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The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution Paperback – October 23, 1989
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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."
"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
Top customer reviews
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.