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39 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Still a moving testimony
I often believe it is easy to criticize nineteenth century Americans for not stepping up to the plate regarding the issue of slavery and race in America. Jefferson may well have agonized over the issue he called the "death knell of the nation" and which he labeled a "neccessary evil." Certainly he benefitted by the ownership of nearly 300 slaves, but he grew up in a...
Published on March 5, 2002 by Adirondack Views

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not terribly readable
Do yourself a favor and pick up a different edition of this classic work. This one is inexpensive, sure, but not very reader-friendly. The print is small and crammed, and the paper is akin to newsprint. It does not invite you to read it, which is unfortunate: too few people are reading classics these days as it is.
Published on December 8, 2012 by R. Betti


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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This should be required reading for every student, August 20, 2005
By 
C. B Collins Jr. (Atlanta, GA United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
As you read Frederick Douglass' "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave" it is almost impossible to ignore that this man was not only brilliant but also had a warm wise heart.

Some have said that this book is the most influential African-American book and I would have to agree that it surely is one of the top. There are many strengths to the book and I will mention a few:

First, this is a first hand account of the practice of slavery from the perspective of the slave. Slavery was defended as a humane practice by the wealthy Southern upperclass and it takes first hand testimony, such as this book, to reveal the evils of slavery. Slavery was defended on the grounds that Negroes were intellectually inferior to Whites. The crisp beautiful writing of Douglass immediately calls this concept into question. Thus this book is testimony to the intellectual power of the writer and calls into question racist concepts around intellectual inferiority. Douglass identifies the incredible hypocracy of White Christians who worshiped God on Sunday and beat their slaves when they came home. Slaves were malnourished while White slave owners said grace over their fine tables of meat and vegetables. Many Whites claimed the Bible supported slavery by quoting the scripture: "He that knoweth his master's will, and doeth it not, shall be beaten with many stripes." (Luke 12:47) Douglass found that religious slaveholders were the most cruel. Slavery was sometimes defended as humane with the weak argument that since slaves were property that the slave owners would not hurt them and thus damage their property. How many of us have seen a young person destroy a car through wreckless disregard? The truth is that we don't really take care of our property and power over another person creates the potential for cruelty. Slaveholders were not held responsible for murdering or mutilating their slaves. In our current day and age this seems unbelievable but 140 years ago it was true. Because of his intelligence and determination, the young 16 year old Douglass was sent to a "slave breaker". These were lower class White farmers who were willing to manage an unruly slave for a period of time and then return them to the upperclass White plantation owner after they had been beaten and suppressed into submission. These sadistic poor White farmers could never afford a slave unless they obtained one on a temporary basis for purposes of "breaking" the spirit of the slave. This sadistic treatment did not break Douglass but strengthened his resolve and determination. The use of slave-breakers or sell of unruly slaves was common practice. Douglass reports that when asked slaves must report their masters as "kind" so to avoid beatings, sale to a slave-breaker, or loss and breakup of their slave family.

Second, Douglass's sharp mind recognized the structural supports for slavery and the potential structural supports to change the inferior position of Negroes. He realized that priviledge and opportuntity were paramount to development for the Negro community.Throughout this review I will use the term "Negro" as compared to "African American" in an effort to keep this review consistent with the sense of time, place, and actual narrative of Douglass's book. Douglass does not use the more contemporary term "African American" in his text. Douglass recognized that it was in the best interests of the slave-owner to keep the slaves ignorant. He points out that slaves did not even know thier own age. Further, Douglass recognized that by not honoring family relationships for Negroes, weakened their social structure and allowed adolescent slaves to be traded or given away, never to be seen again by their parents. His pain is evident when he tells of his grandmother who saw many children and grandchildren sold with no information on where they were going or any information about whether the lived or died. Douglass relates that when slaves were too old to do any work, even take care of children or shell peas, they were taken to small huts in the woods and left alone. Thus they died by neglect at no additional expense to the slave owners.

Third, Douglass's insight into slavery is comprehensive to the entire human race. He not only sees salvery as an evil practice against the Negroes but his wide intellect also determines that slavery is detrimental to the White race in that by debasing other humans, the Whites are also debased. By attribution of false inferiority to Negroes and false superiority to Whites, a clear and realistic vision of humanity is not obtained by either race. Douglass saw that the one who victimizes others is also a victim of an evil social system that destroys the souls of both the slaves and the masters. Ending slavery frees Whites from the oppressive role of master. This is an intellectual breakthrough of great magnitude. Douglass recognized that Negroes and Whites had much to gain by dialogue and relationship as equals and that freedom for slaves also meant freedom for masters.

