cover image Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom

Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom

David W. Blight. Simon & Schuster, $40 (896p) ISBN 978-1-4165-9031-6

Yale historian Blight’s study of runaway slave-turned-abolitionist Frederick Douglass—a “radical patriot” and “prophet of freedom,” a “great voice of America’s terrible transformation from slavery to freedom”—benefits not only from Blight’s decadeslong immersion in the history of American slavery and abolitionism, but also from his access to privately owned sources unavailable to previous scholars. To Blight, Douglass’s character and ideology were rife with paradox, and in this huge and meticulously detailed study he unpacks apparent contradictions: Douglass’s unexpected happiness as an urban slave in Baltimore; his devotion to his wife, Anna, and their children, whom he rarely saw due to his constant travels as an abolitionist orator; his love for the promise he saw in America and hatred of how slavery had degraded it; his repeated revisions of his autobiographical writings as he reinterpreted his experiences; his second marriage to a white woman, an act both socially transgressive and opposed by his children. The Douglass who emerges from this massive work is not always heroic, or even likable, but Blight illuminates his personal struggles and achievements to emphasize what an extraordinary person he was. Though one might wonder, given Douglass’s extensive writings and the numerous works of scholarship discussing him, about the need for yet another biography, it turns out that there was much more to be learned about him. [em](Oct.) [/em]