Wide Awake

Wide Awake by Jon Grinspan

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline for Wide Awake:

I don’t know who they liked, but I do know who they hated.

Quick synopsis:

The story of the Wide Awakes, who fought against the “slave power” around the time of the Civil War.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like:

A huge supporter of the Wide Awakes was P.T. Barnum of circus fame.

Fun Fact for History Nerds:

It is estimated the Wide Awakes numbered about half a million people .

My Take on Wide Awake:

I have heard of many movements started from unexpected means. However, I never expected one before the Civil War to be started by fashion. Yet here we are.

Jon Grinspan tells the story of the Wide Awakes. Trying to distill just who the Wide Awakes were is a bit of a tall order and probably why Grinspan wrote the book in the first place. The simplest answer is some northerners were getting sick of the “Slave Power” which was controlling American politics right before the Civil War. A few guys put on some capes and a political club was born.

There is a lot of excellent research done by Grinspan. The Wide Awakes almost defied being tied to anything specific and their quick rise and even quicker disappearance leaves a lot of questions. I enjoy reading about the Civil War and I found this to be a very interesting look at a group which is not well studied anywhere else. That said, it may be too into the weeds for a casual reader wanting to pick up a book with well-defined characters. There isn’t a way for Grinspan to pick a few people and follow their stories because the Wide Awakes were just too ill defined as a group.

If you are a Civil War nerd, then I think this book must be on your reading list. For the casual reader, maybe pick up a more character focused book of this time period before deciding if this one is for you.

(This book was provided as an advance copy by Netgalley and Bloomsbury USA.)


A must for Civil War nerds. Buy it here!

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