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The Empire of Necessity: Slavery, Freedom, and Deception in the New World

3.97 of 5 stars 3.97  ·  rating details  ·  344 ratings  ·  80 reviews
"Compelling, brilliant and necessary." —Toni Morrison

From the acclaimed author of Fordlandia, the story of a remarkable slave rebellion that illuminates America’s struggle with slavery and freedom during the Age of Revolution and beyond.

One morning in 1805, off a remote island in the South Pacific, Captain Amasa Delano, a New England seal hunter, climbed aboard a distresse
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published January 14th 2014 by Metropolitan Books (first published January 5th 2014)
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I was lucky to receive this book from a Goodreads giveaway. The importance of this book is really not clear in the description on the book's cover. This is the history of a slave rebellion in the South Pacific that is thwarted by a New England ship Captain, Amasa Delano. However, this book is so much more than the story of that rebellion. Mr. Grandin uses that story as a springboard to illustrate and explore the history of freedom and slavery in all of the Americas. The rebellion takes place in ...more
Benito Cereno was a 19th century sea captain. “Benito Cereno” is also a novelette that was written by Herman Melville Melville’s story was based on a true life slaver, Cereno, and a slave uprising that Melville’s relative, another sea captain named Amasa Delano, happens upon in the Pacific in 1805. Slave uprisings happened but were fairly unusual but on Cereno’s ship, the Tryal, the Muslim slaves decide to murder their captors and requisition the ship to take them back to Africa. Most of this ta ...more
Among the finest, most compelling works I've ever read on Latin America, on slavery, and on Melville. Also a complement or prequel to another great recent work on slavery, Walter Johnson's 'River of Dark Dreams.'
I'll be reviewing this for the Historical Novel Review. Until then, I can say that this was a powerful book. It will be one to reread to fully appreciate its depths. Highly recommended.
Frankly, much about this book was really uncomfortable to read. And yet paradoxically, I finished its almost 300 pages (including reading most of its many footnotes) in a very few days. The book's surface narrative follows the seafaring peregrinations of New Englander Amasa Delano, focusing-in on his 1805 encounter with a slave rebellion on the ship Tryal off the coast of Chile. The undercurrents of the book were about the enslavement of one race by another; about inner darkness invading the sou ...more
I expected this book to have more information earlier in the book about the slave rebellion it is supposed to be about. Instead, I found myself reading more about slavery in general, especially in South America. I did find parts of it interesting, and learned more about the economic impact of slavery on New England even while slavery there was not common, and about slavery before the southern US was as heavily mired in it as it would become.

However, the writing felt disjointed to me. It didn't f
Joseph Hoff
I didn't choose to read this book because of the topic but, rather, because of the author. I'm a great admirer of the work of Greg Grandin. That said, I was hooked after the first few pages of this book. Mr. Grandin tells this story like no one else could. Amazing read -- amazing scholarship!
One of the best popular history books I've ever read. It is truly masterful how he weaves together so many elements into a truly gripping story that never fails to hold the reader's attention. It is also an important book, decentering the history of slavery by showing the links between the United States and Latin America, as well as for how it shows the roots of modernity in the slave trade.
I was interested in the book because it is about the real events that inspired Herman Melville's "Benito Cereno." The story goes that slaves on a slave ship rebelled, killed much of the crew, and were trying to get back to Africa when they came in sight of an American ship hunting seals. The captain of that ship saw the run-down state of the slaver, and knowing nothing else about it, brought food and water and boarded it. The slaves came up with a scheme to deceive him - they pretended to be sla ...more
Michael Berman
A truly fascinating book that puts slavery in a global context. Using a slave rebellion on a ship off the coast of Chile as the central event, the author shows how the economic institution of slavery extended its tendrils throughout the world, making virtually anyone participating in any marketplace complicit in the evils of slavery. Sobering and fascinating, there are some obvious parallels to everyone's complicity in climate change (he writes sitting at a computer with the lights on and the fu ...more
Fascinating, gripping in-depth exploration of the players and context of the 1805 event where Captain Amasa Delano (FDR ancestor) & ship encounter a Spanish ship, off the coast of S. America, whose slaves mutinied and enacted a ruse that captain Cerreno was still in charge, and not them actually calling the shots. The incident was immortalized in a Herman Melville (*Moby Dick* author) novella, though it takes some liberties with Delano's memoir recollection of the event.

