ISLAND ON FIRE

THE REVOLT THAT ENDED SLAVERY IN THE BRITISH EMPIRE

An elucidating study of one of the lesser-known slave rebellions of the 19th century.

An engaging history of the horrific system of slavery practiced in Jamaica and the slave revolt that finally killed it. By the time the educated preacher Samuel Sharpe aroused his fellow slaves and neighbors to rebellion right after Christmas in 1831, there were only a few dozen elite English families in control of the vast sugar wealth of Jamaica, lording it over thousands of slaves. Sugar was the root of this evil, and Zoellner expertly delineates the massive human toll. “Feeding this addiction on a grand scale,” writes the author, “was made possible by the labor of the approximately 860,000 kidnapped Africans transported to Jamaica as slaves between 1600 and 1807.” Zoellner chronicles how young Englishmen jumped at the chance to gain their fortunes in the West Indies, and he ably shows how routinely and swiftly the degradations of slavery corrupted them. In Jamaica, life was short for both slave and master, for different reasons. The white population, vastly outnumbered by slaves, faced the “looming specter of rebellion and death,” which caused them to live unhealthy, hedonistic lives. “As an appalled visitor observed,” writes the author, “the white inhabitants ‘live like the people of Sodom and Gomorrah…they drink, eat, play, and dance, become pale as death and die like flies.’ ” The news of Nat Turner's revolt only months before had fired Sharpe's imagination—and horrified the planters—and he preached to his fellow slaves that their masters were actually keeping their freedom from them, granted in England, where a growing anti-slavery faction was gaining steam. The fuel was ready for ignition, and the fires burned all over the plantations during those first nights of rebellion. Resurrecting this important historical episode, Zoellner moves nimbly through the research, giving an exciting account of the events as well as the significant consequences when the news reached England weeks later. An elucidating study of one of the lesser-known slave rebellions of the 19th century.

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-674-98430-1

Page Count: 377

Publisher: Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 10, 2020

MADHOUSE AT THE END OF THE EARTH

THE BELGICA'S JOURNEY INTO THE DARK ANTARCTIC NIGHT

A rousing, suspenseful adventure tale.

A harrowing expedition to Antarctica, recounted by Departures senior features editor Sancton, who has reported from every continent on the planet.

On Aug. 16, 1897, the steam whaler Belgica set off from Belgium with young  Adrien de Gerlache as commandant. Thus begins Sancton’s riveting history of exploration, ingenuity, and survival. The commandant’s inexperienced, often unruly crew, half non-Belgian, included scientists, a rookie engineer, and first mate Roald Amundsen, who would later become a celebrated polar explorer. After loading a half ton of explosive tonite, the ship set sail with 23 crew members and two cats. In Rio de Janeiro, they were joined by Dr. Frederick Cook, a young, shameless huckster who had accompanied Robert Peary as a surgeon and ethnologist on an expedition to northern Greenland. In Punta Arenas, four seamen were removed for insubordination, and rats snuck onboard. In Tierra del Fuego, the ship ran aground for a while. Sancton evokes a calm anxiety as he chronicles the ship’s journey south. On Jan. 19, 1898, near the South Shetland Islands, the crew spotted the first icebergs. Rough waves swept someone overboard. Days later, they saw Antarctica in the distance. Glory was “finally within reach.” The author describes the discovery and naming of new lands and the work of the scientists gathering specimens. The ship continued through a perilous, ice-littered sea, as the commandant was anxious to reach a record-setting latitude. On March 6, the Belgica became icebound. The crew did everything they could to prepare for a dark, below-freezing winter, but they were wracked with despair, suffering headaches, insomnia, dizziness, and later, madness—all vividly capture by Sancton. The sun returned on July 22, and by March 1899, they were able to escape the ice. With a cast of intriguing characters and drama galore, this history reads like fiction and will thrill fans of Endurance and In the Kingdom of Ice.

A rousing, suspenseful adventure tale.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-984824-33-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

THE ESSENTIAL KERNER COMMISSION REPORT

A welcome new version of a publication that is no less important now than it was in 1967.

A timely distilled version of the powerful report on racism in the U.S.

Created by Lyndon Johnson’s executive order in 1967, the Kerner Commission was convened in response to inner-city riots in cities like Newark and Detroit, and its findings have renewed relevance in the wake of the George Floyd verdict and other recent police brutality cases. The report, named for Otto Kerner, the chairman of the commission and then governor of Illinois, explored the systemic reasons why an “apocalyptic fury” broke out that summer even in the wake of the passage of significant civil rights and voting acts—a response with striking echoes in recent events across the country. In this edited and contextualized version, New Yorker staff writer Cobb, with the assistance of Guariglia, capably demonstrates the continued relevance and prescience of the commission’s findings on institutionalized discriminatory policies in housing, education, employment, and the media. The commission was not the first to address racial violence in the century, and it would not be the last, but the bipartisan group of 11 members—including two Blacks and one woman—was impressively thorough in its investigation of the complex overarching social and economic issues at play. “The members were not seeking to understand a singular incident of disorder,” writes Cobb, “but the phenomenon of rioting itself.” Johnson wanted to know what happened, why it happened, and what could be done so it doesn’t happen “again and again.” Of course, it has happened again and again, and many of the report’s recommendations remain unimplemented. This version of the landmark report features a superb introduction by Cobb and a closing section of frequently asked questions—e.g., “How come nothing has been done about these problems?” The book contains plenty of fodder for crucial national conversations and many excellent ideas for much-needed reforms that could be put into place now.

A welcome new version of a publication that is no less important now than it was in 1967.

Pub Date: July 27, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-63149-892-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: May 18, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2021

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