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

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4.0 of 5 stars 4.00  ·  rating details  ·  231 ratings  ·  62 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
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Hardcover, 384 pages
Published January 14th 2014 by Metropolitan Books (first published January 5th 2014)
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Anne
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
Cynthia
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
Fred
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.'
Justin
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.
Kerim
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.
Susan
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
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Richard
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
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
Naum
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
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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
Julie
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,
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Linda
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
Colleen
'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
jordan
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
Larry
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).

It's
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Franz
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
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Joshua Buhs
Wow, wow, wow. Amazing. Not just good history--not just superb history--but a work of literature.

Greg Grandin sets out to the tell the tale behind the tale: the story behind one of the most important stories in the American literary canon (though it was not recognized as such upon publication), Herman Melville's Benito Cereno. That story involves a revolt on a slave ship, and the complicated roles the slaves had to play before an unexpected white visitor. As it turns out, Melville based his stor
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Kay
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
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
Pat
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
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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
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Niki
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
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
Sue Hedin
This is a very literary, philosophical, and sociological book on the slave trade told mainly through the point of view of merchant slave ship owners and captains. The jumping off point for this originative history is the real 1804 maritime slave rebellion involving Captain Amasa Delano, an event which Herman Melville novelized in his book, Bonito Cereno. There were many new insights; slavery’s impact in South America, connections to sealing and whaling, the maritime complexities of the trade, al ...more
Jim Robles
There is a great read and incredibly rich in historical detail. It illustrates very well how we delude ourselves to feel good about who we are, and provide religious justification, even as we do flagitious things to other human beings. The enormity (no: that does not mean immenseness) of the slave trade is difficult to comprehend.

During the "Age of Freedom," "the act effectively define d freedom as the freedom of white men to enslave black men, women, and children" (p. 270). "In the South, too,
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Mike
A beautifully written and deeply researched book, The Empire of Necessity looks at the issue of slavery in the 1800s through the lens of the real life story of a slave ship rebellion that inspired Herman Melville's novella, Benito Cereno.

Grandin's prose is (as it was in Fordlandia) compelling and accessible, even as he illuminates the conflicting concepts of slavery and freedom in the 19th century. The Empire of Necessity is filled with revelation after revelation, from the Arabic origins of the
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Eliot
Though well-written, this is not an easy read: Grandin's narrative has breathtaking scope, changes focus so often, and weaves in so much that at times one must really slow down or even backtrack to make sense of it all. But the payoff for patient reading is great. By virtue of my profession, I had a pretty decent prior knowledge of many (by no means all) subjects explored here, but Grandin arranges his material into new combinations that have transformed and challenged my understanding. Also, Gr ...more
Don LaFountaine
First off, if it was possible, I would have rated this book 3 1/2 stars.

I liked this book. It was easy to read and the story line kept me interested. The author starts the book with a story about a Captain of a seal hunting boat, Amasa Delano, coming to the aid of what appears to be a slave trading boat. Only after the Delano has left for his boat did he realize that the slaves on the boat had taken over. Much of the remaining book describes, as well as can be recreated, the histories of the per
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Ernest Spoon
It is little wonder that the political landscape of the United States today is so convoluted when our public schools have done such a dismal job of teaching our history, warts and all.

"The Empire of Necessity: Slavery, Freedom, and Deception in the New World" by Greg Grandin delves into the brutal, and now largely forgotten, worlds of sealing--the slaughter and skinning of seals for their pelts--and African enslavement in South American to examine the meaning of freedom.
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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
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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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