- Hardcover: 384 pages
- Publisher: Metropolitan Books; 1 edition (January 14, 2014)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0805094539
- ISBN-13: 978-0805094534
- Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 0.1 x 9.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars See all reviews (102 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #490,369 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Empire of Necessity: Slavery, Freedom, and Deception in the New World 1st Edition
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Amasa Delano was a widely traveled mariner who recounted his exploits in a memoir. One of the brief, seemingly minor experiences he described was actually rather extraordinary and revealed much about racial attitudes in the early nineteenth century. In 1805, Captain Delano and his crew were hunting seals off the coast of South America. They encountered and came to the aid of an apparently damaged and distressed ship carrying a cargo of West African slaves. A few of the slaves seemed to stick surprisingly close to the ship captain, but Delano was initially prepared to see nothing amiss. Then the captain escaped the presence of the slaves and revealed the truth to Delano: there had been a slave rebellion, and after seizing control of the ship, the slaves had slaughtered most of the crew and passengers. Delano was a New Englander imbued with republican ideals and even abolitionist sympathies. Yet when he discovered the ruse, he and his crew reacted with outrage and visited extreme violence upon the rebels. Grandin, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and a professor at New York University, delves into Delano’s motives and examines the broader contradictions between theoretical and actual commitment to political liberty and equality in this thoughtful and unsettling work. --Jay Freeman
“Engrossing, well researched and beautifully written . . . A rigorously sourced work of scholarship with a suspenseful narrative structure that boomerangs back and forth through time. Grandin has delivered a page-turner. You read it as if it were a thriller novel by Scott Turow or Lee Child.” ―Chicago Tribune
“The Empire of Necessity is scholarship at its best. Greg Grandin's deft penetration into the marrow of the slave industry is compelling, brilliant and necessary.” ―Toni Morrison
“Engaging, richly informed . . . Mr. Grandin ranges so freely through history that his book has a zigzagging course, like a schooner tacking constantly with the wind. But the voyage he takes us on is hardly directionless. . . . he describes his unsettling panorama in a restrained manner, avoiding exaggeration and allowing facts--many of them horrific--to tell the story. In doing so, he has produced a quietly powerful account that Melville himself would have admired.” ―Wall Street Journal
“A great and moving story.” ―Washington Post
“Elegant . . . a wonder of power, precision and sheer reading pleasure . . . Grandin takes readers on a tour of the hell of the slave trade, a tour so revelatory and compelling, we readers, unlike Captain Delano, can't fail to see the truth before our eyes.” ―Maureen Corrigan, NPR's "Fresh Air"
“Powerful . . . a remarkable feat of research . . . a significant contribution to the largely impossible yet imperative effort to retrieve some trace of the countless lives that slavery consumed.” ―Andrew Delbanco, the New York Times Book Review
“An exciting and illuminating narrative . . . Grandin's pen is exquisite, the descriptions are lively and sensuous. But he is also deeply reflective. The book has import that extends beyond the interest of the story.” ―San Francisco Chronicle
“Remarkable . . . superbly argued and richly detailed . . . Grandin's skill is that he can find metaphors that subtly reflect the vital dichotomies that pervade the American psyche.” ―The Guardian (UK)
“I can't say enough good things about The Empire of Necessity. It's one of the best books I've read in a decade. It should be essential reading not just for those interested in the African slave trade, but for anyone hoping to understand the commercial enterprise that built North and South America.” ―Victor Lavalle, Bookforum
“A remarkable story, one that unravels the American encounter with slavery in ways uncommonly subtle and deeply provocative.” ―The American Scholar
“Fascinating . . . a gripping, lavishly researched account of high seas drama . . . compulsively readable.” ―The Christian Science Monitor
“Grandin writes with the skills of a fine novelist … I am thrilled and amazed by this inventive, audacious, passionate volume.” ―H. Bruce Franklin, Los Angeles Review of Books
“Fascinating and engaging.” ―Seattle Times
“In this multifaceted masterpiece, Greg Grandin excavates the relentlessly fascinating history of a slave revolt to mine the enduring dilemmas of politics and identity in a New World where the Age of Freedom was also the Age of Slavery. This is that rare book in which the drama of the action and the drama of ideas are equally measured, a work of history and of literary reflection that is as urgent as it is timely.” ―Philip Gourevitch, co-author of the The Ballad of Abu Ghraib
“Greg Grandin has done it again. Starting with a single dramatic encounter in the South Pacific he has shown us an entire world: of multiple continents, terrible bondage and the dream of freedom. This is also a story of how one episode changed the lives of a sea captain and a great writer from the other end of the earth. An extraordinary tale, beautifully told.” ―Adam Hochschild, author of King Leopold’s Ghost
“Rooted in an event known primarily through the genius of Herman Melville's transcendent Benito Cereno, The Empire of Necessity is a stunning work of research done all over the rims of two oceans, as well as beautiful, withering storytelling. This is a harrowing story of Muslim Africans trekking across South America, and ultimately a unique window on to the nature of the slave trade, the maritime worlds of the early nineteenth century, the lives lived in-between slavery and freedom all over the Americas, and even the ocean-inspired imagination of Melville. Grandin is a master of grand history with new insights.” ―David W. Blight, author of Frederick Douglass: A Life (forthcoming)
“Greg Grandin is one of the best of a new generation of historians who have rediscovered the art of writing for both serious scholars and general readers. This may be his best book yet. The Empire of Necessity is a work of astonishing power, eloquence and suspense -- a genuine tour de force.” ―Debby Applegate, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher
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Top Customer Reviews
The author starts from the historic slaves rebellion on the slaver ship Tryal described by Hermann Melville in his "Benito Cerreno" and from there pulls all the threads he can.