Fourth, Douglass addresses the incredible situation of slave children whose fathers are the masters of the plantations. The solution for this issue was that the children of female slaves were born slaves. Douglass found that the mixed race children were treated more harshly by White women, who saw Negroe women and their children as potential threats and current affronts.

Fifth, Douglass also gives an account of the day to day life on the plantation where constant labor was required all day long with no medicine and rags for clothes. Douglass confronts those who think slave songs and singing are testimony to the benevolence of slavery. Rather, he sees the sad songs of the slaves as a spiritual release from the torments of the body and soul under this unfair institution. Slaves were fed cooked ground corn meal which was called 'mush' and he relates that since slaves often did not have spoons, they would eat with their hands or pieces of tree bark.

Sixth, Douglass carefully tells the tale of his movement from slavery to freedom. This starts with the internal determination not to live your life as a slave. The first door was opened by his White mistress who indulged his quick mind by teaching him to read, an illegal act at the time.

This powerful book is relatively short, perfect for high school students. In my opinion, it should be read by every high school senior, whether White or Black.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not Just a African, but an American Hero!, October 9, 2005
By 
Richard J. Godbolt (Willingboro,Place of Rebirth) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave, Written by Himself (Bedford Cultural Editions Series) (Paperback)
Frederick Douglass is the complete ressurection of the saying, "Knowledge is Power." With the more information he aquired as a slave the more he lusted for freedom. He also provides an excellent example of what black people in this country could do for themselves, interms of their economical status. Looking further, Douglass loved to think and imagine the endless possiblities, while he was still in bondage physically. When he began to read and understand the "Hypocrasy" that this country was based on, using christianity as it main tool, and what every human should be allowed by right, this released his psychological enslavement. If blacks throughout this country could read and understand there were blacks that went through worse situatians and overcame them, and the current situation that destroy the black communities were created for them to fail, just like slavery, many would wake up and take on the mask of Douglass. The mask that says, "regardless of class, race, or creed, this world was created for everyone to enjoy including me."
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A dramtic look into total darkness, February 8, 2005
When it comes to understanding what the slaves went through and the world from thier perspective, this book is totally enlightening. This is the voice of the slaves that went unheard. It is written in a manner easy to read and simple. Yet, the actual content is hard to read and not simple. It is a drak journey through the life of a slave who found freedom and lived to write about it. Despite the arguments concerning who wrote this book and about the possible censorship of it, it is still a worthy depiction and story to read.

It is hard to read this text without feeling angry and dissappointed at white people (I am one), angry at Christians (I am one), and sad for history. This text is an emotional rollercoaster. You gain apprecaition for men like Douglass and despair for human ignorance.

No matter what, this is a book that my own children shall be forced to read before they graduate from high school. After reading this book, and Victor Frankl's book, most normal people ought to interact in this world far different from the monster antagonists presented in each of the texts. As for me, I learned a lot and shall never recover.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic "narrative", April 24, 2000
This is one of the most lucid, absorbing autobiographies I've read; that it has much to say about American history, specifically the institution of slavery, only adds to its luster. It is remarkable that someone born into slavery could learn to write as well as virtually any "man of letters" in his era. Despite Douglass' unhappy lot (or maybe because of it), he managed to acquire a great deal of insight into the people, white and black, around him. Douglass convincingly depicts how the institution of slavery damages both oppressed and oppressor--it dehumanizes the former and brings out the cruelest qualities of the latter. (A hundred years later, Martin Luther King would say much the same about the practice of segregration.) There is much anger in the Narrative--but also a wise and noble spirit. Compulsively readable, this book is still very much "relevant" today, and I can hardly imagine a time in which people will no longer wish to read it.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Forecasting King Leopold's Ghost, October 27, 2008
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One of the fifth grade teachers at Braeburn Elementary in Houston once told us that "Slaveowners had to treat their slaves well in order to get them to work. Just like a horse. If you are cruel to a horse it won't do what you want."

This type of happy apologia for slavery was still alive and openly espoused in the Houston Independent School District in the 1970's, and done in front of white, black, Hispanic, and Asian children. Perhaps Mrs. Allen would have benefited from reading Frederick Douglass's autobiography. Perhaps not.

