Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Bury the Chains

Bury the Chains, by Adam Hochschild
$10.88 at Amazon.com
ISBN: 0618619070
The last few books I've posted about have been real easy. This one is a bit more of a challenge, but still not too difficult to be diverting for the leisure reader.
It's the story of the fight to free an empire's slaves. The British Empire was actually the first European nation to abolish slavery, almost a century before we did the same here in the US. Here you'll learn about the first heroes who realized that it was wrong to enslave others, and spent a lifetime working for this worthy cause.
What's especially enjoyable is that this book gives you the story from all angles. I learned a lot I didn't know about slavery. For example, most Africans brought here in bondage never saw a cotton plant in their lives. Instead they were forced to harvest the most popular cash crop in the New World: sugar. Europeans had only recently discovered it, and developed an instant sweet-tooth which only slave labor could satisfy.
There's the life story of John Newton, a slave trader and religious fanatic. He made his fortune working the triangle trade: sailing to the African Coast to buy slaves, the Caribbean to trade them for sugar, then back to England to sell it for a handsome profit. Newton went on to write the hymn Amazing Grace.
My favorite parts involve a man named Olaudah Equiano, a slave who managed to earn his freedom. Although he'd been given a certificate of manumission, he'd seen other African men and women dragged back onto slave ships with the very same document, so how secure could he ever be? He became one of a statistically insignificant number of slaves who did one day return to the African village of his birth.
This is an outstanding book on a rarely visited topic. You'll experience people at their worst and at their absolute best. It's non-fiction, but reads as easily as a novel and was given the prestigious National Book Award, which testifies more to its brilliance than anything I might say here.
A fast-paced story by an exquisite writer, this book gets an A+ from me.

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