Book Review: 1831: Year Of Eclipse By Masur, Louis P.
Masur is an experienced American Historian with a deep understanding of the history of America as well as other American Studies. He is a professor of American Studies and History at Rutgers University and a member of the Society of American Historians, the Massachusetts Historical Society, and the American Antiquarian Society. Apart from the 1831 Years of Eclipse, he has also written other books such as Lincoln’s Last Speech: Wartime Reconstruction and the Crisis of Reunion and The Civil War: A Concise History among several other scholarly articles that appears in a different publication such as The New York Times, the American Scholar, Slate, and Salon among many other publications.
The year 1831 was going to be hard for the United States as the old guard was witnessing the charge of leadership to a new generation. Although the country was experiencing technological advancement in almost all areas, including agriculture, it was undergoing challenges that even threatened to dissolve the Union. Masur seeks to describe where the Nation was in 1831 and where it was headed to. Masur, through the content in the book “1831 Years of Eclipse,” describes how 1831 was a year of transformation of America from a post-revolution republic to a fully democratic nation. Masur uses the image if the eclipse and the notion that it would mark the end of the world to represent the anxiety due to ferment and change in the United States during the year 1825 to 1831. He links the Revolt of Nat Turner, who viewed the eclipse as an inspiration for his failed fight against slavery to the critique of Frances Trollope. The use of these two images sets the tone of the book and provides a clear view of the anticipation of the American people who jointly stared at the heavens.
The lively and creative writing of this book, as well as its deep details, have earned the book a wide audience. The book provides a wide consideration for the reflection of the way people in the United States have situated themselves in the paths of their passing history. Through the discussion of a variety of concepts, including the story of Nat Turner, slavery and abolition, religion and politics, and other necessary concepts in the history of the United States, Masur portrays how the intersection of the cosmic forces and the human initiatives have significantly made the future visible. The author has used deep analysis of the history, a link between the different concepts in the history, pictures showing different historical events such as the eclipse of 12th February 1831 and deep scholarly research from various sources to attain his aims and communicate the thesis and theme of his book. Masur arranges his ideas and slices of historical narratives thematically to better give a clear picture of the economic, political, social, and moral forces that were working at this period in the history of America.
The ideas put across by the author are fair and accurate. The presentation of the historical events in the book is done in an unbiased and lack incidence of an exaggeration, diminishing materials, and distortion. He presents a well-organized and researched narrative of what would actually happen in the south and the political unrest as well as a separation of the state that was threatening the vision of the Union’s governing body. This was not the vision for forbears to the nation, which was about 50 years only from the time of independence. The book “1831, Year of Eclipse” provides an accurate and precise voice of reasoning, preparing the people on the slaughter that was to come. From this book, for example, we learn the waiting brutality by the federal against the Indians, inhumanity worse than what was foreseen by James Fenimore Cooper in the Novel “1826 novel The Last of the Mohicans”. Masur depicts evangelical revivals, working-class ferment, railroads, threshing machines, and the spectacular description of John James Audubon.
The book “1831 Year of Eclipse” gives critical information and historical narratives of America and the symbolic meaning of the eclipse of 1831, which represents a necessary change in the history of the republic. However, although the strategy employed by the author can be defined as excellent, there is a need for more background explanation of some of the topics. For example, the book should provide a better statement describing the policy issues resulting in the division of the Jackson administration and the privacy scandal that prompted the resignation of many people from his cabinet. Some of the problems presented in the book are just placed in juxtaposition that really doesn’t make sense. For example, the description from Audubon’s vision to the cholera epidemic does not give a clear representation and link between the ideas that the author is trying to put across. The opinions and historical narratives could fit about 200 pages in a more thematic and brief manner.
The book “1831 Year of Eclipse” can be described as a brilliant and imaginative piece of history with only a few missing points. Masur gives a superb job representing rich textured accounts of American History. The author is hailed for his wider view of some of the phenomena in American history in the 19th century such as “Nat Turner’s slave revolt, the Cherokee Trail of Tears, the battle over the Bank of the United States”. It provides general readers with incidental and intellectual pleasure on certain American historical concepts such as slavery, focusing on both major and minor players.