Although it's tempting, Amistad editorial director Dawn Davis doesn't want to compare Fergus M. Bordewich's Bound for Canaan, Amistad's just-published examination of the Underground Railroad and the American antislavery movement, with Edward Jones's Pulitzer Prize—winning novel The Known World, the imprint's surprise hit title from 2004.

Jones's acclaimed 2004 novel addresses the moral dilemma of American slavery in unique fashion, offering a fictional account of an unusual phenomenon—19th-century black freedmen who owned slaves themselves. Both books launched with modest first printings, but Bordewich's Bound for Canaan: The Underground Railroad and the War for the Soul of America is a work of nonfiction, said Davis.

Released in April, Bound for Canaan offers its own perspective on American slavery, illuminating the workings of the Underground Railroad and belatedly identifying a group of virtually unknown heroes and heroines, both black and white, that helped tens of thousands of slaves escape to Canada.

"The writing is terrific, his research amazing," said Davis. "There hasn't been a serious book on this subject in years." Both books, Davis said, comparing them in spite of herself, "take on slavery, a subject we all thought we knew something about, and add levels of complexity to the story." Canaan received a rave review in the Wall Street Journal, and more media attention followed.

Booksellers also are backing the book. It was a Book Sense pick for April. "It's selling fine, and it's so well written it almost doesn't matter what it's about," said Nancy Brown, who works at R.J. Julia Booksellers in Madison, Conn. "My rep convinced me, and it's just wonderful. We need this to be part of what we think about American history. It's a reality check."

"This is American history—not African-American history," said Davis. "This book is really at the heart of how Americans wanted to define themselves."