The Old Man: John Brown at Harper's Ferry

On October 16, 1859, John Brown led an historic attack on the Harper’s Ferry Armory. Nelson narrates the incredible events that unfolded that day and explodes the conventional dismissal of John Brown as a fanatic. Instead, Nelson presents a revolutionary who, at the cost of his own life, helped bring an end to slavery.

After his execution, the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass said of Brown, “If John Brown did not end the war that ended slavery, he did at least begin the war that ended slavery.… Until this blow was struck, the prospect for freedom was dim, shadowy and uncertain. The irrepressible conflict was one of words, votes, and compromises. When John Brown stretched forth his arm, the sky was cleared.”

The details of the raid and its aftermath have never been presented with such cinematic immediacy as in Truman Nelson's The Old Man. Nelson captures the human pathos and high drama of the event, with its fascinating range of characters, both famous and forgotten, while helping the reader to understand its moral and political significance.

About the author

Truman Nelson is the author of six earlier books on revolutionary themes: The Sin of the Prophet: Theodore Parker and the Boston Slave Riot; The Surveyor: John Brown in Kansas; The Passion by the Brook; The Torture of Mothers; The Right of Revolution; and Documents of Upheaval.


“Truman Nelson's biography of John Brown is a refreshing and eloquent corrective to the common misconceptions about the character and actions of this extraordinary American hero.”
–Howard Zinn