cover image Freedom: The Overthrowing of the Slave Empires

Freedom: The Overthrowing of the Slave Empires

James Walvin. Pegasus, $27.95 (320p) ISBN 978-1-64313-206-8

In this lucid work, historian Walvin focuses on the rapid decline of slavery in the Western world. Toward the end of the 18th century, European nations and their colonies in the Americas were strongly committed to this intensely profitable institution, but less than a century later it had become widely condemned and outlawed in the U.S. and Britain. Walvin’s goal is to depict how and why this situation changed so rapidly; while he is careful to stress the political and legislative initiatives involved, he emphasizes that “slaves were the critical element in securing their own freedom.” He asserts that traumatized Africans, who stepped off slave ships transformed in legal terms from human beings into objects of property, were committed to resisting enslavement in any way they could, making the history of slavery into “a complex story of slave defiance.” Walvin identifies the Haitian slave insurrection of 1791–1804 as having a “tsunami-like” effect on the foundations of colonial slavery and spotlights lesser-known insurrections and many smaller acts of daily resistance practiced by enslaved people in the United States, the Caribbean, and Brazil. This account, which illuminates a topic that remains widely misunderstood, merits a wide readership. [em](Sept.) [/em]