Foner writes well. This is the first thing you should know. You will not be reading a dusty tome of long-ago lives. You will read about actual people from just a few short years ago, how they felt, how they struggled, what they wanted, what they hoped for. You will get in touch with these people, some enslaved, some free, some made free. Some were the people who worked for freedom, and some were those who upheld slavery. It is all a mess in a way, just like life, but Foner extracts the threads and lays out the humans who worked through this time of post-Civil War Reconstruction.
It will break your heart, because you will see such promise in the very early years. There was a brief moment when the will of the people was such that American Negroes (to use their terms) were seen as possibly full and equal human beings along with their fellow white citizens. The African slaves would become African Americans (a thing which was astounding at such a large scale, really–with a swipe of a pen the amendments enabling their civil rights made them joint owners of the American dream).
Dr. Foner writes it all–the beautiful early events, the alarming portents of change, and the sad, almost predictable human disaster of the end of Reconstruction.
A solid, well-written book. I can’t say it is easy to read: it is not light reading, and there is simply a lot to tell. But it is not simply data and dates and numbers. Take a few days to read it, or a few weeks. It will be worth your time.