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12 Years a Slave
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on October 12, 2013
As slave stories go, this one is, in my view, without peer. Northup's s captivating tale -- which has gained attention because of the movie that shares the book's title -- is told in exacting detail with an easy prose. He sets the stage masterfully, describing people and places before proceeding into the narrative. Unlike works of fiction, this book is so compelling because, by all accounts, it is true. There is no polemical axe to grind, as with Uncle Tom (a novel at one point wryly referenced by Northup). Here you see both the brutality of slavery and the moments of kindness by slaves and even some slave owners. Solomon tells the story with clarity and intelligence.

The free versions on other sites I found were pretty poorly formatted, so spending a dollar for a polished version on Amazon is worthwhile, but this one is not the best of them. Granted, the book is formatted adequately, and any typographical errors in this version seem to be simple reproductions of the original.

However, the supporting material is a letdown. I read the version that includes the introduction by novelist Dolen Perkins-Valdez. That introduction is borderline insulting, as it makes only a weak attempt to separate accounts with fictional elements like Roots from an authentic account like this one. Worse still, Perkins-Valdez can't resist indulging in repeatedly referencing her own recently released slave novel, even going so far as to quote herself. There are almost no historical elements to this version beyond the main book -- no mention of Northup after the book, no mention of he writer who helped him pen the book, nothing. There is more information on the writer of the introduction than there is the author. One other oddity worth mentioning: the original book's preface -- the one done by the man who helped Northup write the book -- has been curiously excised from this version too. That makes this version something less than complete.

For those looking for a better version, you might consider Twelve Years a Slave - Enhanced Edition by Dr. Sue Eakin Based on a Lifetime Project. New Info, Images, Maps, which contains a robust amount of supporting material and, better still, is right now the same cost as this version.
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on October 17, 2013
Growing up in the North,I had always found it hard to imagine that slavery not only existed in this country,but flourished.Through the years,I have read many an autobiography or history book concerning slavery and thought I knew it all. And yet I was blind.
Until I read Solomon Northrup's "12 Years a Slave." Where has this book been? It is a masterpiece of history,of one man,one free man's life. A true picture of 'The Old South'.
Mr. Northrup was a free black man with a beautiful wife and two daughters living in Saratoga,NY. He was lured from his home by slave traders who specialized in the awful practice of kidnapping free black citizens and selling them into slavery. Torn from his home and family,Mr.Northrup endured the worst that can happen to a human being,and still live.
And yet,he remained fair and honest,never stooping to the level some of his white masters did.
I am not going to rewrite the book in this review because I recommend reading it for yourself. Slavery was and is a vile institution.
Solomon Northrup is my new inspiration.
This book will shock you. But you will be the better for having read it.
My highest of fives.
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Top Contributor: Coloringon February 22, 2016
What can I possibly say about this book that hasn’t already been said? I have not yet seen the movie, preferring to read a book first whenever it’s available. I received an email alert about a freebie promo and decided to grab it. Although at the regular cost of just .49 it’s a steal. Either way, I’m happy I downloaded it.

As most people know, this is the story of Solomon Northup, a free man of color, living in the North during slavery. Solomon is tricked, drugged and sold into slavery. His pleas of being wrongfully enslaved are met with a beating so severe that he keeps his true identity a secret from that point on. For the next twelve years, he’s sold to several ruthless, vicious and despicable slave owners. He’s beaten and mistreated mercilessly, yet he never gives up hope of finally proving who he really is.

This story is absolutely heartbreaking and difficult to read, yet it’s a story that must be told and should be read by everyone. Few could deny that slavery is among the most shameful acts perpetrated by one culture of people upon another. Reading a first-hand account of the atrocities of slavery details a much more compelling depiction than could ever be found in any history book.

