Book Review: A Short History Of Reconstruction By Eric Foner

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Book Review: A Short History of Reconstruction by Eric Foner

A Short History of Reconstruction: New York, NY: HarperCollins, Eric Foner, 2010

The Reconstruction time period (1865 to 1877) was a complex time for America. Many historians have focused on the issues surrounding this era. Renowned American historian Eric Foner has also written many books concerning Reconstruction era. 'A Short History of Reconstruction' is one such work, abridged version of his book 'Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution'. This shorter version is a though short but is a comprehensive account of the era of Reconstruction addressing all the issues surrounding the time period. It is an examination of many themes that includes the way South was changed during and after this era, the evolution of racial attitudes and patterns and the role of African Americans in bringing change during the Reconstruction. Also another theme that he states to be dealing in the book is the emergence of a national state during the Civil War and Reconstruction that comprised of a new set of purposes with equal rights to all Americans regardless of their race (p. xvi). Lastly, the study examines the way changes in the North's economy affected Reconstruction. He also notes in the preface that earlier especially during the early twentieth century this period was considered as one of the darkest but the views have changed significantly with the views of the revisionists. The recent studies he asserts have put Radicals to be conservative and holding racist views.

There are basically three major points that Foner has discussed in his book. These were how the society in the South was reconstructed, what were the effects of reconstruction on the North and the experiences of the Black people. The book brings out both the high and low points i.e. the success as well as failures of the period and also highlighting the significant events and ideological developments of the times. Also he asserts that it was the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 when Reconstruction actually began, two years before it is generally believed to be starting from. This he does so to emphasize the importance of the Proclamation and hence he starts the book with the year 1863 and with the event of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.

For Foner like many other Americans, Reconstruction was a failure. Ayers though states that this era hold remarkable stories of struggle and success. Foner does brings out ...