Customer Reviews: American Uprising: The Untold Story of America's Largest Slave Revolt
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on January 7, 2011
Why bother reading about a slave revolt from 200 years ago? I grew up with the fable that American expansionism (i.e. Manifest Destiny) was motivated by a god-given duty to spread our nonviolent democratic institutions from sea to shining sea. Daniel Rasmussen's book makes a convincing connection between American expansionism and preserving the "Southern way of life," otherwise known as slavery-based agriculture. Rasmussen details the atrocities a priviliged class will go through to keep a lower class under control to their benefit. The New Orleans planters put down the rebellion violently, and they wrote the rebels into history as petty criminals for centuries. Meanwhile, violence was a necessary recourse for slaves whose freedom was supressed by violence, though the vision of the 1811 rebels was not fully realized until blacks' role in the Union's Civil War effort. These themes touched on by Rasmussen are eternally relevant.

Rasmussen pieces together a rich tale of the rebellion's mechanics despite sparse historical sources. We learn of the challenges faced by American diplomats trying to bring French aristocrats and Spanish Florida into the Union, and how a blind eye was turned to the potential for revolt. We learn about the cultural diversity of the slaves, including the origins of African military tactics that proved successful against American forces. We understand how the successful slave rebellion of Haiti influenced both the slaves and planters. We discover the heroic leader Charles Deslondes, a half-white who rebelled despite rising high within the hierarchy of slaves. His story reminds me of Andy Dufresne from The Shawshank Redemption.

The book's only weak paragraph comes when Rasmussen speculates why Deslondes rebelled despite his privilige. He hypothesizes about his mother's rape, his lovers' rape, slavedriver guilt, and jealousy. But he leaves out the simplest explanation: how agonizing is it to be so close to freedom yet not really free? There's no need for any further motive. Deslondes organized the rebellion because he could.

Harvard professor John Stauffer, in the Jan. 6 WSJ, has mischaracterized his student here as overreaching to make the 1811 Rebellion central to American history. Stauffer is correct in that American history wouldn't be much different had this rebellion never occurred. However, Rasmussen convincingly argues that the challenge of subjugating such powerful slaves was central to American history. His retelling of the 1811 rebellion is vivid evidence of what atrocities planters had to undertake to achieve this end.
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on January 9, 2011
I read this book with no real knowledge of American history, and read it in a single sitting. Rasmussen's writing is fluid, and in his hands the landscape has come alive - the sights and sounds of the rebellion, the stunning contradictions of life along the German Coast, and the energetic and secretive networks of communication among slaves. The book is wonderfully confident, but without sacrificing any nuance in a comprehensive and insightful account.

If Rasmussen has unearthed a fascinating and rich history, he has also reemphasized contemporary responses and strategies that suppressed this important rebellion. His brilliant investigation into primary sources is matched by his striking analysis of the trends and characters that conspired to smooth over violent unrest, and to gloss indigenous narrative and progress. This is an important contribution not only in writing the events of American history, but also as a fascinating reflection of its wider historical process, political context and repercussions, and the meaning of its often violent symbols.

Rasmussen is an immensely gifted and promising writer, and his layered approach means that this book can engage absolutely any audience - from the academic to the casual reader to the high school or college student keen to tackle new and exciting material. He's a name to watch, and I'll be jotting it down to snap up his next work right away.
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on January 5, 2011
I tore right through this book, and highly recommend reading it! It has the narrative flair of Nathaniel Philbrick's "in the Heart of the Sea," and it is as psychologically insightful as William Styron's "Confessions of Nat Turner." It was also impressively well-researched, so I would recommend it both for an avid historian as well as a casual reader just looking for a lively and entertaining read.

Regarding the storyline, the main thing that struck me about this book was the heroism of the slaves. It's a pretty incredible story, both in terms of their outright bravery and the high level of organization with which the revolt was conducted. Rasmussen also does a great job of bringing the story and the characters to life - my favorite character was definitely one of the revolt leaders, Charles Deslondes. As a Louisianan Creole slave driver with a slave mother and a plantation-owner father, he was able to build the trust of his master, and then use that trust to orchestrate the revolt. Fascinating! I also enjoyed learning more about the social fabric of New Orleans in 1811. Rasmussen exposes the underlying societal tensions and contradictions of the times, and it really made me stop and think about my own paradigms, and what it means to be American.

Overall - 5 stars for sure. And I really hope they make a movie of it! It would be something along the lines of a combination of Amistad and Braveheart... and it would be awesome.
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on January 23, 2016
I grew up in Louisiana steps from where this 1811 event occurred but we were never taught about it in school nor was it mentioned anywhere. Imagine my surprise to stumble upon it while researching genealogy and the history of slavery in America. Then I find out from a friend that she learned about it in school in the Netherlands at the same time I wasn't learning about it in Louisiana. Wow.

