Member Reviews

As an avid fan of US history, I had heard of Charles Sumner. But I'll admit to not knowing any detail about the man. I'm glad that Stephen Puleo has written this readable and engaging biography of the great leader.

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Anyone who has read Civil War history [both nonfiction and historical ficton] knows about Charles Sumner. A staunch and unrepentant [thankfully] abolitionist [ we need more like him right now], Mr. Sumner fought for the rights of the enslaved and then for reconstruction [and the safety and rights of the formerly enslaved] until he died and many that came after were inspired by him and his work and continued on in his name and actions.

In this book, you learn all about this [and the other work he did for other marginalized peoples], and you also learn about the attack on Mr. Sumner by a despicable man [Preston Brooks, a name I can barely write as he was a cad and certainly NOT the gentleman he thought he was and certainly NEVER received the punishment due him {ah, the joys of the american justice system - rewarding criminals for years and years and years...], though karma came along and did what justice wouldn't]; a caning [nearly to death] on the floor of the Congress, that Mr. Sumner never fully recovered from [and left him in barely manageable pain and severe PTSD], and how even this heinous act did not diminish his work and fire. He was a real force to be reckoned with.

An introverted man who was awkward, often cold and distant, and deeply lonely [even amongst people], he had few friends [though the ones he DID have were spectacular {one of this best friends was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow!!!} and the supported him 100%, in his career, in his illness, and especially during his dangerous and damaging marriage], but he was deeply loyal to them, to his cause, to President Lincoln [and his family, especially Mary Todd Lincoln, after the assassination] and never once backed down from his belief [even after the hideous caning] that ALL men were indeed, created equal.

An absolutely magnificent book and a must read for history buffs everywhere.

Thank you to NetGalley, Stephen Puleo, and St. Martin's Press for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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This work is a biography of Charles Sumner, a staunch abolitionist who spent his years in politics fighting for the freedom of all men and women in the United States, regardless of race. While there are some inclusions of his earlier life, it mostly focuses on the portions of his life that are relevant to his fight for changing the law. This is the first biography of Sumner published in over 50 years.

The author mentions that Sumner is often overlooked, partially due to the fact that he was often moody and self-centered when it came to his emotions. I enjoyed how this was explored through primary sources and quotes from Sumner himself relating to his emotional state. I also hadn't realized that he somewhat straddled political parties, which often kept him from being accepted by anyone, or just how inflammatory he was (e.g., using coarse sexual terms in his Senate speeches to get points across regarding slavery's evils or making personal comments about his rivals). I enjoyed that he wasn't depicted as being perfect or always making the right choices.

The book also includes plenty of historical context about things going on around Sumner or events related to policies he was pushing for, especially relating to equal rights and the abolition of slavery. I was interested to learn about the court case that he and Robert Morris, a Black attorney, presented to the Massachusetts Supreme Court about integration in schools in the 1840s. They were the first interracial legal team in U.S. history. I also enjoyed learning the background that led to a South Carolinian caning Sumner in an infamous (in the U.S.) incident and how drastically it affected his ability to continue his advocacy. I don't tend to find myself interested in Civil War history, but I did enjoy this work as it provided a lot of background to the escalation that led to war through the lens of Sumner's involvement in these events. The Civil War begins approximately halfway through the work, but the author doesn’t shift the focus much from Sumner.

My only dislike was that there were no superscripts in the text to help know which source the author got certain information from. This was a fascinating and informative read that I highly recommend if you're interested in United States history or the Civil War. There’s a significant amount of history included, but I never found this work dry or lost interest. All thoughts and opinions expressed in this review are my own.

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The Great Abolitionist: Charles Sumner and the Fight for a More Perfect Union by Stephen Puleo is an interesting read. I am giving it five stars.

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Before Will Smith and Chris Rock at the Oscars, there was Preston Brooks and Charles Sumner in the Senate. Sumner took way more than a single slap, though.

Charles Sumner takes up a strange place in the American consciousness. He is, by far, most known for the caning he took from Brooks. His stellar abolitionist credentials are overshadowed by Thaddeus Stevens who stole the spotlight in the movie Lincoln. (Fun fact: Sumner was actually in the movie, too. I checked!) Due to this slight, Stephen Puleo is here to resurrect all of Sumter the way Spielberg did for Stevens, but in book form! My favorite!

The Great Abolitionist is a wonderful biography of a man who had an unassailable passion for abolition, but would probably not be the first person you'd invite to a dinner. I always appreciate biographies more when they don't shy away from the negative attributes of the subject. Sumter was unbending, arrogant, and what can generously be described as aloof. He had friends, but they had to see past a lot of negative personality traits. Also, the less said about his marriage the better.

