Prizes, Reviews, Media Coverage, Advance Praise, and Additional Articles

Named one of the Best Books of 2011 by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch!

Winner, inaugural Charles Redd Center for Western StudiesPhi Alpha Theta Book Award for the best book in history of the American West from 2010 or 2011


Harriet Hosmer, Statue of Thomas Hart Benton declaring, "There is the East! There is India!", dedicated May 1968
Harriet Hosmer, Statue of Thomas Hart Benton declaring, “There is the East! There is India!”, dedicated May 1968

“The Civil War can be refreshed….The Great Heart of the Republic describe[s] a culture, more than anything, of dashed dreams wrought by conflict that spun far beyond the control of those who began and sustained the political arguments over slavery and expansion.”
–Ben Cawathra, Blue Notes in Black and White, December 19, 2012

“By looking at St. Louis – the place where northern, southern, and western values collided – Arenson argues persuasively that we can better understand the ways in which civil war left the nation profoundly altered, but not transformed, and still deeply divided. 

Arenson’s study and his conclusions are thought-provoking.” –Megan L. Bever, The Civil War Monitor, December 12, 2012

“Whether the city’s dreams were more western than urban, or more proslavery than antislavery, Arenson deserves praise for advancing an argument that will spark debate, and he has succeeded in showing that St. Louis was a critical site for understanding the Civil War era.” –Frank Towers, Civil War History, September 2012

“The lucidly written narrative, which includes events, actions, actors, and voices on the local, regional, and national level, is the central creative achievement of this book. The story has never been told so well and with such balance and inclusiveness. It is a tale of bright national hopes and expectations dashed on the rocks of geopolitical reality, told through the prism of ‘cultural civil war.’” –Timothy Mahoney, Pacific Historical Review, August 2012

“This book is a fine achievement that will garner a broad audience, probing the ‘big questions’ of nineteenth-century American history and eloquently interweaving the local and the national.” –Robert J. Gamble, Planning Perspectives, August 2012

“The chapters dealing with the Civil War are some of the strongest.…Arenson does an excellent job of showing the underlying ethnic, class, and gender dimensions of loyalty and disloyalty in this divided city.…Throughout the book, Arenson deftly weaves national political history with analyses of paintings, architecture, and other cultural products.” –Michael Bernath, Journal of Southern History, August 2012

“Utilizing a truly impressive array of sources…Arenson has crafted a local story that provides insight into the history of the nation as a whole.” –Kim M. Gruenwald, Western Historical Quarterly, Summer 2012.

“Now that the [Civil War] sesquicentennial is upon us, is it time for a new way of thinking about and understanding what the nation went through 150 years ago? If it is, the first book of that new wave just might be The Great Heart of the Republic: St. Louis and the Cultural Civil War.…Listeners, you will want to read this book.” –Gerry Prokopowicz, Civil War Talk Radio, March 2, 2012

“A collective biography that includes more than St. Louis’s wealthiest citizens….The focused nature of this study reveals the complexities of compromise and the tensions of competing loyalties…. Arenson’s prose is exceedingly readable, almost poetic at times….an impressive narrative.” – Shannon Smith Bennett, Southern Historian, Spring 2012

“In this short book, Arenson manages to identify an overwhelming array of issues that defined the American cultural ethos between the years 1848–1877. Arenson produces a highly provocative thesis that captures and explains regional alliances through a cultural prism…Arenson has something new to add to the literature of the Civil War, and he does so with a wonderfully nuanced argument and deft pen. Sure to have an enduring impact, this book delivers.” –Stephen D. Engle, The American Historical Review, December 2011

“This book views the Civil War from a new perspective….Not only is [Arenson’s] perspective on the era refreshing, but his imaginative use of sources also allows him to tease new meaning out of the evidence.” – Lawrence O. Christensen, Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Winter 2011-2012

“A short review cannot do justice to Arenson’s many interesting case studies which retell familiar stories from a new angle….Valuable new insights.” – Nicole Etcheson, Journal of American History, September 2011

“Civil War battles and tactics take a back seat to understanding why our ancestors fought.” –  Tom Pearson, National Genealogical Society Quarterly, September 2011

“Arenson does not filter the narrative of the cultural civil war through a nominal local point of view; the result is much more refined…. The Great Heart of the Republic is both a local and national history and Adam Arenson’s style is balanced and exhaustively researched.” –  Mark Sullivan, 49th Parallel, Autumn 2011

“The Civil War is just a part of Arenson’s wide-ranging investigation….A shining example of vast page length not being a requirement of interpretive depth, Arenson’s work succeeds as both city study and broad social history. The Great Heart of the Republic is heartily recommended reading for students of westward expansion, the Civil War, and Reconstruction.” – Andrew Wagenhoffer, Civil War Books and Authors, August 2011

“A beautifully written and strikingly original interpretation of the causes, conduct, and consequences of the war…. Arenson’s book offers a much broader interpretation of the Civil War….Arenson’s work is wide[-]ranging and ambitious, covering art, architecture, and historical memory as well as the history of politics and policy. Most provocatively, Arenson coins the term “the cultural civil war” to characterize the complex conflict that tore St. Louis and the nation apart during the middle of the nineteenth century.…[I]t forms the heart of his efforts to reimagine the contours of the sectional conflict. From the perspective of St. Louis, the Civil War was not simply a political struggle between North and South over the future of slavery in the territories. Instead, it involved the aspirations, prejudices, and tensions between rival ethnic, racial, and regional groups….[R]eaders will discover a creative history of mid-nineteenth-century America in microcosm.” – Andre M. Fleche, H-CivWar, H-Net Reviews, June 2011

