Nov. 4th, 2010

starlady: Anna Maria from PoTC at the helm: "bring me that horizon" (bring me that horizon)
Hochschild, Adam. Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves. Boston & New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., 2005.

I think this might be the best book I have read all year. it is certainly the most inspiring; at one point near the end I was moved to tears, and that is very high praise from me.

Hochschild, a professor of journalism at the University of California, Berkeley's, school of the same, offers a searing and inspiring history of the fight to end slavery in the British Empire, begun by 12 men in a printing shop in 1787 and ended at last by millions around the world, victorious, in 1833. To this story Hochschild brings an unabashedly and unapologetically contemporary perspective, never wavering in his conviction that democracy despite its faults is the best and most desirable form of government, that racism in and of itself is wrong, and that the same goes for the lack of women's and worker's rights in societies of the day worldwide. Equally salutary and crucially, he is clear on the fact that the abolitionist movement would never have succeeded without the input of slaves and ex-slaves themselves, who in writings (like Olaudah Equiano) described unvarnished the horrors they had survived and surmounted, and who in warfare and rebellion, like the slaves of the former St. Domingue and those of Jamaica 40 years later, made clear that they would not wait to be freed by the white man, but would seize those rights for themselves, with all the violence that had been visited upon them by their masters. (In one of history's more agonizing ironies, Haiti paid and has paid for the two hundred years since a terrible price for its denizens' unwillingness to lie quiet in their oppression.) He is also clear that the movement would never have been reignited without the uncredited goad and example of many women's antislavery organizations, under the leadership of women like Elizabeth Heyrick, who had no patience with the gradualist approach their senior male counterparts espoused. And finally, it is in many ways a testament to the unflinching, radically ethical nature of Quakerism even in the centuries before ideas of equality and human rights took root in discourse. Hochschild is also brilliant on the interconnectedness of slavery with virtually every social, economic and political institution in the empire, particularly the Royal Navy, and lays bare these connections with thoroughgoing zeal. It is a story peopled by characters who seem both larger than life (Thomas Clarkson, Toussaint L'Ouverture) and whose inability to make what seem to be obvious connections (William Wilberforce) are brought to vibrant, contradictory, puzzling life. His unwillingness to gloss over these everyday evils, as well as the sheer banal stupidity of monarchy and its scions, ought to shame many writers of historical fiction.

We live with that hope still.  )