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75 of 79 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Richly informative account of the Haitian revolution
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...
Published on July 30, 2000 by inko@blackplanet.com

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3 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars History is never dry.
I bought The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution, by C.L.R. James, for my son to read in a history course he's taking. One night I was stuck for something to read in bed and, strangely enough, I really got into it. I wonder how many people know that, roughly contemporaneous with the French Revolution, there was also a revolution in...
Published 17 months ago by Constant Reader


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75 of 79 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Richly informative account of the Haitian revolution, July 30, 2000
By 
inko@blackplanet.com (New York, New York USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution (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. Two points on this issue refute this notion. First, James provides ample information on the role of race in shaping the motivations of the major partisan groups. Indeed, the reader gains a real appreciation for the prominent role mulattoes played in the revolution and how their attitudes on race and liberty helped shape the alliances they made. Second, writing as a son of Haitian immigrants, I can attest to the fact that Haitians don't perceive race prejudice in Haiti the same way blacks to in the United States. This is not surprising considering that blacks constitute not only the social but also a political majority in Haiti. Rather Haitian society is more sensitive to distinctions in color, education and background. Since color distinctions was the only factor relevant during the revolution, James only deals with that particular distinction and he does so in a balanced manner. Finally, the prospective purchaser of Black Jacobins should be aware that James espouses a Marxist worldview. However, his ideology is not so pervasive as to render the book unpalatable to non-subscribers of Marxism. James provides ample independent references for his historical accounts and the critical reader will find that the conclusions he draws are credible. I would recommend this book.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best History Book Ever Written, April 20, 2005
This review is from: The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution (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
5.0 out of 5 stars A Masterpiece of Historic Writing, August 18, 2006
By 
Troubadour (Los Angeles, U.S.A.) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution (Paperback)
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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38 of 49 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Informative, but slanted, January 6, 2000
This review is from: The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution (Paperback)
The Black Jacobins is an informative and compelling story of the Haitian Revolution. While Mr. James takes the reader through the many events that made up the revolution his obvious Marxist perspective and desire to promote a class theory of the revolution is a major limitation. For instance, in order to put forth a Marxist class theory for the revolution Mr. James is forced to underplay other more important factors -such as race.
All in all this book is a positive read for anyone who is intersted in a part of history that is too little known. The life and times of Toussiant L'Ouverture and the Haitian Revolution is a must read for anyone who wants to understand the current state of affairs in Haiti as well as a very dark side of French, British and American relations with the country. Given the barbaric conditions the slaves were subjected to and devestation that was visited on the country in order to defeat the invading French troops it is easier to understand the present state of affairs in Haiti.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Timeless Classic, April 22, 2000
By 
Mistah Kurtz (Washington, DC) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution (Paperback)
The Black Jacobins is a timeless classic in both the history and practice of liberation theory.I enjoyed the distinct pleasure of taking undergraduate work with CLR James in the early eighties. His undimmed passion and clarity shaped me deeply. He was quite arguably the greatest unabashed dialectical materialist of the Harlem Renaissance. I heartily recommend that you treat yourself to this,his signature creation.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An epic moment in the history of an enslaved people, November 17, 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution (Paperback)
Just what sort of a man was Toussaint L'ouverture? Was he a violent revolutionary or a Saint? Perhaps the answer lies somewhere between the two. In any event, he was to be the man who would inspire the Haitian Revolution; the only successful revolt of slaves against their colonial rulers. The book masterfully chronicles the history of San Domingo from 1789, to the establishment of an independent Haiti in 1803. It reveals the intrigue practiced by the differing racial groups and the often unlikely alliances they formed in order to gain or maintain power. How France came to lose this jewel in her colonial empire is clearly explained - a defeat brought about not exclusively by force of arms. The book is a must for any reader who desires to know how a man with vision and courage can inspire an unquenchable thirst for liberty in those without hope.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A story of determination, , courage, and freedom, May 25, 2014
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This review is from: The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution (Paperback)
A true comprehensive history of Haiti from early colonial days to the 20th Century- very well written, excellent Job by the writer. I would recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in learning about different civilizations, and scholars alike. It merits a 5 stars in my book.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Racial Revolutionary Politics at Their Best, May 23, 2010
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This review is from: The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution (Paperback)
C.L.R. James has presented a fascinating read. The detail with which he portrays the slave society of St Domingue before the French Revolution enables the reader to envision and almost become one with the scene in all of its horrific gore and misery, where not even the slave owners desired to remain. When it comes to the beginning of the revolts on the island in 1791, the author, although highly sympathetic to the black slaves, is fair in his evaluation of the leaders, supporting but not overly glorifying men like Christophe, Moïse, and Dessalines. Perhaps the most valuable and interesting parts of his coverage up until the late Directory period in France is his treatment of the Parisian sans-culottes and the Terror, the relation of French political developments to the revolts on the island, his arguments justifying revolutionary violence, and the honest evaluation of the abolitionist movements in both France and England, which tended to be for very gradual steps to eliminate slavery, and especially in the latter country tended to be more politically popular for economic rather than humanitarian reasons. But if slavery was found to be profitable, which is seemed to be solely in St. Domingue, then slavery could be accepted, which the author points out was the British policy when they attempted to invade the island during this period.

