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Equiano, the African: Biography of a Self-Made Man Hardcover – October 24, 2005

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: University of Georgia Press; First Edition edition (October 24, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0820325716
  • ISBN-13: 978-0820325712
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.9 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,570,404 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Olaudah Equiano's (c. 1745–1797) much anthologized autobiography is one of the earliest by an English-speaking person of African descent. But was it wholly truthful in its self-portrayal? Carretta, a senior fellow at Harvard's W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African-American Research, provides a masterful, lively and scrupulously researched account that questions central parts of the ex-slave's narrative, but upholds his view of himself as a self-made man. Carretta points out "compelling but not absolutely conclusive" evidence that Equiano, despite his description of a childhood in Africa and the Middle Passage, was born in South Carolina. As a slave, he spent most of his early life at sea, serving various British naval officers. Quick-witted and intelligent, Equiano gained his superiors' confidence and eventually his freedom; his nautical knowledge served him well later, when he traveled as a missionary to Sierra Leone. He lived most of his free life in England, worked as an abolitionist and served as a missionary. As Carretta so eloquently observes, Equiano did invent himself as a writer with a singular vantage point on slavery and as a spokesman for Africa (which he did visit later in life), a continent that few Europeans knew about in the 18th century. Carretta's exemplary study offers not only the definitive biography of Equiano but also a first-rate social history of the late 18th century in America and in England. B&w illus., maps. (Oct. 24)
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* When a former slave, Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, wrote his autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, in 1789, he became a prominent voice of resistance to slavery by descendants of Africans. Equiano detailed horrendous conditions for slaves in the West Indies and the Americas, providing firsthand accounts of the perilous Middle Passage. Matching historical records against Equiano's accounts of his life and voyages throughout North America, the Mediterranean, Europe, and the North Pole, Carretta records the adventurous life of a man who counted himself equal to all others and who worked at various times as a seaman, entrepreneur, overseer, and antislavery advocate. His wide experience, Carretta shows, gave Equiano a distinctive perspective on slavery and the tenuous life of a free black man. Carretta's research also reveals that, despite claiming that he was captured in Africa and enslaved, Equiano, in fact, was born in South Carolina. But that revelation only adds to the complex portrait of a man who passionately gave himself to a cause and shrewdly realized that, by claiming to be African-born, he could better aid that cause. This is a thoroughly rich, engrossing, and well-researched portrait of an exceptional man and the cause he championed. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Elisabeth Hughes on May 21, 2006
Format: Hardcover
An absorbing and beautifully written biography by possibly the leading expert on Equiano today.Caretta's revelation that Equiano may have been born in South Carolina rather than Africa only serves to make him an even more intriguing figure for those who are familiar with his autobiography. This is scholarly history at its best.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Jessica M. Parr on May 9, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Carretta's latest book is a scholarly examination of the autobiography of Olaudah Equiano, aka Gustavas Vassa. This book has generated some controversy in its claim that Equiano may not have been born in Africa. Carretta's detractors, however, completely miss the point of this book, which places Equiano squarely in the same vein as other important Enlightenment writers like Benjamin Franklin. This book does not detract from the importance and usefulness of Equiano's autobiography. Rather, by providing thoughtful analysis of Equiano's narrative; it helps to illuminate how the he saw himself in a time and place where identity (and nationality) were instable. What is important is that Equiano saw himself as African, whether or not he was actually born in Africa. This distinction is important to getting the most out of this book.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By John C. Inscoe on May 5, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Carretta has provided a startling, yet convincing new perspective on one of the most influential of all slave narratives and the man who created it; he's also created a rich social history of the Atlantic world of the 18th century and the multiple roles Equiano played within that world. Carretta's detective work uncovers much new information and challenged long-held assumptions about a man we thought we knew so well. This is masterful scholarship and a terrific read.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Ann Cameron on May 17, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This is indeed an excellent, full and fascinating biography with much new information about Equiano. I regret having given it only a single star previously because of what I see as its one error of judgment, in questioning Equiano's claim to an African birth and childhood. I do think that the authenticity of Equiano's autobiography is what makes it and his life of interest to a general public. It would be a pity for readers to pass up such a vital 18th century classic on the assumption that it's fraudulent.
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