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Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (The Autobiographies #1)

3.91 of 5 stars 3.91  ·  rating details  ·  45,695 ratings  ·  2,003 reviews
Born into a life of bondage, Frederick Douglass secretly taught himself to read and write. For a slave, it was a crime punishable by death, but it resulted in one of the most eloquent indictments of slavery ever recorded. Douglass's autobiography traces his birth into slavery, his escape to the North, and the beginnings of the career that was to make him the preeminent spo ...more
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Published August 17th 2009 by Tantor Media (first published 1845)
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Rosa Castro This is a great book. You will learn a few things about what occurred during the life of slavery & it also teaches you about the life of a true…moreThis is a great book. You will learn a few things about what occurred during the life of slavery & it also teaches you about the life of a true American hero. Just analyze the book as you read.(less)
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Stephen
Thank you Mr. Douglass…this was a life changer for me. You are a true American hero and the fact that there are not more monuments, government buildings, holidays or other commemorations of your life seems to me an oversight of epic proportions.

How often is it that you can honestly say that you’ll never be the same after reading a book? Well, this life story of a singular individual has changed me....irrevocably. I will never be able to sufficiently express my gratitude to Mr. Douglass for that
...more
Kaeleigh Forsyth
I love the review on here that says, "This book was kind of hard to get into because of the high level words used in this book." In the year 2012 a grown adult/product of the USA's educational system finds the vocabulary of a self-taught 19th century slave beyond their comprehension, ahahahahahahaha God Bless America.
Jason Koivu
Powerful, eloquent and utterly moving, especially considering it was written by a man who taught himself how to read and write while a slave.

The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass regrettably does not go into detail regarding the particulars of Douglass' escape to freedom. Having written his memoirs while slavery was still ongoing, he was afraid to reveal his methods for fear of endangering the lives of those who assisted him, as well as potentially shutting down an avenue of escape fo
...more
Richard
This book is not an important historical document to be placed in a glass case and venerated during Black History Month. It should be read by all, regardless of race or creed, as a warning against prejudice and oppression.

Douglass' description of the cruel conditions of slavery is mind-searing. His analysis of the system which fostered and condoned it shows amazing depth. He shows that slavery made wretched the lives of the victims but that it also warped the perpetrators, and created a regime i
...more
Diane Librarian
What a powerful piece of writing this is. Slavery is such an ugly part of American history, and this narrative tells all of the ordeals that Frederick Douglass had to overcome, including whippings, beatings, hunger, tyrannical masters, backbreaking labor, and horrible living conditions.

Douglass was born in Maryland in 1818, but even that year is a guess because slaves were generally not allowed to know their birthdate. He knew little of his mother because the master sent her away, and then she
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Aubrey
4.5/5

Unlike many on this site, if one may judge from the reviews and most popular tags of this work, I did not encounter this in school. This is unfortunate, as exposure to this at a younger age may have made my frame of references less solidified, Moby Dick over here and slavery narratives of there and all the usual sorts of aborted cross-reference and false literary linearity. These days, I am not as suspect to being fenced in by required reading in academia, but there are some still some sick
...more
Paul
This is a very brief first volume of a three volume autobiography. It is moving, powerful and horrific portrait of slavery in one of the so-called more humane slave states in the 1820s and 1830s.
It is an important historical document, but is also much more than that; published in 1845 it opened a window for the general public in the north who knew little about the inner workings of slavery. Douglass does not know his birthday, who his father was and was separated from his mother very early in l
...more
Zanna
Jul 04, 2014 Zanna rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Zanna by: Paul
Shelves: black-history, usa
Houston A Baker Jr introduces Douglass' narrative by positioning it within a rich tradition in two senses. Firstly, many former slaves published accounts of their experiences - a fact that I was not aware of and that Baker says has been poorly acknowledged, while the work of white abolitionists has been much-celebrated. Secondly, the literary interests of the period, absorbed by Douglass in his forbidden, covert, voracious reading, are expressed through the lyrical and dramatic qualities of his ...more
Alan
This is one of the most amazing pieces of writing I have ever read. Unfortunately, I grew up in Texas--a fact for which I have only recently forgiven my parents, with difficulty--and therefore was never forced to read anything more incendiary than To Kill a Mocking Bird or Uncle Tom's Cabin. Digression: Also, I had a creationist biology teacher. But yes. We didn't read any firsthand slave narratives. I don't even remember learning about the civil rights movements. Maybe we did. All of this jibba ...more
Jim
Very short & to the point, Douglass paints the picture of being a slave better than any other book I've read on the subject. His first hand account blows away 'Roots' or even the 'Confessions of Nat Turner' with its simple, understated prose. Huge thanks to Nancy, a friend here on GR, that recommended & gave me the book.

