The Zealot and the Emancipator by H.W. Brands

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline for The Zealot and the Emancipator:

The Civil War era was crazy. Glad politics got so much better since then.

Quick synopsis:

A dual biography of John Brown and Abraham Lincoln.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like:

John Brown was seriously deranged, and we all are pretty clear about that today. But back in the day, John Brown was revered by abolitionists.

Fun Fact for History Nerds:

We tend to deify Lincoln nowadays, but he was never a staunch abolitionist.

My Take on The Zealot and the Emancipator:

A psychopath and a saint ended slavery in the United States. Oh, sure it took more than that, but I like being hyperbolic. Also, maybe I’m a little condescending (that means I talk down to people). I digress.

Brands’ book is pretty interesting because of how we see the two subjects today. John Brown was a psychopath who led multiple people (including a few of his own sons) to various early deaths. He tried to capture a U.S. military installation in one of the most ill-conceived operations in American history. When he was put to death, he was lionized as a hero and a monster.

Lincoln is now known as one of our greatest presidents. In his own time, that was very touch and go. Lincoln was always about keeping the Union together whether slavery existed or not. Ultimately, he did become the Great Emancipator, but he was a politician, first and foremost.

Brands focuses on major parts of Lincoln and Brown’s lives including some things you won’t get in other books. It’s a good read.


This is a great book if you haven’t read too much on either subject. Buy it here!

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