Frederick Douglass's story proves the axiom that for every life ennobled by adversity and poverty, ten thousand others are ground up in misery and waste. Douglass achieved fame, literary recognition, and assumed the role as public conscience of America during its slaveholding epoch. Douglass famously reproached the president when he believed Lincoln had backed away from his commitment to end slavery, and boldly praised the 16th President when he issued the Emancipation Proclamation.

Douglass's uncompromising hatred of slavery and his tireless efforts to lay bare its horrors make this book a bitter testimonial to the evils of human bondage as it was practiced in the South and condoned by the U.S. Constitution. Anyone alive today who doubts that he is an heir to the sins of slavery need only read this book.

Douglass's autobiography takes particular care to describe the physical maiming that sadistic southerners inflicted on African Americans. The beatings, the hideous torture, the murder, and the rapine practiced by slaveholders are all held up in this book for readers to quail at and digest, if they can.

If there is any lesson beyond the Lincolnesque conclusion "If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong," Douglass's monumental work testifies to the boundless capacity for torture practiced by whites of European descent towards Africans. Immediately after reading this book I read King Leopold's Ghost by Adam Hochschild, and was amazed at the continuity between Douglass's description of slavery and Hochschild's description of slaughter, oppression, and murder in the Belgian Congo.

These two books should definitely be read in tandem; each acts as a historic bookend of sorts to the gruesome racial predations of their respective generations, footnoted with the few and feeble efforts of those who opposed acts that can only be described as the most depraved and unforgivable crimes against humanity.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars must read, best on the psychology of slavery, particularly on owners, January 18, 2007
By 
Robert J. Crawford (Balmette Talloires, France) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This is an absolutely amazing narrative, of the growth of an individual from the most brutish of slave lives to a free man who took pride in his work and his mind, which he then bent to political action. While told as a story, this book is actually an essay on personal struggle and development: to respect himself, to change his circumstances, to be re-born. At that, it is extremely powerful and moving. The reader empathizes completely with his rage, his awakening, and his striving to grow. He came to the point where he would rather fight back than die slowly, never to be dominated in his spirit.

But it also points to the effect of slavery on their owners. While there are the standard cruel and selfish ones, who are attempting to "break" his spirit in order to domesticate him, the story of how it twists the souls of essentially good people that is the most interesting and shocking. It is like a sickness, their total and unresponsible power, that extingusihes their empathy and replaces it with the most horrible selfishness, as they debase themselves with cruelty. You get the whippings and routine humilations, but also what that does to the perpetrators. This means that the book never descends into stereotypes, but reads as an extremely fresh story by a thoughtful, indeed brilliant, man.

THere are also many interesting asides, which are often philosophical. He points out the hypocrisy of southern christians, who make the worst and most cruel and self-righteous slavers, all while justifying their behavior by the bible. He also recounts how he expected that the "refinement" of the southern gentleman and their leisure would be impsooble in the North, which he pictured as poor as the non-slave holding population in the South - but he discovers an entirely different kind of economic life, in which men worked and prospered and deveoped themselves even more than what he had observed on plantations. But the most important thing is his recounting of his inner journey, which was encouraged by his learning to read as a way to overcome the ignorence that made for "contented slaves."

There is so much food for thought on the human spirit as well as wonder at how the US has evolved. Highest recommendation. If you like this, you should also read Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, by Harriat A. Jacobs.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Breaking the bonds of slavery, July 13, 2006
By 
fra7299 "fra7299" (California, United States) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This nonfiction revels in importance simply because of its magnitude in not only the fight against slavery in the latter part of the 1800s (and the subsequent abolition), but also because of its brutal honesty for an individual who should be considered an ancestor of civil rights. Fredrick Douglass narrates in detail many of the terrors, horrors, and injustices that he and those around him had to endure during his years as a slave in Maryland. He describes the beatings, whippings, tortures and even deaths that he was close to and had no power to stop. He makes the point that slaveholders gained control over slaves by dehumanizing them, making them ignorant against their own accord, and ultimately having control over them. Frederick does everything in his power to negate this dehumanization, and begins to learn to read and write, but with more knowledge gained he has a stronger sense of loathing those who enslave him: "The more I read, the more I was led to abhor and detest my enslavers. I could regard them in no better light than a band of successful robbers who had left their homes, and gone to Africa, and stolen us from our homes..."

