Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on February 10th 2006
Genres: History, Europe, Great Britain, General
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From the author of the widely acclaimed King Leopold's Ghost comes the taut, gripping account of one of the most brilliantly organized social justice campaigns in history -- the fight to free the slaves of the British Empire. In early 1787, twelve men -- a printer, a lawyer, a clergyman, and others united by their hatred of slavery -- came together in a London printing shop and began the world's first grass-roots movement, battling for the rights of people on another continent. Masterfully stoking public opinion, the movement's leaders pioneered a variety of techniques that have been adopted by citizens' movements ever since, from consumer boycotts to wall posters and lapel buttons to celebrity endorsements. A deft chronicle of this groundbreaking antislavery crusade and its powerful enemies, Bury the Chains gives a little-celebrated human rights watershed its due at last.
Six reasons to read this excellent book:
1. It gives a global overview of slavery, taking in all actors, from the UK, West Africa to the West Indies and the Southern states, and including France, Nova Scotia, South Africa and South America.
2. It sets the record straight. Abolition wasn’t down to Wilberforce working alone, but the lifelong efforts of many, often working in the background: “After his death Wilberforce was the object of a massive and successful feat of image-making: a laudatory five-volume biography by two of his sons.” And “Some twenty more biographies of Wilberforce have followed, most of them reinforcing the view that slavery in the British Empire came to an end almost entirely because of the dogged, idealistic persistence of this saintly man and his saintly friends.”
3. It reviews the key role that women played in the anti-slavery movement, particularly towards the end when progress seemed to be grinding to a halt.
4. It highlights the significant effect on abolition of the slaves revolting in the Caribbean.
5. It points out that John (Amazing Grace) Newton was no saint but continued with slaving and reaping the profits from slavery long after his conversion: “to leave behind a career as a prison guard is one thing; to call for closing all prisons entirely another.”
6. It recognizes that the abolition of slavery does not mean it does not exist today: “… millions of people still live in some form of bondage: to cross-border traffickers in women, to employers of child labor, to rural landlords in Asia, and more.”