Sadly, Solomon’s story isn’t unique, as there were many free people of color who had been sold into slavery by opportunists looking to make money at that time. Yet, his account of his twelve long and torturous years as a slave is a gripping and dramatic journey, as engaging as any novel. I highly recommended reading this book.
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on November 14, 2013
The simplicity of his reflections in this journal open a window to the culture of slavery and racism that is unique and memorable. He uses understated language which makes each event all the more vivid. His candor about the experience of bondage and what it does to a free man is remarkable. His insight into thoughts of slaveholders ring true. This book was written more than 150 years ago and is an easy read. Mr Northrup was an exceptional man. We are lucky to have his words today.
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on January 24, 2014
I ordered this book after seeing the movie by the same name. I was afraid it might be redundant, but it was not. The movie allowed the viewer to see the experience of Solomon Northrup's kidnapping and 12 year bondage as a slave in the 1850's. The book allowed the reader to hear Northrup's thoughts and feelings about those experiences. A freedman living a secure life in upstate NY, Northrup was torn away by slave traders. Forced to hide his ability to read and write from his captors, after his liberation, he ultimately uses those skills to share his experience of slavery with generations of Americans brought up blind to the reality that was foundational to our early history....and haunting us still. Northrup's narrative is a matter of fact, unsensationalized, and a far more charitable description than the horrific events would reasonably call for. Should be required reading in US schools.
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on February 6, 2014
This book is so interesting and informative. I found that I knew not nearly as much of that era of (slavery and emancipation) as I had assumed that I did. My husband had purchased the Kindle version of 12 Years a Slave but the one that I purchased had several other stories as well. Twelve Years A Slave is about Solomon Northrup, who was born as a free person, but was duped into going on tour with two charlatans and sold into slavery. (Don't want to spoil the story so will stop here.) Other stories included were: Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe; Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, by Frederick Douglas; Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, byHarriet Jacobs and also true; and Up From Slavery: An Autobiography by Booker T. Washington which was actually my favorite book. He was born into slavery and was a child when slavery ended. Booker T. Washington was a brilliant humanitarian who lived through a terrible time in the History of the United States of America and he definitely left a lasting legacy through his many kind deeds and the school system that he founded in Tuskeegee, Alabama.
This book was about the same cost as the single book "12 Years a Slave". This is a great read and if you buy the Kindle version look for the cover that has the lock an chain on the front page. It is the version this the extra books. Enjoy, learn and weep!
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This is a compelling narrative of a free, black citizen of New York being kidnapped in Washington, DC and sold into slavery to a plantation in the far backwaters of Louisiana. The long 12 years away from his family and his free life, cast into a situation where, unlike many of his fellow slaves, he was very aware of the differences between freedom and slavery. He is finally able to get word in his final year of captivity to his family and some white friends with influence, who make the effort and are finally able to find him and free him legally. This book is the unvarnished account of those 12 years. Slavery is an ugly thing. The very notion of owning another human being should be repellant to us all, and yet long years of America's historydisprove that notion. In all the reading I have done, it appears to me that the owning of a slave leads to a dangerous degradation of the human soul of the Master class even moreso than of the slaves themselves. In order for slavery to exist, it requires heinous distortion of Christian values, and incredibly tortuous disrottions of the thought, mental, and spiritual processes to justify this practice. Generations of slave ownership have created the culture of slavery and whites coming from that tradition of slave ownership still are not free of the distorted beliefs the practice of slavey created, which were then modeled and passed down through the generations. Imagine young children forced to watch their father beat slaves nearly to death, often for no real reason, but because they had that power over another human being. Generations away from that actuality, those distorted beliefs still flow in the veins of many as a cultural remnant of the ugliest kind. This book reveals much of that in a very comprehensible way. It isn't new information so much as well presented information. It was an excellent book to read.
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on April 18, 2014
While not as eloquently written as the Fredrick Douglas narrative, this is infinitely more disturbing to read. The fact that Solomon Northrup was born a free man, had a wife and children, was educated, was gainfully employed, and a contributing member of society, and then, by trickery and deception, hauled off into slavery, makes it unimaginably worse. This is a straight forward telling of the events leading up to Northrup's kidnapping, sale and eventual transportation to the banks of the Red River in Louisiana.

Northrup had a wide range of experiences during his sojourn in the land of slavery. His first owner was a kind and compassionate man who viewed his slaves as fellow human beings and travelers on the road to eternity, and he treated them with respect and dignity. Unfortunately this man fell into financial difficulties and was forced to sell some slaves to pay his debts, Northrup included. Sadly, his next owners were not of the same gentle disposition.

Descriptions of the abuse heaped on defenseless slaves are not for the faint of heart. In this narrative, as in others I have read, it is obvious that even though there were a few decent masters, by and large slavery served mainly as a legal outlet for those of sadistic bent to vent their spleen on human victims, up to and including death, with no concern for retribution.

