John Brown has had something of a renaissance in 2020.
The legendary abolitionist who raided the Harpers Ferry armory in the period leading to the Civil War is featured in the historical fiction "The Good Lord Bird." The cable TV miniseries is based on the novel of the same name by James McBride.
And he has top billing in the recently released history book "The Zealot and the Emancipator: Struggle for American Freedom" by H.W. Brands.
Brown is the "Zealot" and Abraham Lincoln is the "Emancipator."
The two men never met but Brands charts their lives and careers in the years leading to the Civil War and the emancipation of slaves.
Specifically, Brands zeroes in on Brown's crusade to abolish slavery in embattled Kansas and his push to raid the armory to arm his efforts to free slaves throughout the South. Brands alternates between Brown and Lincoln, looking at Lincoln's more moderate, political approach to dealing with slavery through his debates with Stephen Douglas and his efforts during his election campaign and presidency.
Brands is a wonderful historic vagabond.
While many historians bear down on a specific period of history for their writing careers or on a few specific eras during portions of their careers, Brands has extended his reach into the vast expanse of all American history.
He's written historic biographies on Ben Franklin, both Roosevelts, Ronald Reagan, U.S. Grant as well as sprawling looks at various eras in the American story. He wrote the bestselling "The General vs. the President" about the clash between Gen. Douglas McArthur and President Harry S Truman.
"The Zealot and the Emancipator" is structured in a similar fashion as "The General vs. the President." "Zealot" does not grab the reader as immediately as "General," but once it does, the book does not let go.