cover image Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass

William S. McFeely. W. W. Norton & Company, $24.95 (465pp) ISBN 978-0-393-02823-2

A runaway slave at 20, Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) won worldwide renown as a spokesman for the abolitionist cause, edited an influential antislavery weekly and helped organize black regiments during the Civil War. After the Emancipation Proclamation he aggressively championed full citizenship for his fellow black Americans. In this unhurried and beautifully crafted biography, the author presents the known facts of Douglass's stormy life and reveals the man behind the icon: his complex and ambiguous friendships with William Lloyd Garrison, John Brown and other figures of the day; his gossip-stirring relationships with several dynamic white women; his controversial tenure as U.S. minister to Haiti near the end of his life. McFeely analyzes Douglass's autobiographical writings, probing insightfully into the complicated psyche of this heroic figure. The biography is a major work of scholarship that brings into vivid focus the nature of slave culture and racial prejudice in 19th-century America. McFeely, a history professor at the University of Georgia, won a Pulitizer Prize for Grant: A Biography. Photos. BOMC, History Book Club and QPB selections. (Jan.)