As comprehensive a collection as now exists and one that should be required reading in history and literature courses.



Wide-ranging anthology of narratives and literary works related to slavery and its abolition in the U.S.

“Focusing on the voices and actions of formerly enslaved Black people and lesser-known abolitionists,” volume editor Commander writes, this collection draws on the holdings of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, where she is a curator. (Kevin Young is the director of the Schomburg and the series editor.) Built on the Schomburg’s extensive archive of African American literature, the anthology incorporates excerpts from rare and little-known documents, among them courtroom testimonials concerning a 1740 “Negro plot” of arson and murder in New York and, 40 years later, an uprising laid at the door of “Denmark Vesey, a free black man,” which resulted in dozens of supposed conspirators being “hung on the Lines.” Other documents contrast the insurrections of John Brown and Nat Turner, the latter of whose fighters, a chronicler wrote, “were humaner than Indians or than white men fighting against Indians—there was no gratuitous outrage beyond the death-blow itself, no insult, no mutilation.” Precipitants of the Civil War, such uprisings and insurrections were far from isolated, though often accompanied by quieter acts of resistance. In 1849, for instance, one brave man shipped himself north from Louisiana to Pennsylvania in a coffinlike box, tossed and tumbled to a freedom that was not complete thanks to the Fugitive Slave Act: “I now stand before you as a free man, but since my arrival among you, I have been informed that your laws require that I should still be held as a slave.” (Fortunately, he escaped to England.) Commander’s well-chosen collection also includes literary works by Black writers such as Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins, who wrote a play of the Underground Railroad excerpted here whose use of dialect (“I doesn’t like to say it, but Ise might ’fraid you’s gwine to lose your gal”) is unusual among the stirring oratory of the earlier abolitionists but that certainly has its place among the dozens of voices here.

As comprehensive a collection as now exists and one that should be required reading in history and literature courses.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-14-313608-8

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Penguin Classics

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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Certain to be controversial, but all the more important for that.


The final book from the longtime activist anthropologist.

In a lively display of up-to-date anthropology, Graeber (1961-2020) offers a behind-the-scenes view of how a skilled researcher extracts knowledge from the slimmest evidence about a long-ago multiethnic society composed of pirates and settled members of existing communities. In this posthumous book, the author turns to 17th- and 18th-century Madagascar and examines hard-to-credit sources to tease out some plausible facts about the creation and early life of a distinctive Indian Ocean society, some of whose Malagasy descendants (“the Zana-Malata”) are alive today. Exhibiting his characteristic politically tinged sympathies, Graeber describes the pirates who plied the seas and settled on Madagascar as an ethno-racially integrated proletariat “spearheading the development of new forms of democratic governance.” He also argues that many of the pirates and others displayed European Enlightenment ideas even though they inhabited “a very unlikely home for Enlightenment political experiments.” Malagasies were “Madagascar’s most stubbornly egalitarian peoples,” and, as the author shows, women played significant roles in the society, which reflected Jewish, Muslin, Ismaili, and Gnostic origins as well as native Malagasy and Christian ones. All of this information gives Graeber the chance to wonder, in his most provocative conjecture, whether Enlightenment ideals might have emerged as much beyond Western lands as within them. His argument that pirates, women traders, and community leaders in early 18th-century Madagascar were “global political actors in the fullest sense of the term” is overstated, but even with such excesses taken into account, the text is a tour de force of anthropological scholarship and an important addition to Malagasy history. It’s also a work written with a pleasingly light touch. The principal audience will be anthropologists, but those who love pirate lore or who seek evidence that mixed populations were long capable of establishing proto-democratic societies will also find enlightenment in these pages.

Certain to be controversial, but all the more important for that.

Pub Date: Jan. 24, 2023

ISBN: 978-0-374-61019-7

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Oct. 6, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2022

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