Grandin possesses a c
Tom Elliott
The thing that fascinates me most about this book is Grandin's ability to write narrative into a story tracked mostly through bureaucratic dealings and diaries. He uses a historical encounter that inspired Herman Melville's "Benito Cereno" to enter the brutal world of nineteenth century sailing and slavery. It's unique because it describes an economic system more than a specific place or movement-- the type of commerce that drove the trans-atlantic slave trade included goods from all across the ...more
Bo Commander
I was fortunate enough to receive an advanced copy of this book, and enjoyed it thoroughly. While the book provides some good backstory of all the major and minor role players in the Tryal debacle, I felt the best part of this book was the insights into the times in which the event occurred including slavery and literary works of the period. Special attention is placed on Melville and his Benito Cereno, which is based on the root occurrence of this book, and provides some worthwhile commentary o ...more
Don O'goodreader
About 210 years ago, there was a slave revolt aboard the Tryal off the coast of Chile. The novella Benito Cereno by Herman Melville is based on this incident. Now over 150 years after Melville published, The Empire of Necessity by Greg Grandin is an historical accounting of the circumstances around that slave revolt.

The irony of this retelling is that even though Grandin makes a strong case for the literacy of the slaves, nothing is left in the historical record in their voice, so in spite of th
In Empire of Necessity, Greg Grandin weaves together the story of one 1804 slave rebellion and the Melville story it inspired, contextualizing the event in the global history of slavery and the slave trade and the broader cultural environment of the early 19th century. The result was a rich and readable book that I couldn't put down.

This book was a model for me as a historian and a writer. Grandin demonstrates that popular history can be engrossing and intellectually rigorous. As an Americanist,
A New England ship captain, waiting at a small island off the coast of Chile, found a ship floating in the water near his and lowered his boat and went to see what trouble the ship was in. On board he found a Spanish captain who was followed by what he described as a loyal body servant who never left his side. Eventually the truth came out that the ship was a Spanish trading ship carrying a cargo of slaves that had raised a rebellion. That New England ship captain, named Amasa Delano (an ancesto ...more
'The Age of Liberty was also the Age of Slavery.' 12.5 million African slaves were transported to the Americas. 'Freedom' has no meaning until set against 'slavery'. Behind The Enlightenment and 'human rights', was the right to own slaves and make money on the trade. The Spanish slave traders pushed for 'libertad' so they could sell slaves in more places than the Spanish Crown permitted. European and American traders had loans and insurance companies that backed their voyages, so they had to mak ...more
One should recognize the obvious from the outset, Greg Grandin possesses writing talents that rival those of an excellent novelist. His gifts -- a sharp eye for detail, a sense of narrative structure, and deftness for prose -- are all fully on display in his latest work. He combines these talents with his obvious skills as a historical researcher, which allow him to thread together material from an almost dizzying array of sources. All that said, and the book did offer a fascinating read, his hi ...more
The Tryal, like the Amistad thirty-five years later, was a slave ship that fell into the hands of its slaves following a successful insurrection. Unlike the Amistad, the Tryal was retaken by the crew of the Perseverance, an American trading vessel. The trial trhat followed (in Concepcion) resulted in the execution of nine of the slaves and the return of the ship to its original owners. Herman Melville wrote a novells, "Benito Cereno" about the Tryal's captain (though the ships were renamed).

This is a large book. Not in its length as much as in its complexity, thematic ambition, and narrative richness. Grandin uses Herman Melville’s Benito Cerreno as his inspiration and North Star to investigate the complicated meaning of slavery, liberty, and race in the New World.

Melvill’s novella is based on the memoirs of a Yankee captain, Amasa Delano. Melville describes an incident in 1804. It occurred in the South Pacific off an island near the coast of Chile involving a slave ship, called t
This is a very interesting study of an 1804 slave uprising on a ship. The uniqueness is that this ship encountered another ship, and the slaves were able to control the captain and pose as if they were still slaves to fool the other ship's captain (they had a head start as he was a fairly oblivious fellow and as a man of his times couldn't imagine such a thing)during a day visit on the taken ship. Herman Melville took the original event and turned it into a novella although altered for his own l ...more
D.R. Oestreicher
About 210 years ago, there was a slave revolt aboard the Tryal off the coast of Chile. The novella Benito Cereno by Herman Melville is based on this incident. Now over 150 years after Melville published, The Empire of Necessity by Greg Grandin is an historical accounting of the circumstances around that slave revolt.