Why would a man remain in slavery when there was any chance of escape? This is a question I've always wondered about. He tells us. The courage & determination that it
...more
Craig Johnson
Jan 30, 2008 Craig Johnson rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: calendar designers
Not bad for a guy who taught himself to write while his masters weren't looking. Even the smallest knowledge of Douglass' post-slave life makes you wonder at the title: Who would have the gall to chain him up, of all men? The facts of slavery are still frightening after all this time. What makes it scarier is that Douglass was in Maryland, the Northernmost of southern states. Evidentally, the farther south you were the worse it was, so if this happened in Maryland, I don't like to think about Lo ...more
Julia
Frederick Douglass was born into slavery. With a slave owning father - who was presumably his first master - and a slave mother, all Douglass ever knew was slavery. However, even though he was a slave, he knew he was being denied his basic human rights without anyone telling him: "The white children could tell their ages. I could not tell why I ought to be deprived of the same privilege."

Douglass also offers an interesting insight into the emotions of slaves:

"Slave sing most when they are most
...more
Erika
My history professor assigned 4 books to read over the semester. I found the first 2 to be really boring, I did not enjoy them at all. Probably it had to do with the fact that my subconscious tends to hate everything that I'm forced to do. Like for example, if I'm not allowed to be absent from a class more than 3 times during the semester without failing it, I hate going, and feel the pressure everyday of having to drag myself to go to that particular class. On the contrary, if the teacher didn' ...more
Jesse
I know that most Goodreads members probably have their minds made up about slavery by now, but I had forgotten until recently what a remarkable piece of literature this is:

"On the one hand, there stood slavery, a stern reality,
glaring frightfully upon us,- its robes already crimsoned
with the blood of millions, and even now feasting itself
greedily upon our own flesh. On the other hand,
away back in the dim distance, under the flickering light
of the north star, behind some craggy hill or snow-cove
...more
Ken Moten
"Reader! are you with the man-stealers in sympathy and purpose, or on the side of their down-trodden victims? If with the former, then are you the foe of God and man. If with the latter, what are you prepared to do and dare in their behalf? Be faithful, be vigilant, be untiring in your efforts to break every yoke, and let the oppressed go free." - from the Preface by William Lloyd Garrison.

This autobiography is easily the most well-known and taught of any slave narrative in the United States. I
...more
Dale
An American Classic

4.5 hours
Narrated by Jonathan Reese
Published by Tantor Media


Frederick Douglass wrote three autobiographies during his life. Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglas, an American Slave , written in 1845, is, perhaps, the most famous. The others were My Bondage and My Freedom (1855) and Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1881, revised 1892).

Written as a response to those that doubted that such an intelligent and well-spoken man could have ever been a slave, Narrative
...more
Dan
This summer while talking among friends I had the realization that I have read almost no african american literature. I knew I had deficiencies in female authors and have been trying to balance things out better this year. How is it that I can think of myself as well read with these two (and who knows how many more) weak spots?

So I decided to start near the beginning with Frederick Douglass and I am glad I did as it was a fairly eye opening look into the life of a slave. I think we all get the g
...more
Amber
“…my long crushed spirit rose, cowardice departed, bold defiance took its place; and I now resolved that, however long I might remain a slave in form, the day had passed forever when I could be a slave in fact. I did not hesitate to let it be known of me, that the white man who expected to succeed in whipping, must also succeed in killing me…” -- Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglass, An American Slave

I went into the B&N bookstore to escape the hot Atlanta sun, and while browsing I saw
...more
Shaun
I've read this book several times but especially enjoyed re-reading it with my son as we study this era in American history. It's a great narrative for anyone who wants to get a sense of the history and injustice of slavery from a slave's perspective.
Cathleen
I've read this book several times, and I'm sure I'll continue to reread it every few years or so. I'm in awe of the sheer magnificence of Douglass's intellect and genius with language; his observations on human nature, power, injustice, dignity and self-determination are profound.
Billy McCoy
This book is an excellent and inspiring book, one cannot praise it too much; however as an objective and unbiased reader one wonders how much of this story is exaggerated to make Douglass' point about the horrors of slavery.
Eugenie
This was a fascinating true story that kept me enthralled from start to finish. I could go right back to the beginning and read it all through over again with superlative ease.6 stars
Marcus Chatman
I found this book, though historic, to be a modern marvel. I find not only the man himself but even more so the writings of Frederick Douglass to be totally FASCINATING! This man's ability to describe the various monstrosities encountered throughout his journey in such a beautiful, articulate, and eloquent way is utterly GENIUS! In reading this timeless masterpiece I discovered that this man bears the unmatched, undisputed spirit of a champion; the undying essence of a true warrior; that I'm sur ...more
Aaron
This is a brief autobiographical account of the author's early life. In it, Douglass tells us what it was like to be a slave in both rural and urban Maryland, describes the circumstances around which he learned to read and write, how reading and writing effected his intellectual awakening, and how all of these circumstances combined toward one of the most fundamental of human drives, that of a yearning toward freedom.

