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The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution Paperback – October 23, 1989

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The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution + Discourse on Colonialism + The Wretched of the Earth
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 2 edition (October 23, 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679724672
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679724674
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #46,059 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In 1789 the French colony of Saint Domingue was the most profitable real estate in the world. These profits came at a price: while its sugar plantations supplied two-thirds of France's overseas trade, they also stimulated the greatest individual market for the slave trade. The slaves were brutally treated and died in great numbers, prompting a never-ending influx of new slaves.

The French Revolution sent waves all the way across the Atlantic, dividing the colony's white population in 1791. The elites remained royalist, while the bourgeoisie embraced the revolutionary ideals. The slaves seized the moment and in the confusion rebelled en masse against their owners. The Haitian Slave Revolt had begun. When it ended in 1803, Saint Domingue had become Haiti, the first independent nation in the Caribbean.

C.L.R. James tells the story of the revolt and the events leading up to it in his masterpiece, The Black Jacobins. James's personal beliefs infuse his narrative: in his preface to a 1962 edition of the book, he asserts that , when written in 1938, it was "intended to stimulate the coming emancipation of Africa." James writes passionately about the horrific lives of the slaves and of the man who rose up and led them--a semiliterate slave named François-Dominique Toussaint L'Ouverture. As James notes, however, "Toussaint did not make the revolution. It was the revolution that made Toussaint."

With its appendix, "From Toussaint L'Ouverture to Fidel Castro," The Black Jacobins provides an excellent window into the Haitian Revolution and the worldwide repercussions it caused. --Sunny Delaney


"Brilliantly conceived and executed...The absorbing narrative never departs from its rigid faithfulness to method and documentation."

-- Books

"Mr. James is not afraid to touch his pen with the flame of ardent personal feeling -- a sense of justice, love of freedom, admiration for heroism, hatred for tyranny -- and his detailed, richly documented and dramatically written book holds a deep and lasting interest."

-- The New York Times

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Customer Reviews

The book contains an excellent bibliography for reference.
Highly recommended, for anyone interested in Haitian history, as well as just good solid well-written non-fiction books.
C.L.R. James was a black historian who emphasized his work on Afro-nationalism.
Zachary Rose

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

75 of 79 people found the following review helpful By inko@blackplanet.com on July 30, 2000
Format: Paperback
James delivers an exquisitely descriptive account of the only slave revolt that ultimately lead to the founding of a black republic in the heart of the Caribbean. This well written book reads like prose making it an easy read. James does an excellent job of letting the reader know who the players in San Domingo were before and during the revolution including - the big whites (planters); small whites (artisans and professionals); mulattoes and blacks. The psychological make up and desires of each class is fully explained so that the reader instantly understands why alliances between the groups were formed and dissolved over time and their effect on colonial government. The character of Toussaint L'Ouverture, the black general who led the slave revolt and administered the colonial government, is discussed throughout the book and insights into his thinking and perspective are gained through his written correspondence and his governmental orders. This allows the reader to gain an in-depth understanding of L'Ouverture as a 3 dimensional persona. The book contains an excellent bibliography for reference. Black Jacobins however is not without some minor flaws. First, although James gives a good account of the desires of various sectors of French society, he fails to give as rich an account of the motivations and perspectives of the French statesmen operating in France. Second, James discussion of Dessaline, L'Ouverture's general who persecuted the revolt to its end, is not dealt with in the same depth as the other major personas. Other writers have undoubtedly covered Dessaline but it would have been nice to gain James' perspective. Critics of James have gone as far as to suggest that he subverts racial dynamics for class dynamics.Read more ›
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Justice on April 20, 2005
Format: Paperback
Remarkably for a book written in 1938, this amazing volume is as compelling today as it was then. Extremely well-written, passionate, and erudite, C.L.R. James's classic is still the starting point I would recommend for anyone interested in Haitian history. I would also recommend it to anyone who wants to know more about the French Revolution. The narrative reads like a great novel, despite being a well-researched history book. Years before mainstream U.S. or European historians saw Carribbean history as relevant, the West Indian James showed its import for both Western and Global History.

First, James shows the utterly heartbreaking treatment the slaves of Saint-Domingue (now Haiti) were subject to. Then he demonstrates the contradictions in Western Revolutionary thought which used emancipatory language but refused to address the issue of colonial slavery. Then the leaders of the slave revolution emerge in his story as true sans-culottes, Jacobins and patriots in their own right; men and women who refuse to let Napoleon reenslave them and forge a nation. Their act of "rebellion", the creation of the first black republic in the Americas and the only successful slave revolt in history, would strike fear into the hearts of slaveowners everywhere. They would pay for taking the heady egalitarian language of the 18th century seriously-in both the 19th century and the 20th and beyond, they would be subject to pay enormous indemnities to Europe for having "taken" the plantations of the whites, be subject to embargos, be forcibly invaded on several occasions, have dictators foisted upon them, and much more.

But none of that could take away the fact that their courage, bravery, and love of freedom had earned them their freedom from slavery and that their history deserved to be recorded, admired, and preserved. No one has ever done that more skillfully than C.L.R. James.

A truly triumphant story.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Troubadour on August 18, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I enjoy reading history books, and it is always good to pick one up and read about the events that shaped mankind's developement.

But every once in a long while, one comes across a history book that is so well written and engagin, that it becomes far more than just a book recounting past events, far more than just a book one learns from, and instead becomes an experience, a book to enjoy! This is such a rare book.

I purchased it simply to have soemthing to teach me about Toussaint L'Ouverture and Haitian Independence, and instead got a book I could hardly put down.

Besides the excellent writing, what makes this book especially wonderful and memorable to read, is that James doesn't just discuss the Haitian Revolt, but goes into details about the French Revolution, and its inner complexity and contradictions. He also touches often upon the more psychological dimensions of the struggle.

Now, as others have pointed out, James' Marxism does tint his writing, but never to a degree as to give the impression that one is reading a dishonest or heavily biased account of events.

One minor, or perhaps not so minor, limitation of the book is that it does not treat the successful post-L'Ouverture Haitian fight and independence with the same detail as the previous times. I suppose for that one needs to take a look at other books, but nevertheless aside form the final events, all the history is right here covered brilliantly and with great insight.

Highly recommended, for anyone interested in Haitian history, as well as just good solid well-written non-fiction books.
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