This history draws on both the historical record and Melville's novella. Throughout the book, reference is made to Melville. I found the book reminiscent of Moby-Dick in structure. R
I don't write reviews because I figure nobody cares about my suggestions, but I feel compelled to post something to deter others from making the same mistake I did in picking this one up. The description on Goodreads and the dust jacket make it sound like an exciting tale of mutiny followed by unexpected violence from an otherwise well-meaning captain. Having previously read my fair share of sea-faring novels, I was eager to get started on this one. However, the first 100 pages are dedicated to ...more
James Loftus
Slavery is not a new subject for historians, but Grandin takes a new angle at it and ends up telling a pretty effective story, although I do think he falls short of closing the loop on his grand thesis in that end. The book centers its exploration of the South American portion of the early 19th century slave trade. It is unflinching and unsparing in the horrific details of what exactly the trade in human beings looked like. The book tells a larger global tale of international slavery by using th ...more
Herman Melville's book Benito Cerreno is about a slave revolt on a ship in 1805. Grandin's book is about the history of the real-life event. Slave's revolt on a ship, The Trial, when their ship is discovered by another ship captain, Amasa Delano. Delano's men slaughter many of the slaves, and the rest are returned to slavery and denied their freedom.

Grandin's main focus is on the paradox of American countries who valued freedom and equality despite the fact that freedom and equality led to an in
Zeb Kantrowitz
The Empire of Necessity

To me the premise of this book is that slavery created its’ own reality and therefore needed to be perpetuated in order to survive. It couldn’t be left to molder in any area because after a time it would wither and die. There would never be a ‘status quo’ related to slavery because all those involved needed it to continue to grow (like a Ponzi scheme).

For the slave owner, his slaves represented his biggest capital investment and they had to produce for him to survive. For
I teach Melville's novella to high school juniors in an interdisciplinary class. It is a challenging text, but one that offers many entry points for studying and questioning the antebellum era in the US (through historical allusions and literary devices) and modern attitudes about that era as well. Especially striking are Melville's depictions of the American do-good captain Delano and the African "servant"-revolutionary Babo. In The Empire of Necessity, Grandin marries storytelling, research, i ...more
Michele Clements
Do not read this book. Or, maybe, read this book. I nearly gave up more than twice, yet what kept me going were moments of heart-rendering, savage beauty, quoted passages of the philosophical debates regarding the ethics and appropriateness of slavery, illumination of the devastating, yet also surprisingly progressive wisdom that prevailed in everything from law to daily living, and a gorgeous analysis of Herman Melville's thinking that is serialized throughout the book. The vision that guided t ...more
Miquel Codony
Me parece muy interesante la forma que tiene Grandin de plantear su ensayo a partir del episodio que luego dio lugar al Benito Cerreno de Herman Melville. Usando el episodio como epicentro, el libro se dedica a desglosarlo en sus componentes básicos ampliando cada vez más el contexto; en espiral, como quien dice. Así explica el fenómeno de la esclavitud y el tráfico de esclavos (entre otras cosas) en américa latina y el resto del mundo a finales del siglo XVIII y principios del XIX. Es informati ...more
David Bristol
Great choice for reading group. It appeals to the historian in me yet will interest the literary types especially those Melville fans. Grandin has written an engaging history of the 1805 slave revolt on board the Tryal captained by you guessed it Benito Cerreno. You will find detailed info on South American slavery, the Atlantic slave trade all interwoven with Melville's rendering of the revolt in his short novel. And you get a wonderful portrait of Amasa Delano, the conflicted New England capta ...more
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Greg Grandin is the author of Fordlandia, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award. A Professor of History at New York University, Grandin has published a number of other award-winning books, including Empire's Workshop, The Last Colonial Massacre, and The Blood of Guatemala.

Toni Morrison called Grandin's new work, The Empire of Necessi
More about Greg Grandin...
Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City Empire's Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism The Last Colonial Massacre: Latin America in the Cold War The Blood of Guatemala: A History of Race and Nation A Century of Revolution: Insurgent and Counterinsurgent Violence during Latin America's Long Cold War

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