The War Before the War by Andrew Delbanco

The War Before the War

The devastating story of how fugitive slaves drove the nation to Civil WarFor decades after its founding, America was really two nations--one slave, one free. There were many reasons why this composite nation ultimately broke apart, but the fact that enslaved black people repeatedly risked their lives to flee their masters in the South in search of freedom in the North proved that the "united" states was actually a lie. Fugitive slaves exposed th...

Details The War Before the War

TitleThe War Before the War
Release DateNov 6th, 2018
PublisherPenguin Press
GenreHistory, Nonfiction, Military History, Civil War, North American Hi..., American History, War, Cultural, African American

Reviews The War Before the War

  • Mara
    I appreciate this as a part of the growing area of popular historical non-fiction that is contextualizing the role that resistance among enslaved people played in catalyzing the conflict of the Civil War. This book helps reclaim our public memory & narrative on the true level of resistance that enslaved people enacted, which not only changed their personal lives, but also drove the forces of national policy and dialogue leading up to the Civil Wa...
  • Donna Davis
    You may not have had the grades or the money to attend Columbia University, but you can read Professor Delbanco’s book anyway. It’s meaty and interesting, and it clears up some longstanding myths about slavery in the USA. My thanks go to Net Galley and Penguin Random House for the review copy; this book is for sale now. At the outset I find this work a little on the slow side, and I wonder if I am in for five hundred pages of drone. Not to wo...
  • Brenda Ayala
    The War Before the War covers everything that led up to the US civil war and how much went into it. A fair portion of it is spent on the Fugitive Slave Act and encompassed the ambivalent feelings many had over slavery. Most importantly, it covered the views of slavery from a variety of standpoints, including ex-slaves, northerners, religious officials, southerners, and loyal slaves. It was well researched and had a breadth of information to cover...
  • Darcia Helle
    Most history books covering the period from the Revolution to the Civil War are written from the white person's perspective. Whether looking at it from the south or the north, pro- or antislavery, events are often told as if African Americans sat silently awaiting their rescue. I love that this book flips all that upside down, showing us how slaves and free blacks both worked together and clashed during this period. We're shown how and why the Fu...
  • Elizabeth Stolar
    I almost wish I had access to a magical machine where I could emerge as an 18 year old about to matriculate at Columbia University so I could major in history and take classes with renowned professors such as Professor Delbanco. Since that's unlikely to happen, the next best thing is to get to read this wonderful book on the history of the U.S. from the Revolution until the Civil War. I had never given much thought or consideration to the fugitiv...
  • Thomas
    Needs more than my usual two or three lines of Goodreads notes and I don't have time for more than two or three lines (later, then) - this is a masterclass in writing nuanced and imaginative history. Along the way, Delbanco includes just enough parallels to our current moment to spark readers' ethical imaginations (and make them squirm in their seats).Alan Jacobs reviews the book here:
  • Nicole
    A little repetitive in places, and I had occasional issues with the writing style, but overall a lucid, well-researched, nuanced, and timely read. Highly recommend.
  • Richard
    In recent years I have read numerous books on Abolitionism and the Abolitionists, the Underground Railroad, Abraham Lincoln's life and political career and the formation of the Republican Party, etc. Despite this I decided to read The War Before the War for two reasons. First, I have found that any book which gets an overall rating of 4.0+ on Goodreads deserves my consideration. Second, the blurb describing it sounded quite interesting.I can happ...
  • Casey Wheeler
    This book is simply amazing. It is well written and researched and an engaging read. The author covers the time period from the Revolution to the Civil War and the struggles endured by slaves seeking freedom, maintaining freedom and those who could not escape the harsh environment in which they were kept. He makes excellent use of qoutes from the many different players involved during the time period including escaped slaves helping to bring clar...
  • Paul Womack
    I would give six or more stars if available. This is quite an imposing work of history and social commentary. The characters come alive, with their faults and strenghts, with the moral ambiguities over enslavement many endured in order to preserve the Union, with their passions to see freedom expanded. Terrible as it was, I can only be profoundly grateful the war’s end was the restoration of the Union. I remain sadly perplexed much, much more r...
  • Straw
    I wholeheartedly appreciate an author that isn't afraid to discuss modern times in the context of history. Playing at objectivity and absolute truths is such a bore - and completely untrue when everything is through the lens of humans. I think the portion of the book up to the Civil War was amazing. The last portion lost some focus and felt rushed.
  • Shane Hawk
    Strong work of history. Great writing style.Delbanco framed much of it around the FSA.Tons of historical nuance and context.Recommended for those interested in the events leading up to the American Civil War.
  • Lissa
    4.5 stars.
  • Alexis
    I can't recommend this book enough. It was a capitvating read in its own right, but the depth the author goes into adds even more enjoyabilty. I learned so much from it, and even had a whole conversation about what I had learned with a friend the other day. The topic is timeless, and sadly still applies today. The author makes compelling references to modern events without being political. Modern references and comparisons vary from Trump, to Vie...
  • Myles
