The Most Important Book in American History

Andrew Sullivan —  Jul 4 2012 @ 2:05pm


… is Uncle Tom's Cabin, according to literary critic David Reynolds, in his new book, Mightier Than the Sword. Harold Bush reviews Reynold's case:

The heart of the book covers the debates over race, slavery, and the extent to which Uncle Tom's Cabin—or any novel, for that matter—can be said to "change" history. Reynolds argues vehemently in favor of fiction's ability to do so, and he makes a very good case for it. In fact, Reynolds takes the argument for the powerful impact of Uncle Tom's Cabin to greater lengths than any previous critic. If at times he might be said to exaggerate, I think his basic point is accurate: yes, the novel has probably had a more profound effect, and has spurred more reaction, both positive and negative, than any other book in American history. Reynolds has always been one to go to painstaking lengths in supporting such assertions. His analysis of the deeply racist underpinnings of the culture, extending on into the early and middle parts of the 20th century, and his coverage of the abolitionist debates, while not surprising for experts in the field, are nonetheless excellent.

(Image: An illustration from the first edition of Uncle Tom's Cabin, via Wikimedia Commons)