Reviews for The Demon Of Unrest

by Erik Larson

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.