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Freedom: The Overthrow of the Slave Empires

James Walvin

12 Reviews

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History, General & world history, African history, History of the Americas, History: earliest times to present day

'Long before the friends of African freedom began to agitate for black freedom, the enslaved themselves had created their own strategies of resistance. In time, their defiance was to prove the crucial final factor in bringing down slavery itself.' James Walvin, in Resistance, Rebellion and Revolt

This long overdue, vivid and wide-ranging examination of the significance of the resistance of the enslaved themselves - from sabotage and running away to outright violent rebellion - shines fresh light on the end of slavery in the Atlantic World.

It is high time that this resistance, in addition to abolitionism and other factors, was given its due weight in seeking to understand the overthrow of slavery. Fundamentally, as Walvin shows so clearly, it was the implacable hatred of the enslaved for slavery and their strategies of resistance that made the whole system unsustainable and, ultimately, brought about its downfall.

Walvin's approach is original, too, in looking at the Atlantic world as a whole, including the French and Spanish Empires and Brazil, as well as Britain's colonies. In doing so, he casts new light on one of the major shifts in Western history: in the three-hundred years following Columbus's landfall in the Americas, slavery had become a widespread and critical institution. It had seen twelve million Africans forced onto slave ships; a forced migration that had had seismic consequences for Africa. It had transformed the Americas and materially enriched the Western world.

It had also been largely unquestioned - in Europe at least, and among slave owners, traders and those who profited from the system.

Yet, within a mere seventy-five years during the nineteenth century, slavery had vanished from the Americas: it had declined, collapsed and been destroyed by a complexity of forces that, to this day, remains disputed. As Walvin shows so clearly here, though, it was in large part overthrown by those it had enslaved.

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Praise for Freedom: The Overthrow of the Slave Empires

  • Praise for James Walvin's How Sugar Corrupted the World:

  • A brilliant and thought-provoking history of sugar and its ironies. - Wall Street Journal

  • Praise for James Walvin's How Sugar Corrupted the World:

  • Shocking and revelatory . . . no other product has so changed the world, and no other book reveals the scale of its impact.

  • Praise for James Walvin's How Sugar Corrupted the World:

  • An 'entertaining, informative and utterly depressing global history of an important commodity . . . By alerting readers to the ways that modernity's very origins are entangled with a seemingly benign and delicious substance, How Sugar Corrupted the World raises fundamental questions about our world.'

  • Praise for James Walvin's How Sugar Corrupted the World:

  • What is striking about James Walvin's new book is that, while focusing solely on sugar, it does not restrict itself to the past. Rather, it takes the story of perhaps the most transformative and destructive boom-crop of all time and brings it disturbingly into the present day. - BBC History Magazine

  • As an historian of slavery, Walvin is well versed in the triangular trade and explains the role of sugar cane in bringing Africans to the Caribbean. His survey of sugar in our lives is very readable. - Spectator

  • A convincing, deep history of this (in)famous product . . . This is not simply the tale of those who toiled to produce sugar . . . Something more than a scholarly text, this study could not be more timely.

  • A refreshingly historical look at a substance we often take for granted. - History Revealed

  • Former history professor James Walvin's latest book aims to untangle the social, political and economic history of sugar, a commodity that began as the preserver of the elite, but which now saturates cultures the world over. - NZME

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James Walvin

JAMES WALVIN is the author of many books on slavery and modern social history. His book, Crossings, was published by Reaktion Books in 2013. His first book, with Michael Craton, was a detailed study of a sugar plantation: A Jamaican Plantation, Worthy Park, 1670-1970 (Toronto, 1970). He became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2006, and in 2008 was awarded an OBE for services to scholarship.

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