Monday, February 20, 2017

The Hammer and the Anvil: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and the End of Slavery in America

The Hammer and the Anvil: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and the End of Slavery in America is an expertly researched and told nonfiction story of two massive historical figures and their effects on US history. In order to tell both stories, the book employs alternating narratives, indicating which is which via a simple color scheme. Douglass's story is told in blue:
And Lincoln's in red:
Both biographies begin with respective childhoods and formative experiences that would come into play later in their lives. Along the way, I learned much about each person and major players of the time period. Also, there are deftly told accounts about slavery, the Civil War, and other historical contexts. That the creators were able to chronicle so much information while spinning compelling narratives and characters is extremely impressive. One of the features I admired most about this book is that it does not overly lionize either Douglass or Lincoln. Certainly they are shown to be impressive and important people, but they are also shown to have their own problems and human moments. I especially appreciated how Lincoln was not simply canonized as the Great Emancipator but was shown to wrestle greatly with many social concerns and pragmatic thoughts that conflicted with his idealism.

The artwork was also a huge positive about this book. There are many detailed panels that represent the time period very well. Additionally, there are multiple scenes where characters' emotions and feelings come through very powerfully. This book is both masterfully plotted and illustrated. It definitely brings history to life.

This book's creators Dwight Jon Zimmerman and Wayne Vansant also collaborated on another graphic history, The Vietnam War. Zimmerman is the author of a number of other books on military history as well as a producer of TV shows on that topic. Vansant began drawing comics decades ago with Marvel Comics' Savage Tales and The 'Nam, and he has drawn a number of historically-themed graphic novels including one about the D-Day battle at Normandy.

Reviews and news I have read about the book have been positive. It was nominated for YALSA's 2013 Great Graphic Novels for Teens list. Hillary Brown concluded, "Anyone who doesn’t specialize in this material will learn something." Publishers Weekly summed it up as "a compelling look at two of the most important figures in American history." Viviane Crystal called it "a superb historical fiction story."

The Hammer and the Anvil was published by Hill & Wang, and there is a preview and more information available here.

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