Puleo focuses mostly on where Sumter fits into the political machinations from right before the Civil War to the end of Reconstruction. I certainly learned a lot about him and I think I am generally well read on the Civil War era. Puleo makes everything interesting while being informative but the first half (pre-caning) was much more interesting to me than post-caning. I don't blame Puleo for this as it seems to me Sumter's life after the attack loses some life. He becomes more of a passenger to the greater events going on as opposed to a catalyst. It's a very minor critique, which again, is not Puleo's fault and just more of a statement on how badly Sumter's life was affected. This is still a must read for any Civil War nerd.

(This book was provided as an advance copy by Netgalley and St. Martin's Press.)

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The Great Abolitionist, Carl Sumner in his fight for a more perfect union by Stephen Poolio this book we learned about Carl Sumner‘s coming to grips with the ugliness of slavery and all its negative connotations not only to us as Americans but to slaves themselves. From his aha moment in Paris to the day he died Carl Sumner fought for the rights of everyone in this book covers his life with brief statements from letters he wrote to those written to him to his bedside vigil by the great Abraham Lincoln‘s death bed it’s all in this book even Mr. Sumnners caining at the hands of a pro slavery politician everything I had heard about Mr. Sumner is explained. In many fiction books about historical events I have read about the great abolitionist and like Mr. Poolio I agree it was high time for another biography about such a great impactful figure in our history. There was so much I am leaving out of my review because he lived a long fruitful life and accomplished much most all things that affect us still today. I highly recommend this book I love Mr. Julio‘s Frank in upfront writing style unlike most great non-fiction writers he gives you the story and let you decide not giving his own opinion to try and sway the reader one way or another when reading wild Bill Hickok‘s biography I learned not every abolitionist wanted slaves to be free some men were called abolitionist because they just didn’t want Black people around at all but Carl Sumner was an abolitionist who believed all men should be free and that the constitution was written for every American. I want to thank

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One of the most important stories in our nations history. A well researched and well told story on Charles Sumner's life and struggles to support the constitutions promise. It is interesting to understand the political wrangling that was just as relevant in the 1860's as it is today. Passions, economic impact, and a power struggle split the country and cost us some of the best blood on both sides of the debate. I highly recommend making yourself familiar with Charles Sumner and the fight for racial equality that resulted in the civil war.

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An excellent look at one of the more divisive eras in American history and one man brave enough to stand for his principles and beliefs, no matter the cost.

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The Great Abolitionist
Posted on April 20, 2024 by Jack


A exceptional biography of someone I had thought I never heard of. I had read of an event in which he was a unwilling participant in. I had read something of the U.S. Senator who was badly beaten on the floor of the Senate but I did not remember his name, if I ever knew it.

The book is “The Great Abolitionist: Charles Sumner and the Fight for a More Perfect Union” by Stephen Puleo. It will be available in April 23.

It is not only a fascinating biography of Charles Sumner, a leading abolitionist who became a Senator and advisor to President Lincoln but a great explanation of the complicated times leading up to the Civil War and afterward.

I thank both NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for the chance to read this before publication. I highly recommend “The Great Abolitionist” to anyone with an interest in the American Civil War or human rights.

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The groundbreaking biography of a forgotten civil rights hero.

Thank you Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press for sending me a review copy of this book to read in exchange for an honest review! I wasn’t sure if I was going to like this book or not because I think that American History is boring and I thought it was boring when I was learning about it in school but I enjoyed this book which surprised me. When I read the first 60 pages, I was bored with what was going on but when I got 100 pages in, it got better and I ended up feeling invested in the story. This book was very interesting. I learned so much.

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A towering moral force in the mid-19th century, Charles Sumner fearlessly stood against slavery while others sought compromise. His eloquent leadership in the US Senate guided a divided nation toward realizing its promise of a more perfect union. This inspiring and engaging biography celebrates his indelible legacy, which has echoed through generations in the fight for civil rights.

Thanks, NetGalley, for the ARC I received. This is my honest and voluntary review.

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this was a strong nonfiction book, I enjoyed getting to learn about this event. The concept was everything that I wanted and enjoyed the historical feel of this. Stephen Puleo writes a strong story and enjoyed how well researched this was.

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Charles Sumner was twenty-seven, on a European tour in France when he observed students of different races, “jaunty” “men of fashion”, interacting as equals. He at once understood that education, and not nature, had divided black from white. He dedicated the rest of his life fighting to fulfilling the promise of American equality. At a time when abolitionists were disdained radicals he spoke out for the end of slavery, and when the North finally embraced abolition, he pushed for even more radical laws protecting equality and conferring voting rights.

