact on American history. Beginning with a biography of Brown’s early life (which delves into his Mayflower roots), the book takes a turn to discuss the worldwide history of slavery, turns again to describe the growing conflict about slavery between the North and South (events from the time line of Brown’s life are brought up at this point—as a reminder and reinforcement of the solidification of his beliefs), and comes back to reconnect with John Brown and his actions in the upcoming conflict. In an informative tone, seamlessly weaving definitions of terms and concepts into the narrative, Marrin avoids becoming patronizing. This is not a history of the Civil War as much as an evocation of the various individuals whose actions were based on their convictions, as well as the struggle involved with reconciling actions, personal beliefs, and the law. For example, while Abraham Lincoln personally held racist beliefs, he was against slavery and was a committed supporter of the Constitution. This is a far-ranging and fair-minded work that always keeps the reader of today in mind. Marrin constantly filters actions through the concept of terrorism: just how far anyone would go to justify their beliefs. While not justifying terrorism, Marrin explains the drive behind it. The book concludes with more recent historical figures who cite the influence of John Brown as their inspiration. This title is highly recommended for presenting the Civil War from an unexpected angle. It is also lavishly illustrated with period photographs. Reviewer: Sharon Martin; Ages 11 to 18.
Children's Literature - Greg M. Romaneck
In October 1859 John Brown led a force of twenty-one men into Harpers Ferry, Virginia. Brown was a noted abolitionist firebrand whose lifelong opposition to slavery was more than fervid. Brown’s intention was to seize the Federal Armory located in Harpers Ferry and use those weapons to support a slave uprising that he hoped would occur. Unfortunately, Brown’s planning was amazingly slipshod and resulted in his force being trapped in the engine house that stood near the arsenal building. First local residents and then U.S. Marines led by Robert E. Lee besieged Brown and his men. Then, after Brown refused to surrender, the Federal troops stormed the engine house and killed or captured all but five of his men who escaped only to be captured at a later date. However, despite Brown’s defeat and eventual execution, his actions were a direct contributor to the start of the American Civil War, a conflict that ultimately swept away the institution of slavery he so thoroughly hated. The life and times of John Brown, as well as the rise and fall of slavery in the United States of America, is the subject of this outstanding historical work. Albert Marrin is a fine historian who possesses a particular eye for capturing the essence of past events without losing sight of the human elements involved. Those traits are on ample display in this well written, carefully researched, and reflective look back at a controversial figure in American history. This book is first rate historical writing that will help younger and older readers to understand one of the most impactful series of events in American history and John Brown’s contribution to them. Reviewer: Greg M. Romaneck; Ages 10 up.
Kirkus Reviews
John Brown's fight to end slavery in the United States is presented in a broad historical context that reveals an impact far beyond the time it occurred. John Brown and his efforts to end slavery were integral aspects of the lead-up to the U.S. Civil War. Connecticut-born Brown's American roots were deep; one of his ancestors arrived on the Mayflower. Brown's religious fervor reflected that ancestry. Another shaping factor was his large family, as he experienced tragic losses and financial pressure to provide for them. The many difficulties he faced increased his sympathy for the downtrodden and served to intensify the abolitionist sympathies he learned from his father. In this detailed, archivally illustrated volume, Marrin broadly contextualizes the issues raised, considering the historical roots of slavery in the world, constitutional compromises that allowed it in the country's founding and the resistance to racial equality. His analysis of events encourages readers to explore the complexities that inform an event of this magnitude and what it can reveal about our own times. "He raised thorny questions about the use of violence at a time when democracy seemed ineffective and the road to justice blocked by self-interest, brutality, and racism," Marrin comments in an afterword that draws connections between Brown and modern-day terrorists both religious and secular. A comprehensive portrait of an ever-fascinating figure. (source notes, further reading, index [not seen]) (Nonfiction. 12 & up)
School Library Journal
★ 03/01/2014
Gr 7 Up—Marrin offers a multisided look at the events and controversy surrounding John Brown's role in the banishment of slavery and his ongoing inspiration for current events. Chapters present the history of the "peculiar institution" (slavery) both here and abroad, details of Brown's life and family, his relationship with the abolitionists, his radicalization leading to the killings at Pottawatomie, Kansas, and, eventually, the uprising at Harper's Ferry and his trial and hanging. Brown's motivations, his religious fervor, charisma, and leadership skills are all examined. The politics of the time and key players both for and against slavery, secession and disunion are introduced. Brown's role in the beginning of the Civil War and the introduction of the Emancipation Proclamation are explained. The role of slaves and free blacks before, during and after the war is also included. The Civil Rights Movement and more recent radical events, including the attack on the World Trade Center, are looked at through the lens of John Brown's actions. From beginning to end, readers are asked to consider the philosophical questions Brown raised regarding "breaking a 'bad' law in democracy." The double-column text is rich with relevant excerpts from writings, speeches, songs, and poetry of the era. Well-chosen captioned and dated black-and-white illustrations include period photos, portraits, artwork, maps, fliers, and posters. Extensive notes and further-reading suggestions are included. This will be an excellent resource for U.S. history collections.—Carol S. Surges, formerly at Longfellow Middle School, Wauwatosa, WI

Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
8.30(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.00(d)
990L (what's this?)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Meet the Author

ALBERT MARRIN is the author of numerous highly regarded nonfiction books for young readers, including Flesh and Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy, Years of Dust, and Black Gold: The Story of Oil in Our Lives. His many honors include the Washington Children's Book Guild and Washington Post Non-Fiction Award for an "outstanding lifetime contribution that has enriched the field of children's literature," and the James Madison Book Award for lifetime achievement.

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