    When 13 dinky colonies in Great Britain’s empire decided to throw off the chains unreasonable taxation and lack of representation in Parliament, many revolutionaries identified themselves with creating an enduring democracy dedicated to equality and the pursuit of libertyBut those men who were tasked with the job of bringing the colonies together knew that it was a temporary accommodation to last at least until the war with Britain was won. Not...
  • Vince
    United States Constitution Article IV, Section 2, Clause 3 otherwise known as the Fugitive Slave Clause: No person held to service or labour in one state, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service or labour may be due.With the inclusion of the Fugitive Slave Clause the framers ...
  • Dan Downing
    Not to quibble, but this title would better describe today than pre-1861. What is being discussed is the innate conflict in our Constitution followed by the problems various laws, mostly dealing with fugitive slaves, posed for the Federal Union. And it was all and more than is presented here, over 70 years of tension and rancor between slave and free states. That is the war before the war, the struggle to accommodate the impossible which finally ...
  • Steven M Cohen
    I have to say that this is an astonishingly great book. I have read dozens of books on this area of history, the Civil War and the run-up to it, slavery, slaves, abolitionism, Lincoln, etc. I can’t think of a single one that ties this all stuff together more convincingly than Andrew Delbanco’s “War Before the War”.The author’s decision to refract all this through the lens of the Fugitive Slave clause of the Constitution (identifying thi...
  • Montana
    This would be five stars if the beginning were as good as the end. He took the importance of fugitive slaves to the causes of the civil war from the seed sowing of the declaration to the start of the war. The opening was okay ish but quite frankly there wasn't enough tension until the pressure started ratcheting up with Fredrick Douglass and the slave memoir. Plus there weren't enough voices of freed/fugitive slaves until that point. And it is ra...
  • Gordon
    Having overloaded on Saccharine with a period piece about Andrew Johnson, Lincoln's vice president who refused to solidify the gains that Union made with their blood, I paused because I knew that the base of the movie was the incredible myth of the "Lost Cause" in the South. The truth of the war was that one side was willing to hamstring its capitalism in the service of morality while the other wanted to keep the vilest institution ever considere...
  • Amber Woodward
    I'm surprised this book is rated as highly as it is. While there's nothing wrong with Delbanco's scholarship here, I found his writing lacked the nuance he was attempting to portray, and therefore his points came off somewhat heavy handed and out of place. I appreciate his attention to connecting the past with current issues, but his narrative is missing the urgency and scope of similar histories I have read. I found a little too much reliance on...
  • Tony
    THE WAR BEFORE THE WAR: Fugitive Slaves and the Struggle for America’s Soul from the Revolution to the Civil War. (2018). Andrew Delbanco. ***1/2.If you have read several other studies on slavery in America – as I have – you will find that there is not much new in this work, although there are always more stories to be told. The narrative is well told, and the information provided is encyclopedic, but…well. If you are looking for one volu...
  • Gianna
    This was such an interesting read about the laws relating to slavery before the Civil War and the effects of them. I haven't read such a detailed book yet, that answered questions I had and didn't know I had about the time leading up to the Civil War.There's hope in this book, I loved each and every story about people fighting against slavery (lawyers are amazing), but there are also so many harrowing stories and sadness. The comparisons to the c...
  • Fred Svoboda
    The Fugitive Slave Act was intended to solve the growing rift between North and South, pretty close to two separate nations in Delbanco's view, but instead just made civil war inevitable as enslaved people insisted on trying to become free, southerners became exasperated at being painted as villains, and northerners discovered that slavery's seamy side would not stay conveniently out of sight in the South, but was on view in their own streets and...
  • Amos
    I learned from the author’s presentation in this book, however tedious the author’s style. The prose with its frequent jabs at the current president and tribal politics in America will rapidly be dated and pose a distraction for future readers. Moreover, statements like “After the war, both sides were obliged, as we say today, to take ownership” fills space and will rapidly become distracting, I hope.
  • courtney Prior
    Covers the lead up to the civil war, focusing on how battles over the fugitive slave act precipitated the war itself. Frequent reminders that while we know how things turned out, at the time people didn't, and it would've made sense for them to fear other outcomes. A lot about how while the abolitionists didn't want slavery, many also didn't want to live with black people.
  • Duane Heeringa
    Very good book! Read this one with Sean Wilenz' No Property in Man and found Delbanco's book a bit more readable. Not sure whether his present day references will make it seem dated in a few years (assuming we're not absorbed into the hive mind of the Singularity or transported back to primitive cave dwellers). But for today it was a thoroughly enjoyable read.
  • Caitie
    This is a take on slavery in the context of American history that I haven't read much about. The Fugitive Slave Law was a turning point in U.S. history and many times it's glossed over in textbooks. I thought that using the words of former slaves themselves is an important factor in explaining how the law affected everyone.
  • Bryce Doty
    Super impressed with this book. I'm an idiot and I know nothing about the world. I've always loved the American Renaissance authors (Emerson, Whitman, Hawthorne, Melville, Dickenson, etc.) but I had no idea what world they were living in when they were writing. Highly recommend.
  • Eileen
    Delbanco draws a compelling portrait our our country with all it's faults, it's disparate voices, our dark deeds leading up to the Civil War. I listened to this book, narrated by Delbanco in a deliberative, strong cadence. Definitely a good read, not to rushed.