The omission of this important historical event from Louisiana and American history textbooks and classes is completely shocking to me. I'm glad this book is attempting to right that wrong.

American Uprising was an interesting and fast read. It's well-written and researched and grabs your attention immediately by talking about the people central to this story, the slaves and slave owners, their motivations and actions. The author also explains the political history at the time which helps set the stage for the story.

My only criticism is the Epilogue where the author equates violent protests with non-violent ones in the struggle for equality and justice. Both are relevant but the 1811 slave revolt and its brutal suppression didn't hasten the end of slavery in the South. However, it explains why the rebellion happened and why an economic system that relied on the slave labor of so many human beings for the benefit of only a few was so inhumane and shouldn't have lasted as long as it did in this country.
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on October 14, 2013
I LOVE this book! it talks about the little known story of the 1811 New Orleans slave revolt. it should be known that African warfare in the 1780s and 1790s resulted in many slaves being sold to Europeans by OTHER enemy Africans. the book also talks about the Haitian Revolution which struck fear into the hearts of whites. the slave revolt was led by African leaders Quamana and harry. the slaves rebelled in January 1811 and formed a army that marched on the way intent on destroying the city of New Orleans. the whites and French attacked the slaves and killed around 45. only two whites died in the whole rebellion, although it was one of the largest in America. dozens of blacks were massacred in revenge and fear by whites after the rebellion. the severed heads were impaled on spikes. this book is a easy and fascinating read which I order all those interested in slavery in the US to read!
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on February 9, 2014
When I first read a proof copy a few years ago, I dismissed this as a turgid presentation by a naïve young person eager to write a "politically correct" thesis on an obscure chapter of American history. But on reflection and review, I see that it is a lot more, especially in the second half. Rasmussen focuses upon the fear and horror that Americans felt about the San Domingo atrocities, and how this influenced national politics through the Civil War. Rasmussen's Gulf South of the early 1800s is recognizably the same place as the Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama of the 1850s and 1860s.
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on May 3, 2016
I am impressed that this was created by such a young historian. His privileges (of attending Harvard and likely growing up rich) do not diminish the achievement of this book. He takes a forgotten story and makes us wonder, how did we ever let them make us forget? It is obvious why many people (politicians, Confederate apologists, Southern Christians) wanted us to forget. But it is shameful that the rest of us went along with it.
To feel empathy with rebellious slaves -- it is a feeling that is righteous and permanent. There is no going back. I thank the author for his contribution, it deserves a place alongside Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Confessions of Nat Turner, 12 Years a Slave, Clotel or the President’s Daughter, and The Good Lord Bird (another recent and excellent work).
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on March 21, 2016
This is a well written tale about the largest slave revolt in U.S. history. It has not gotten the attention that the revolts by Nat Turner and Denmark Vesey have, the author says, because the whites of New Orleans, Louisiana, where the revolt took place, made a conscious effort to squelch any memory of it. Thus, there is little information available. Indeed, the narration of the revolt itself is told in a very few pages. The author and editors have done all they could to stretch this essay-length narrative into book length. Still, the fine writing and obscurity of the event make for an entertaining read.
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on January 4, 2011
This book is my new favorite in my library collection focused on slavery in the United States. For years I have been a personal collector of both US Civil War and slavery paraphernalia. My father started the fifth battalion Civil War re-enactment troop of Brooklyn when I was a child, and I relished every Sunday when we would gather in the fields to pay homage to our nation's rich and contentious history. I have since read every book that I can get my hands on regarding the subject matter and consider myself an expert. As I have read up on our nation's dark past, I have come across several historian's claims concerning the "largest" slave revolt, notably several references to Turner's 1831 rebellion involving a number cited between 75-100 people. However, I think it is safe to say that Rasmussen has definitively ended the debate on the matter, with his account of the massive revolt (read: near 500 slaves) surely representing the largest in our nation's history. Not only that, but he presents the account in such a riveting and eloquent way that it is sure to keep you interested cover-to-cover.

A must buy.
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on July 17, 2013
Rasmussen’s gives a graphic detailed description of the events, times and insightful gestures of a history that has been left untold for ages. His book is in eye opening a award winning best seller, tale of history so unlooked upon, that it sheds light into the darkest minds of African descents all across the global. I recommend that this book become an addition to learning curriculum everywhere, especially with our kids, and the rights to know their past history. I can say, I Truly enjoyed this book, for it took me through so many emotions, disbelief and horror. But mainly I feel as if it has sparked an awaking of my very mind and senses.
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