“Elegantly written, extensively researched….[Arenson] engagingly records St. Louis’ civic achievements, resurrects the nearly forgotten 1849 Great Fire and capably summarizes the maddening fluidity of Civil War-era politics.” – Martin Northway, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 13, 2011

“Describing the West as an equal player in the cultural battleground of the Civil War, Arenson shows St. Louis as…, at times, exploiting the strain between the two [North and South] to advance western political objectives.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly Book Note, Spring 2011

“Arenson’s account…flows more like a novel than what one might expect from such a deeply researched, academic investigation. His straightforward writing style pulls you along, immersing you in the political wrangling of the times and introducing you to information that explodes some of St. Louis’ favorite historical myths….Arenson’s book is absorbing and refreshingly short—an easily digestible 222 pages, not counting the extensive and fascinating bibliography. If understanding history is a way to help us avoid repeating it, the book offers more than just a new and intriguing prism through which to view St. Louis’ past: It’s also a guidebook to the future….It’s a story that I recommend you read for yourself.” – Gloria Shur Bilchik, DailyKos and Occasional Planet

“Arenson takes a fresh look at the pivotal role played by St. Louisans who stood at the crossroads of 19th-century America, both geographically and politically…. Although Arenson is tackling huge historical topics — Manifest Destiny and the politics of slavery — his narrative is driven by the local ambitions of a city that viewed itself as the gateway to the nation’s future. While most Civil War histories focus — understandably — on the North and the South, Arenson takes the Western view.” – Mary Delach Leonard, St. Louis Beacon

Media Coverage and Additional Articles

Meet America in St. Louis,” New York Times Disunion columns (November 28, 2012)

Lampooning the Union,” New York Times Disunion columns (July 27, 2012)

Secession and Ascension in St. Louis,” New York Times Disunion columns (June 14, 2012)

Stonewall Jackson’s Arm Lies Here: What a memorial for an amputated limb can teach our society about wounded veterans,” The Atlantic (May 2, 2012)

Interview (audio), Civil War Talk Radio (March 2, 2012)

Interview (audio and transcript), Civil War Book Review (Winter 2012)

Fresh Look at [Lincoln University] Beginnings,” by Bob Watson (recounting my Founders’ Day keynote speech) Jefferson City News Tribune  (February 10, 2012)

Anna and the Librarian,” New York Times Disunion columns (January 11, 2012)

Freedom through Bondage,New York Times Disunion columns (September 22, 2011)

Petersburg: Mowing History,Civil War Memory (September 7, 2011)

Antietam: Presidential Hot Coffee,Civil War Memory (August 11, 2011)

Back to the Battlefield: Field Notes from a Cultural Civil War Historian,Civil War Memory (August 3, 2011)

Manassas: The Missing Robinson House,Civil War Memory (July 21, 2011)

“How St. Louis Was Won,” New York Times Disunion columns (May 12, 2011)

“The Rise of the West,” New York Times Disunion columns (March 8, 2011)

The Page 99 Test (March 1, 2011)

“The making of America’s most dangerous city,” Washington Post Political Bookworm, (February 24, 2011), and highlighted on DailyKos

Radio interview by St. Louis Public Radio (aired January 25, 2011)

Interview with St. Louis Beacon (January 20, 2011)

“Re-enacting slave sales and Civil War lessons,” St. Louis Beacon (January 18, 2011)

Recap of the West Hills Civil War Round Table event, Cosmic America (January 13, 2011)

Advance Praise

“An ambitious, innovative, and engaging look at the pivotal role St. Louis played in the cultural contest to determine the destiny of the United States.”—Stephen Aron, University of California Los Angeles and Executive Director of the Autry National Center, author of American Confluence: The Missouri Frontier from Borderland to Border State

“A sweeping, illuminating work that offers a fresh perspective on the period from the Mexican War to the post-Reconstruction era. Adding a western dimension to the sectional crisis of the Civil War era, Arenson’s narrative is revelatory. ”—Michael A. Morrison, Purdue University, author of Slavery and the American West

“Arenson’s beautifully told story of the rise and fall of St. Louis’s efforts to invent itself as a center of American enlightenment and empire in the long Civil War era shows Manifest Destiny as a lived reality, with intoxicating and toxic implications for ordinary Americans.” —Iver Bernstein, Washington University in St. Louis, author of Stripes and Scars: The Revitalization of America and the Origins of the Civil War

“This is a superb book. Careful and bold all at once, it reminds us that the ‘gateway to the West’ played a major role not only in the coming of the Civil War but in the contests— cultural, social, and racial—it so tragically provoked.”—William Deverell, University of Southern California and Director, Huntington–USC Institute on California and the West, author of To Bind Up the Nation’s Wounds: The American West After the Civil War

“In compelling prose that balances brilliant analyses with rich narrative details and lively anecdotes, Arenson offers an important new argument about nineteenth-century U.S. history. His book combines the most thorough scholarship with the pleasures of a frontier romance.” —Aaron Sachs, Cornell University, author of The Humboldt Current

“Arenson sets St. Louis at the center of nineteenth-century America’s ‘cultural civil wars’ as dramas of competing visions of the nation’s future played out on the city’s streets and docks and in its courtrooms, churches, and classrooms. In this beautifully crafted book, the national stories we thought we knew take on new depth and take some surprising turns.” —Ann Fabian, Rutgers University, author of The Skull Collectors: Race, Science, and America’s Unburied Dead

“From the Great Fire of 1849 to the completion of the Eads Bridge in 1874, Arenson examines the cultural civil war through a city that aspired to be the unifying center of the American continental empire. St. Louis’ successes and failures richly illuminate national travails as the promise of Manifest Destiny succumbed to the politics of slavery.” —Louis S. Gerteis, University of Missouri-St. Louis, author of Civil War St. Louis

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