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Break It Up

Secession, Division, and the Secret History of America's Imperfect Union

Richard Kreitner

$59.95

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Little Brown and Company
18 August 2020
From journalist and historian Richard Kreitner, a powerful revisionist account of the most persistent idea in American history: these supposedly United States should be broken up (Eric Foner). The novel and fiery thesis of Break It Up is simple: The United States has never lived up to its name--and never will. The disunionist impulse may have found its greatest expression in the Civil War, but as Break It Up shows, the seduction of secession wasn't limited to the South or the nineteenth century. It was there at our founding and has never gone away.

With a scholar's command and a journalist's curiosity, Richard Kreitner takes readers on a revolutionary journey through American history, revealing the power and persistence of disunion movements in every era and region. Each New England town after Plymouth was a secession from another; the thirteen colonies viewed their Union as a means to the end of securing independence, not an end in itself; George Washington feared separatism west of the Alleghenies; Aaron Burr schemed to set up a new empire; John Quincy Adams brought a Massachusetts town's petition for dissolving the United States to the floor of Congress; and abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison denounced the Constitution as a pro-slavery pact with the devil.

From the cold civil war that pits partisans against one another to the modern secession movements in California and Texas, the divisions that threaten to tear America apart today have centuries-old roots in the earliest days of our Republic. Richly researched and persuasively argued, Break It Up will help readers make fresh sense of our fractured age.
By:  
Imprint:   Little Brown and Company
Country of Publication:   United States
Dimensions:   Height: 236mm,  Width: 160mm,  Spine: 36mm
Weight:   748g
ISBN:   9780316510608
ISBN 10:   0316510602
Pages:   496
Publication Date:  
Audience:   General/trade ,  ELT Advanced
Format:   Hardback
Publisher's Status:   Active

Richard Kreitner is a contributing writer to The Nation. He is the author of Booked: A Traveler's Guide to Literary Locations Around the World.

Reviews for Break It Up: Secession, Division, and the Secret History of America's Imperfect Union

The United States have seldom been wholeheartedly united, as Richard Kreitner shows in this often surprising history of disunity, from Northern secession plans before the Civil War to plots for California's independence and a Singapore-style free New York City. The book is engaging and historically rich, and adds up to a new story of the country, one that opens questions about whether we belong together at all. --Jedediah Purdy, Columbia University and author of This Land is Our Land: The Struggle for a New Commonwealth If you thought disunion was an invention of the slave South and is long dead and buried, think again. In Break It Up, Richard Kreitner offers a powerful revisionist account of the troubled history of the American nation, showing how secessionist movements have made their appearance at numerous times, and in numerous parts of the country. They are again proliferating today - a reflection of our polarized politics and culture and our failure to make the existing Union benefit all Americans. --Eric Foner, Columbia University, author of The Fiery Trial If you think the United States only recently became fractious, fractured, and fragmented, Break It Up will shake you up. Richard Kreitner tells us a fresh, unsettling, and persistently entertaining story of disunity and secession as the great American way. From the colonial period through the Revolutionary War, familiar landmarks of founding history are seen a new light. The secessionism of the Confederacy takes on unexpected qualities, as do 20th century black separatism, the 1960's counterculture, and feminism, among other things. This book will change what you thought you knew. --William Hogeland, author of Autumn of the Black Snake As politicians and pundits lament polarization and partisanship, this fiery and fresh exploration of the idea of disunion across four centuries helps us understand how today's fractured landscape is not a new development, but a return, as Kreitner writes, to the 'ever-present battle over the past and for the future'-and for the soul of America. --Katrina vanden Heuvel, Editorial Director and Publisher of The Nation


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