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

ISLAND ON FIRE

THE REVOLT THAT ENDED SLAVERY IN THE BRITISH EMPIRE

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

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A rousing, suspenseful adventure tale.

MADHOUSE AT THE END OF THE EARTH

THE BELGICA'S JOURNEY INTO THE DARK ANTARCTIC NIGHT

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. 30, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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A concise personal and scholarly history that avoids academic jargon as it illuminates emotional truths.

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ON JUNETEENTH

The Harvard historian and Texas native demonstrates what the holiday means to her and to the rest of the nation.

Initially celebrated primarily by Black Texans, Juneteenth refers to June 19, 1865, when a Union general arrived in Galveston to proclaim the end of slavery with the defeat of the Confederacy. If only history were that simple. In her latest, Gordon-Reed, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, and numerous other honors, describes how Whites raged and committed violence against celebratory Blacks as racism in Texas and across the country continued to spread through segregation, Jim Crow laws, and separate-but-equal rationalizations. As Gordon-Reed amply shows in this smooth combination of memoir, essay, and history, such racism is by no means a thing of the past, even as Juneteenth has come to be celebrated by all of Texas and throughout the U.S. The Galveston announcement, notes the author, came well after the Emancipation Proclamation but before the ratification of the 13th Amendment. Though Gordon-Reed writes fondly of her native state, especially the strong familial ties and sense of community, she acknowledges her challenges as a woman of color in a state where “the image of Texas has a gender and a race: “Texas is a White man.” The author astutely explores “what that means for everyone who lives in Texas and is not a White man.” With all of its diversity and geographic expanse, Texas also has a singular history—as part of Mexico, as its own republic from 1836 to 1846, and as a place that “has connections to people of African descent that go back centuries.” All of this provides context for the uniqueness of this historical moment, which Gordon-Reed explores with her characteristic rigor and insight.

A concise personal and scholarly history that avoids academic jargon as it illuminates emotional truths.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-63149-883-1

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: Feb. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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