However, despite being very well written and engaging, the book had some set-backs that prohibit me from as enthusiastically embracing it. First of all, the sources cited are sparse and sometimes singular books are made to act as the basis of too large of sections. For instance, the first two chapters, describing the background of the lives of both the slaves and slave owners in society, rely almost singularly on Pierre de Vassière's Saint-Domingue, and throughout the entire book, his fall-back reference is Pamphile de Lacroix's Mémoires. Numerous quotes also lack any form of citation, as do a few rather large claims. On page 269 he writes, "Bonaparte hated black people;" however, his singular evidence is the antagonism between Napoleon and General Dumas, which the author ascribes to racial hatred. There a few problems with this: (1) Dumas also disliked Napoleon, (2) The author specifically described in his previous chapters the intricacies of racial views, and by claiming that Napoleon's opposition to this mulatto general transfers to the blacks would defy the author's own description, and (3) He provides absolutely no evidence as to why this dislike was based on race rather than on personality, especially since this feeling was mutual between the two. This is a weak defense for his needless slander of Napoleon, since by the end of that very same paragraph he writes, "Yet Bonaparte was no colonist, and his anti-Negro bias was far from influencing his major policies." (pg. 270) Another large claim is that Napoleon himself aimed at restoring slavery. There is zero evidence of this. The best evidence is the Decree of 20 May 1802, whereby in the colonies where slavery was not abolished in 1794 because they were controlled by the British, abolition would not be newly extended. As criminal as this was, it was a concession, not a desire, of Napoleon's, and did not re-establish slavery, but rather tolerated it's continued existence in certain areas. The next and really only other suggestive evidence was the actual re-establishment of slavery on Guadeloupe, but that was done locally by Gen. Richepanse, not by Napoleon, although he did nothing to contradict this decision. Consequently, the author's argument should have aimed to demonstrate that Gen. Leclerc had secretly desired the re-establishment of slavery on the island, not Napoleon.

In addition, the author's zealous defense of Toussaint L'Ouverture weakened the final chapters of the book on the French expedition of 1801 and the end of the Haitian Revolution. For one, he never addresses, either to defend or condemn, Toussaint's decision to instate forced labor when he was in command of the island, especially in light of a flimsy economy where although he promised shared profits, he could not do so for long. In effect, with his very restrictive and prohibitive dictatorship, one could argue that it was virtually slavery in all but word. The change was in the treatment of the workers, not in the involuntary state of labor, a distinction that was and is so often ignored or blurred. This is a surprising absence, especially since the author tries to be the empowering defender of the people, who in actuality would have been poorly off as such had not the French expedition ended his reign. In addition, the author fails to address the less pleasant details of Toussaint's 1801 Constitution, focusing solely on the written guarantee of the abolition of slavery, racial equality, and meritocracy, while failing to mention the loss of the revolutionary freedom of worship with the official creation of a solely Catholic state, the prohibition against divorce, the prohibition of any part of government except for the Governor [Toussaint] alone to correspond with the Metropole [France], the political empowerment of the military, and the exemption of the military from civil law. This "Black Jacobin" was a friend of equality and fraternity, but not liberty. Finally, he makes no attempt to demonstrate how Napoleon might have viewed the situation except as part of the bourgeoisie. Nothing was mentioned of Napoleon's significant personal belief in loyalty which was destroyed when he thought that not only did Toussaint want independence but was also felt to be personally betraying him, or even how any of the rough handling and dismissal of mainland French officials and representatives by Toussaint could be interpreted as rebellious behavior, instead solely insisting that slavery was the real motivation, not to any degree a French sense of being betrayed by treasonous colonists.

With these exceptions noted, I nevertheless regard this book as a great source for the topic, especially on the structure of St Domingue society, the influence of the developing French Revolution, and the Haitian Revolution from 1791 through until 1801. Although the book has an open bias, expected from a more famous Marxist author, it is generally well argued, and gives the reader new perspectives and outlooks to consider. The Black Jacobins is well worth the money, and deserves a place on the shelves of any student of French, colonial, or Caribbean history and race relations.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book, November 1, 2012
This is a great book, it will give you an insight of why Haití is on its current situation. Why it became from the most profitable colony in history, to the poorest country in our hemisphere. Still to this day people talk about the Slave Revolt in Haiti, this was more than that it was a real Revolution. These men and women didn't fight just because unfair taxation, they fought for their life and liberty. Haití was the second American Republic, yet this fact is little known. Monsieur L'Ouverture was a true republican, believed in the first French Republic even after Bonaparte's betrayal.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a classic, March 14, 2005
This review is from: The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution (Paperback)
though this book provides a mostly top-down analysis which attributes the st domingue revolution mostly to developments in france, it is still a classic. it's a perfect reference point - james employs his knowledge of the west indies to flesh out a brilliant tale. read it alongside carolyn fick's "the making of haiti" and you'll have a perfect perspective of what really went down. this book is part of the holy trinity of books regarding the haitian revolution. all proud haitian-americans should read this to understand the imperfect but perfect revolution.
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The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution
The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution by C. L. R. James (Paperback - October 23, 1989)
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