ASK Musings

No matter where you go, there you are.



August 2020



The Black Jacobins by C.L.R. James

Written by , Posted in Politics, Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
Those interested in the history of enslaved people who successfully fought back.

In a nutshell:
Enslaved people revolt against the British, Spanish, and French over twelve years, eventually creating Haiti.

Worth quoting:
“The cruelties of property and privilege are always more ferocious than the revenges of poverty and oppression.”

Why I chose it:
I received this as a birthday gift this year.

You will be shocked to learn that I, a white woman raised and educated in the US, knew nothing about how Haiti came to be. I KNOW. It’s almost as though the history I was taught was incomplete in some very specific ways.

This fascinating book tells the story of how those who were enslaved in what is now Haiti revolted across over a dozen years to eventually claim victory by ensuring an end to slavery, expelling the French colonial government, and declaring independence.

The story told by this book begins 229 years ago this week (21 August 1791), and follows the complexities of race, class, slavery, and revolution. The main focus is on Toussaint Louverture, who led most of the revolution, though eventually he was taken to France and died in jail. He was a slave until 1776, then fought in multiple battles until undertaking, with others, a fight inspire by the French revolution.

I have some trouble following detailed military histories, especially when I don’t have the basics already in mind. I only recognized one name in this book before I read it – Napoleon, and he only shows up in the last 50 pages or so. I think to truly grasp everything in here, I would need to read it at least two more times, maybe more. But that speaks not to the quality of the writing, but to my lack of foundational knowledge of the subject.

I’d recommend this to anyone who is interested in history and the fight for freedom.

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