The story of Sumner’s career is also the story of America’s division and its awakening and embracing the humanity of the enslaved. Sadly, with every victory and advance came a whiplash of brutality and violence, and the conflict over race and equality continues to this day.

This is the story of single-minded commitment to justice. After Sumner was caned nearly to death on the floor on congress, taking years to physically recover and left with post traumatic stress syndrome, he persevered in his mission. And, it is the story of America’s original sin and its legacy.

Sumner was an imperfect man, a lonely man, who could be cold and difficult, and he was a failed husband. He held lifelong deep friendships with luminaries like Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and his wife, was a close advisor President Lincoln and stayed with the dying president, and was a dear friend to Mrs. Lincoln, supporting her through the loss of her son and helping to secure her a pension after her husband’s tragic death.

I had been reading around Sumner’s life in various books, and was thrilled with every page of this revealing biography, impressed by the depth of Sumner’s impact on American history.

Thanks to the publisher for a free book.

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The Great Abolitionist is one of the most captivating nonfiction books I have read. While researching James Alexander Hamilton, I came across Charles Sumner, even a few letters exchanged between the two men, so I had already included a few bits about him in my own book. Now, I feel like I need to go back and add more. Charles Sumner's courage and absolute certainty in his stance for equality is astounding for his time and in the face of the persecution he endured. I'm not sure how many times I said, "Wow," as I was reading this. It's not just a great biography of Charles Sumner but a thought provoking study of an era when seismic shifts in mindset had to occur for black Americans to begin to experience equality.

I knew about Sumner's Bleeding Kansas speech and the horrific attack that put the South's admiration for violence on public display, but I found that there is much more about Charles Sumner that I didn't know. Puleo's powerful prologue shows us Sumner at Lincoln's deathbed. By this time, Sumner had long experienced and expected violence directed toward himself, but he was still shocked by that against the president. "The Confederate states and 'belligerent slavery' . . . had been 'defeated in battle' and thus had resorted to the most dishonorable, degrading, and cowardly act - assassination."

Then the author takes us back to the beginning of Sumner's fight, decades before anyone knew Abraham Lincoln's name. I found it interesting that "In Sumner's view, the fact that the Constitution did not even contain the word 'slavery' proved that the Founders refused to let it 'pollute its text.'" Hamilton brothers, James and John, wrote along similar lines, and I had not realized that they were inspired by Sumner. Modern readers may not understand the significance of this. For those who were strong believers in the Constitution, like James A Hamilton, they had long accepted that the federal government had no power to impede slavery within states. Reconsidering the Constitution's stance (or lack thereof) on slavery was radical and necessary.

My favorite part of this book was learning about Charles Sumner fighting against school segregation a century before integration was finally accomplished. How exciting to learn that he was demanding equality before the law so very far ahead of its time! Sumner was not afraid to shame his peers, arguing that "school segregation was Boston's own 'peculiar institution,' in the same way that slavery was the South's." If only the judge in this case had shared Sumner's courage, this decision upholding segregation might not have been used as a legal precedent for 100 years.

Puleo traces Sumner's journey from the Whig party to the Free Soilers and finally as a member of the new Republican party. It seems astonishing in our time to see such political transitions. Perhaps we should take a lesson from our ancestors and follow our values more staunchly than our red or blue team. These shifts were necessary to bring together people with the power to finally stand up against slavery and the Southern politicians who had been controlling the country since its founding.

Sumner's own suffering encouraged people to rethink their political loyalties. When he was violently attacked and almost killed - at his desk in front of other congressmen - people of the north were horrified. They were further disgusted by the celebrations in the south and the many who stated Sumner deserved the beating for his strong words against slavery and those who practiced it. Those who had been on the fence started picking sides. "We went to bed one night, old fashioned, conservative, compromise Union Whigs, and waked up stark mad Abolitionists!"

I could go on and on about this book. We haven't even talked about the Civil War and Sumner's striving to include suffrage, equality, and integration with emancipation. He continued to fight for laws that wouldn't become reality until the 20th century. His perseverance and unshakable belief in what he was fighting for is an inspiration. That being said, the author doesn't shy away from sharing Sumner's weaknesses - his social awkwardness, uncompromising attitude, and failed marriage. The result is a realistic and inspiring portrait of a man we could all learn a lot from. I encourage everyone to read this book.

