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

4.0 of 5 stars 4.00  ·  rating details  ·  139 ratings  ·  47 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...more
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published January 14th 2014 by Metropolitan Books
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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
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.
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 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...more
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
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
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,...more
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...more
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
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...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...more
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...more
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
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,...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...more
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.
Joan Porte
This is a fascinating story of a slave revolt - the basis of which became Melville's "Benito Cerrno" and which involved a distant relative of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Amasa Delano. The problem is that it spent well over half of the book talking about slavery in general. I wanted to read about this one incident - and if there wasn't enough then perhaps an article not a book would have been better. OR this could have been included in a book about great slave revolts.

An okay book about slavery and trade between the New World (Brazil, Argentina, Peru), Old World (UK, France, Spain, Portugal) and the supplier (W.Afrika). Slaves were brought in the hundred of thousands to fuel the import/export trade of sugar, spices and other foodstuffs. The Americas would certainly be different if the slave trade didn't exist. We would have fewer African Americans in America ( that's for sure ) and more white players playing sports !
Trinity School Summer Reading
Grandin brings together literature and history. Grandin explores the history of the slave rebellion on which Herman Melville based his novel BENITO CERENO. This book sheds light on the degree to which slavery was a significant aspect of international trade. The book also addresses the ways in which slaves challenged and tried to subvert the system. (BENITO CERENO recommended as a complement to this work.)
Bob Reutenauer
Tremendous read! Takes us deeply into the world of Melville's _Benito Cereno_ , a tale of South Pacific slave uprising, masked identities, and the New England seal hunting vessel captained by FDR ancestor Amasa Delano. The bizarre "incident" which Melville turns into his own fictional novella, is retold by the historian Grandin, with a literary, legal, and cultural touch of great ambition and talent. A beautiful and unique book. Sits next to Walter Johnson's _River of Dark Dreams_ (2013) for it'...more
A fascinating book that combines discussions of Melville, the slave trade, and the history and role of slavery in the development of South and Central America. What weaves these together is Melville's novella, Benito Cereno, a fictional account of an historical event - a rebellion of slaves of a slave ship, that almost succeeded when the rebels put on a convincing act for members of the crew of a ship that came to help/check them out, pretending that they were still slaves under the control of t...more
At this point, it's time for me to admit that a good 80% of what I read was reviewed on 'Fresh Air.' Radio nerd/old soul and it can't be helped.

That said, this is a fascinating story, both in the Melville connection (which does get laid on a little thick at times) and the world Grandlin's describing, where men who fought in the American and French revolutions for equality and brotherhood spend their lives slaving or killing whales, seals and/or their competitors on a truly epic scale. It can get...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
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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