In Praise of Angels
In Praise of Angels covers the years shortly after the Civil War, when Reconstruction brings political struggles over the status of the Confederate states and their former slaves and new commercial opportunities occasioned by a rapidly expanding, yet still somewhat loosely regulated, America. Smolev imagines a young reporter, Benjamin Wright, who has seen his family destroyed by war and seeks to uphold the ideals for which his brothers died. Excluded as a younger son from the conflict that has dominated his youth, Benjamin must now fight his own battle and make his own sacrifices in two key events of the early Reconstruction years: the threatened impeachment of President Andrew Johnson, and the scandal that drives Horace Greeley’s presidential campaign four years later over the massive diversion of public money into private pockets during the building of the Union Pacific Railroad.
The novel tackles questions that are still fresh today about the role of the media in standing up to corporate and political might. Benjamin attempts to uphold the American ideals – the “better angels of our nature” of Lincoln’s inaugural address – for which the war was fought, but he does so at enormous personal cost. Despite some moments in which the characters seem to indulge in 21st-century thinking, In Praise of Angels is a plausible, well-researched dramatization of an era which shaped today’s America, for good and bad.