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There are lots of good biographies out there, but every once in a rare while I read one I feel is exceptional. The Great Abolitionist is the one I feel is exceptional. So many biographies are dense and dry, and it's hard to stay engaged in the person you're reading about. Even though Charles Sumner was often perceived as a cold and arrogant man, Stephen Puleo turned me into an ardent cheerleader for the man, after I was already an ardent cheerleader for the cause he devoted his life to. This book isn't necessarily a comprehensive biography; it doesn't extensively cover his childhood or the very end of his life. But it does focus heavily on the most impactful time of his life - the time leading up to his time serving in the Senate and his years in office there fighting against slavery. The book is incredibly readable, even for those who don't regularly read non-fiction. Because of Puleo's writing style, I will remember things I didn't know about Sumner before reading this. Even one of things he is most known for, being viciously caned on the Senate floor, feels like it has the build-up to it that a hero faces in a story, with the subsequent battle to resume the cause he fights for. I admire the fact that Sumner never backed down from his ideals, even when they weren't popular, even when there might have been personal incentive to. In a world of politics today, someone that is essentially uncorruptible is virtually unheard of. While compromise has it values, so do principles. I would encourage anyone to read this book and get a new look at a historical figure that doesn't get his due and did so fighting for a cause that was radically unpopular when he took it up, but was in desperate need of someone just like him as a champion. A complimentary copy of this book was provided by the publisher. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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The Great Abolitionist by Stephen Puleo was a very interesting biography of Charles Sumner.
I was easily swept up in this well written piece and was very impressed with how much I enjoyed this book.
Pulio’s talented, experienced writing ability presents all this information and more in very readable and enjoyable text. The Great Abolitionist is beautifully written, thoroughly researched, educational and entertaining.
Stephen has written it in such a way that it is very engaging, and I wasn't able to put it down because it kept me interested from beginning to end.

Thank You NetGalley and St. Martin's Press for your generosity and gifting me a copy of this amazing eARC!

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This is a pretty solid biography of Charles Sumner. It gives good insight into a person who was hugely influential both through his official acts and as a symbol. It truly acts as a comprehensive biography and not just the tumultuous times around the slavery debate, his beating by Preston Brooks, and the civil rights struggle immediately following the Civil War. All of those take up the bulk of the book (for obvious reasons), but the rest of it gives a larger meaning and motivation behind those fights.

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This is a very insightful look at a historical figure I was not familiar with prior to reading the book. It is a bit dense to get through but full of great information.

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Stephen Puleo's "The Great Abolitionist" reveals the indomitable spirit of a forgotten hero, Charles Sumner. In the tumultuous mid-19th century, as the United States grappled with the looming specter of slavery and teetered on the precipice of civil war, Sumner's voice emerged as a signal of unwavering resolve and moral fortitude.

This biography brings to life a man whose convictions blazed a trail towards a more perfect union. While others advocated compromise and moderation, Charles Sumner fearlessly denounced the abhorrent institution of slavery. He demanded its utter annihilation, proclaiming the need for justice and equality.

Puleo portrays Sumner as the conscience of the North, a relentless champion of abolition. His sacrifices, unwavering dedication, and personal cost in the fight for emancipation are illuminated in detail. Sumner's influence extended far beyond the Civil War, as he continued to champion the rights of the oppressed during the tumultuous era of Reconstruction.

Through the force of his words and his unyielding will, Charles Sumner played a primary role in moving America toward the twin goals of abolitionism and equal rights. His groundbreaking arguments and tireless advocacy laid the cornerstone upon which future civil rights advocates would build as they embarked on the long and arduous journey toward racial equality.

Puleo's narrative, written with evocative and accessible language, invites us to journey back in time, immersing ourselves in an era when leaders exhibited courage and authenticity in the face of unprecedented challenges. "The Great Abolitionist" is a reminder of the enduring struggle for justice, equality, and a more perfect union. Charles Sumner's legacy is, without a doubt, an inspiring tribute to the power of conviction in the face of adversity.

In "The Great Abolitionist," Stephen Puleo resurrects the memory of a hero whose unwavering dedication refused to let the torch of hope be extinguished. This book serves as a tribute to a man who, against formidable odds, ignited the torch of justice and fairness, spearheading the quest for a more equitable and promising future for everyone.

"An unflinching portrait of Charles Sumner's heroic crusade."

"Stephen Puleo's gripping account of an unsung hero."

"A masterful biography of Charles Sumner's abolitionist journey."

"A timeless tribute to the great abolitionist."

"Sumner's courage and conviction brought to life."

"An unforgettable exploration of Sumner's legacy."

"Stephen Puleo's vivid portrait of a forgotten civil rights hero."

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