He should be considered a hero for standing up to hardships with little or no support on his side, and finding strength to get past these when he had seemingly had his spirit broken. One important moment is the incident with Edward Covey, the notorious "slave breaker", when rather than giving in, Frederick gets into a rather lengthy physical fight. From this time onward, Frederick is resolved to never let others get the best of him, try to force him to do anything against his will, without a fight. Later he resolves that when the right time comes, he will try to run from slavery and escape. When he is able to land in New York, a kind-hearted man, David Ruggles, comes to his aid and helps him get work.

Historically, this is an important story for Americans to know. Douglass' account is a short narrative (a little over one hundred pages), and reads rather quickly, but in that short time he is able to illustrate just how degrading the issue of slavery had become. His autobiography shows the importance of change, the lows with which others sometimes subject each other to, and the essence of taking up a fight against injustices.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lessons in Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, December 11, 2005
Frederick Douglass's autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass has many lessons to teach the American public. The first we find in the portrayal of Douglass himself as the narrator and as the protagonist in the story. As the narrator Douglass seems sensible and balanced while as the protagonist of his story he often acts on emotion or gets caught up in a situation without seeing all sides of it. This is a perfect example of the hindsight that many people often experience. If the idea of this phenomenon was more widely understood and excepted, people may learn to take a step back, in turn avoiding a lot of obstacles in their lives. Douglass uses his narrative to poke fun at his retrospection, often exaggerating the naivete of his younger self. The second lesson is the ability to play devils advocate for yourself without having to agree with the opposing side. Throughout the narrative, as Douglass ages, we see him learn to accept both sides of his enslavement. While he doesn't agree with slavery, the rationality that he exhibits as the narrator of his story allows him to separate the people who are slaveholders from the foundation of slavery that grips them. If everyone could stop and take a moment to consider the factors that cause their opposition to make the decisions that they do, more peace in our society would be experienced. The final and most important lesson being that the true key to freedom is education. Douglass describes his first learning to read as a deterrent from future freedom, being that at that time all his reading was doing was educating him on the condition of enslavement. He learns however, over time, that his ability to read and understand provide him with the tools he needs to escape captivity and later with the knowledge and skill to address the nation. It is through this education that people can develop the ability to sympathize and live with one another regardless of race, gender, generation or any other dividing characteristic. Douglass's narrative sets an example for all that America should be; a nation of peace, understanding and the attempt, through education, for a total freedom.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Literature that will manage to affect a deeper part of you, January 16, 2002
By 
"error101" (Philadelphia, PA United States) - See all my reviews
As soon as I began reading this book, I knew it would have an effect on me. I found it captivating and disturbing from the beginning, allowing me a direct insight on slavery. By the second chapter, I became emotionally engulfed in the novel, feeling pain, frustration and anger as I read on. <i>Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass</i> really fills in the gaps in African American education. Where statistics were once offered, this first hand account is much more believable, personalized, and very heartfelt.
There are many valuable lessons to be learned from this book. The power of education and Douglass's determination to rise from being a slave made me very appreciative of what today's world offers, education wise and otherwise. After reading it, I felt a real need to grasp life and take every oppurtunity that comes along, really utilizing everything that I have been given. It also serves as a reminder of the horrific effects of discrimination, and the hideous nature of racism.
It is also written very eloquently, so much so that if it were not for the subject matter, it would be easy to forget that this book was written by a man who had spent much of his life as a slave, deprived of an education.
Overall an excellent book that provokes a very powerful emotional response. I reccomend it for anyone to read.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must Read for all Americans, December 18, 2010
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This review is from: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave, Written by Himself (Bedford Cultural Editions Series) (Paperback)
I have been a huge admirer of Frederick Douglass for years. He was so obviously a genius of rare ability as shown by his writing and speeches. He was a huge influence on Abraham Lincoln who had never known any Blacks on a personal level but became an admirer of Douglass as he could relate to a man from poverty that used self-study and hard work (both mentally and physically) to elevate his station in life. He was even more impressed as he came to understand how much he had in common with Douglass but Douglass had to overcome being a slave and the rampant prejudice against blacks in the U.S.; even among abolitionists in the North. Reading his descriptions of his life, his thoughts and feelings and thinking upon his experiences draws the reader closer to understanding the travesty and inhumanity of slavery than any other text I have read. The editor has included additional material that illuminates the text of Douglass' narrative and enhances the readers comprehension of the nuances of meaning in Douglass' prose. The reasonable price and the excellent compilation make this a "must have" book for every American household. After reading this no one should be able to believe the myths of the "happy plantation" and the "benevolence of white masters" in caring for negro slaves any longer.
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