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Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom Hardcover – February, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Clinton has an extraordinary knack of compressing complex history into an informing brief paragraph or a single sentence, making this "first full-scale biography" of Tubman (18251913) a revelation. To the task of illuminating the "difficult to document" life of the woman known as "Moses," Clinton brings her deep immersion in Southern history, women's history and African-American history. Succinctly, she sets the stage upon which Tubman moves, offering just enough biographical detail to give less well-known figures vitality (Mary Shadd Cary gets more space than Frederick Douglass; Union general David Hunter more than William Lloyd Garrison) and just enough historical detail to render Tubman's milieu meaningful (unfamiliar Canadian history gets more space than the familiar Fugitive Slave Acts). Although she often posed as an old woman, Tubman was in her 20s when she began her rescues, and in her mid-30s as the Civil War broke out. Clinton is meticulous (without being annoying) in distinguishing the speculative from the known in Tubman's private life. Of far greater consequence is Clinton's revelation of Tubman's public (though usually clandestine) work. In distinguishing between "runaways" and "fugitives," between "conductors" and "abductors... those who ventured into the South to extract slaves" ("all of them white men" before Tubman), in detailing the extent to which she "never wavered in her support" of John Brown, in chronicling her role in the Combahee River raid, Clinton turns sobriquets into meaningful descriptors of a unique person. In her hands, a familiar legend acquires human dimension with no diminution of its majesty and power.
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From Bookmarks Magazine

At long last Harriet Tubman, the subject of school myth and lore, has a full-fledged biography. Critics agree that Clinton does a remarkable job researching the life of a woman who left few traces; not only was she born into slavery, but she was also illiterate, and the Underground Railroad left no written records. Despite these obstacles, Clinton delves into university archives to paint a detailed portrait of Tubman's life--from her marriage, militant politics, and role in the Underground Railroad to her activism in the northern free black community of Philadelphia. Her significant contribution lies in placing Tubman's life smartly within 19th-century Southern history. In short, this graceful biography elevates Tubman from a minor cultural icon to a significant figure in American history.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; 1 edition (February 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316144924
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316144926
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #262,537 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Harriet Klausner #1 HALL OF FAME on January 17, 2004
Format: Hardcover
THE ROAD TO FREEDOM is a superb account of the American "Black Moses", Harriet Tubman. The book actually opens with Ms. Tubman's last major public endeavor surprisingly (at least to this author) occurring in 1908 long after her famous role as an engineer of the Underground Railroad. The bio then shifts back to the early nineteenth century as Ms Tubman is born during ironically the "Era of Good Feeling" as a slave in Maryland. It follows her as she marries John Tubman, flees to Canada without him, joins John Brown, works as a Civil War nurse and spy, and of course the Underground Railroad.. Of interest is that Ms. Tubman not only advocated racial freedom, she championed women's suffrage.
Ms. Tubman's salad days lack insightful personal information due to her slave status and a 1850s fire. Therefore Ms. Clinton provides a general look at conditions for slaves in Eastern Shore, Maryland. This generalization enables the audience to infer how Harriet probably lived in her early years. Deeper insight is provided to her middle and later years this is a suburb account that biography readers will appreciate because it is well written, easy to follow, and loaded with plenty on interesting detail about a genuine American hero. Though the author too easily accepts the "legendary" Tubman as gospel, HARRIET TUBMAN: THE ROAD TO FREEDOM is an endearing educational and entertaining book that history buffs and biography aficionados will enjoy.
Harriet Klausner
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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful By AfroAmericanHeritage on February 10, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This book is highly readable, and Clinton navigates smoothly through what is at times complex material. But I'm giving it 4 rather than 5 stars because it does not take advantage of the most current research in the field and at times, recycles myths which have been debunked...for example, the myth that there was a $40,000 bounty on Tubman's head.
Still, it does update much of what we learned about Tubman in our children's books, so I can recommend it to general readers. But I feel academics will be better served by Kate Clifford Larson's HARRIET TUBMAN - BOUND FOR THE PROMISED LAND.
Curator, AfroAmericanHeritage dot com
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By James Hart on February 3, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Catherine Clinton has written a truly captivating and engaging biography of one of America's greatest heroes! Hooray! While I would love to add my review to the chorus, it seems that Publisher's Weekly, BookList, and Time Magazine--where I first read about the book have already given Clinton much praise for her stellar scholarship and meticulous evaluation of the sources. And while I certainly love a good debate, I must disagree with CreativeFolk; so the authors differ on a few points. I am just so happy that there is more to read! But instead of suggesting to you all another book on Harriet, I --like the author of the Time magazine article--see Clinton's book in a very fascinating dialogue with Jean Yellin's recently published biography of Harriet Jacobs. So, I recommend checking out both Harriet Tubman and Harriet Jacobs!
James Hart
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Jeremy Brett on February 20, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Catherine Clinton's biography of Harriet Tubman is a major addition to the American historical corpus. She has fully and magnificently brought to life for adults a woman who before now generally resided in children's books and half-remembered stories from elementary school. Harriet Tubman was an amazing woman and a pivotal figure in antebellum American history; Clinton has produced a biography worthy of its subject. It is eminently readable, well-researched, and deserves to stand alongside her other books, including her fascinating works on Fanny Kemble.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Basra on September 18, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I've been reading about Harriet Tubman since I first learned to read, and I can honestly say, this is the best I've read. Any fan of Harriet Tubman who want more details about her life as a slave, her roles as a spy and nurse during the Civil War, and her work after the war will find a lot of goodies here. The book also discusses some little known mysteries in H.T.'s life, especially her "niece" that she kidnapped. This is the only book you ever need to buy about H.T.'s life, period!
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A. Woodley on February 24, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Harriet Tubman is possibly one of the best known women outside of America, and it is ironic that she was born a slave and not considered important enough to even note her arrival except as property in Southern America of the 1820's, yet she rose to be one of the most important women of her time - or do I mean influential.

I digress through. I loved this biography. I thought Catherine Clinton did a fine job in making an enormously readable and well researched biography. I liked the simple spare text and Clinton's able explanations which allowed me to understand context with the minimum of fuss.

Harriet Tubman was a woman of whom it can be said there were many firsts. She was the first to black, and first woman, to be a conductor on the underground railway, the organisation which took slaves from the Southern plantations and guided them to safety in the North. Later she guided them all the way to Canada. Until Harriet Tubman came along all the conductors had been white men. Her stoic courage and her sheer hardwork under all circumstances are extraodinary.

So little remains on record of those days. The underground Railway was after all an illegal institution and the government of the day includded slave owners who at various times passed laws to make their work more difficult. So there is not a great deal of documentary evidence available. What is there Clinton has done a great job searching out.

We are lucky that Tubman did leave an autobiography as without that there would be slim reference to her in history.

What I most enjoyed about this book was that I had read some biographys of Harriet Tubman as a child, but this one allowed me, as an adult to understand so much more about her.
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