He artfully retraces the path of the slaves involved from their shipment from Africa, through their capture by the French pirate "Citoyen" Mordeille and their sale in South America, their journey through the continent and across the Andes until their rebellion on the Tryal on their way to Lima.
Greg Grandin masterly describes Connecticut's Amasa Delano's journey as a sealer, massacring the hapless mammals by the thousands in south pacific islands until his arraignment of the Tryal (I will not spoil the details here).
All this bathed in exquisitely depicted cultures, with the philosophical effects of slavery on the various ones he describes - be them in South America, Spain, England, the thirteen colonies or later the United States. He explores for us the influence of the French and Haitian revolutions, the demise of the Spanish control, even to the influence of Islam on some of the salves sent to the Americas or through 770 years of Arabic presence in Spain.
This book is a page turner, both a collection of great stories intertwined in a magnificent fresco and a well of culture and philosophy, all written in a very clear and compelling style.
Very important to me, Greg Grandin supports all his narrative with extensive notes on his researches in archives on four continents (both Americas, Europe and Africa). This denotes the most serious of analysis - that it remains so pleasant to read testifies to the author's skills.
A note about the Kindle edition, which is the one I read.
It is hard to jump back and forth between the text and the notes, and I essentially did not because of that fact. The original book also contains interesting illustrations which appear in the Kindle edition, but I have no way to know where they are located in the paper form of the book - in the Kindle edition they are all collated right after the main text - this is quite a pain as they would support the text very well were they be properly placed.
All in all, even in the Kindle edition I rate this book a deserved 5 stars.
o The author chooses some fascinating, perhaps neglected, event, the narration of which might only comprise a chapter.
o He researches the hell out of it: following leads forward and backward in time, not unlike James Burke in Connections.
o He then tells every interesting story that arises from his research, often revealing unsuspected themes linking events separated by space and time.
The result can be delightfully discursive; sometimes the tangents overshadow the main event, but Grandin, with the help of Melville as a sort of tour guide, is never dull.
In this case, the main event involves a slave revolt on a ship, the Tryal, off the western coast of South America. The slaves rely on one member of the crew, Benito Cerreno, to guide the ship back to Africa, a geographically daunting proposition to begin with, as it would involve rounding Cape Horn. Inevitably, another ship, in this case a sealing ship (meaning a ship devoted to the profitable slaughter of seals), spots the Tryal and sends boats over to assist the obviously ailing ship. The slaves strategy for handling this visit is to pretend that they are still captives under the control of the few remaining whites aboard their ship. The ruse only works for a few hours; the denouement is a bloody mess. But the story resonates and serves as a launching pad for the author's exploration of slavery, sailing, capitalism, and freedom.
Herman Melville was fascinated by the story of the Tryal and wrote a short novel, "Benito Cereno", based on the memoirs of Amasa Delano, the captain of the sealing ship that recaptured the Tryal. Amasa Delano was an ancestor of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and his life story is intriguing in its own right.
As the author explores various tangents, we learn a great deal about a number of subjects:
o What made slavery a growth industry.
o That perhaps ten percent of all slaves were Muslim and literate.
o How quickly the population of seals collapsed, yet the market price also collapsed, leading, counter-intuitively, to a desperate search for more seal colonies to massacre, revealing a pattern of interaction between capital and the natural world that has recurred frequently.
o How piracy was sanctioned by the various maritime powers
o The fascinating etymology of the word "average" and the way risk was managed in nautical economics.
The title refers to the way some people's liberty depends on the misery inflicted on others. This suggests, for example, that slavery was not merely some peculiar institution practiced by hypocrites who mouthed Enlightenment values. Rather, it was essential to the incarnation of those Enlightenment values to begin with. A sobering thought, indeed.