Ironically, Northrup's owners recognized his intelligence and ingenuity when it came to his value to them as a slave, but failed to recognize him as an intelligent, thinking human being worthy of dignity and respect. Eventually, Northrup met a man who he believed could be trusted with his true identity, and the story of how he came to be a slave. His trust was rewarded and within a few months was rescued and reunited with his family.
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on March 22, 2016
When I read a "classic" I always like to look at old newspapers to see what reviews looked like when it was first printed - one of my favorites for this one was from the "New York Independent" and copied in the "Green-Mountain Freeman" of Vermont, Sept. 1, 1853:

"Let it be read by all those good easy souls who think slavery is, on the whole, a good thing. Let it be read by all who think although slavery is politically and economically a bad thing, it id not very bad for thr slaves. Let it be read by all those M. C.' and supporters who are always ready to give their votes in aid of Slavery and the slave trade with all the kidnapping inseparable from it. Let it be read, too, by our Southern friends who pity with so much christian sensibility the wretched condition of the free negroes at the north, and rejoice at the enviable condition of their own slaves."

I've been meaning to read the actual book since first seeing the movie - the film actually holds very close to his account and any artistic decisions made in the film in terms of consolidation, etc., do not compromise the original story, in my opinion. Northup was a remarkable man - observant, talented, loving, and strong. This is the second slave narrative I've read (Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl was the first) - they make for very affecting reading and contemplation. I do hope t read the annotated Eakin/Logsdon version in the future. There are some thrilling parts that did not make it into the film - including his brief escape into the alligator- and snake-infested swamps of the locale in which he was held in bondage. Until you read about the treatment of abolition-minded folks in the South, you can;t appreciate the real risks that Bass took in expressing his opinion and communicating w/ the North on Solomon's behalf - it was heroic. But Solomon's struggle and maintenance of hope is even more so. The description of the beatings, exploitation, slave markets, etc., are unsparing in their detail.

Highly recommended.
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on February 20, 2014
“If they don't know as much as their masters, whose fault is it? They are not allowed to know anything. You have books and papers, and can go where you please, and gather intelligence in a thousand ways. But your slaves have no privileges. You'd whip one of them if caught reading a book. They are held in bondage, generation after generation, deprived of mental improvement, and who can expect them to possess much knowledge?”

Reading about slavery from Northup's perspective was quite insightful because he was born free. It felt like he was soaking in every detail from the landscape to the nature and personalities of the other slaves so that he tell this story. Being without pen and paper during his 12 years of slavery did not hinder Northup's memory. I appreciated the details even though most were painful to read.

"Truly, Patsey was a splendid animal, and were it not that bondage had enshrouded her intellect in utter and everlasting darkness, would have been chief among ten thousand of her people."

After viewing the movie based on this book, I could not wait to read Northup's actual narrative about Patsey played by the actress Lupita Nyong'o. Patsey was known by her master as Queen of the Field because she could pick 500lbs of cotton a day. She was a tortured soul and only 23 years old {per Northup's documentation}. It makes my heart glad that this slave who was treated so brutally and only praised for her labor is now known of by people all over the world. Epps nor the mistress could not stop the power of the written word.

Patsey you made it. Slavery did not keep you bound. That evil institution did not keep your story from us. Northup gave you your freedom by writing your story. You are more than the Queen of the Field you are the Queen of our Hearts. I will never forget you.

Another remarkable woman of this narrative was the slave, Celeste. Her cunningness was inspiring. She evaded the dogs. They refused to follow her tracks. Knowing something about the area that Northup writes from, Avoyelles Parish, Louisiana, I can only speculate that Celeste may have dabbled in "roots." She ran away and stayed in the woods for months. When the terror from the beasts of the swamps overwhelmed her she returned to her master. He fastened her neck in stocks and sent her back to the fields.

Celeste your spirit of courage and determination was not lost. Other women put it on such as Ida B. Wells and Fannie Lou Hamer. The stocks did not bind your spirit you found us.

Personally, I think the only thing Solomon Northup had to get him through those twelve years was his music. Had he not gotten to play and travel to play I believe slavery would have stolen him from his family and us forever.
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