As a writer, Douglass possessed a clear command of language. The book is writt
...more
Jenny Zarate
Apr 11, 2008 Jenny Zarate rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: any humans, but especially literate racists, if there are any.
I read this book for the first time in 1998 in a classroom setting. Having remembered that I liked it then, I re-read it during my early pregnancy, back when I had a lot of time and could keep both eyes in one spot for an extended period of time. I don't know if it was the hormones, or just the fact that I wasn't feeling the pressure of being the only white girl in the African American Literature class, but it was even better than I had previously remembered it.

Quick quote from a colleague of mi
...more
أحمد أبازيد Ahmad Abazed
وثيقة مهمّة للتاريخ و لسجلّ الحرية المكتوب بدم الكثيرين عبر التاريخ
فريدريك دوجلاس ... الذي عرف أنّ القراء تعني الحرية ... فقرأ و قاوم و خطّط و تمرّد على الواقع حتى نال حريّته .
فريدريك دوجلاس نصيبه من الثقافة متواضع , لذلك لن يكون هنا كتاب عبقريّ أدبيّاً , ولكنّها هواجس الحرية و حوادث من تاريخ بشع يجب ألّا تُنسى , هنا أهمّّيّة هذا الكتاب الصغير
Elizabeth
Nov 15, 2013 Elizabeth rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People who are interested in race, history, etc.
This book demands to be read.


“If you give a nigger an inch, he will take an ell. A nigger should know nothing but to obey his master… Learning would spoil the best nigger in the world…He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master. As to himself, it could do him no good…It would make him discontented and unhappy.” (Chapter VI, Mr. Auld).
In a way Douglass’s new master was right. By teaching Douglass just the alphabet alone and hearing Mr. Auld’s objections, Fredrick Douglass
...more
Robin Webster
Frederick Douglass was an Afro American born into slavery roundabout 1818. This narrative was written by him and published in 1845 and tells the tale of his upbringing. He talks about his experiences as a slave and how he secretly learnt to read and write. He does not discuss his escape because he did not want to give any information about the escape routes to his enemies. However, he does talk about how after he made his way to North America of how he became a leading light in the anti-slave mo ...more
E. C. Koch
Frederick Douglass is one of the baddest asses in American history. Sure the Narrative is short, and skips over the part where he actually escapes from slavery (of course, he does this for good reason), but it's honest and honorable and incredibly forgiving. And then also he wrote this at a time when he could have been recaptured and taken back to Maryland where he would probably have been killed, which makes him a bad-ass. And he uses the actual names of the people, both good and evil, who figu ...more
Michael
It is a credit to Frederick Douglass's keen perception that a book written over one hundred and seventy years ago about the evils of slavery can be pertinent today. We cannot afford to overlook Douglass's observations of how gaining power works on his masters. Even though the dynamics of master and slave are gone today, many people still exercise authority over others, parents over children, employers over employees, clergy over their congregations, and politicians over their constituencies. Too ...more
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Well Trained Mind...: #12 - The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass 21 11 Jul 07, 2015 08:10AM  
What is unique about Douglas's writing? 5 46 Jun 26, 2014 02:05AM  
What is unique about Douglas's writing? 1 9 Jan 27, 2014 10:02AM  
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  • The Strange Career of Jim Crow
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18943
Frederick Douglass (née Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey). Born as a slave in Maryland in 1818, he was to become a renowned abolitionist, editor and feminist. Escaping from slavery at age 20, he renamed himself Frederick Douglass and became an abolition agent. Douglass traveled widely, often at personal peril, to lecture against slavery. His first of three autobiographies, The Narrative of the ...more
More about Frederick Douglass...

Other Books in the Series

The Autobiographies (3 books)
  • My Bondage and My Freedom
  • Life and Times of Frederick Douglass
My Bondage and My Freedom Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave / Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl Autobiographies Life and Times of Frederick Douglass The Heroic Slave (African American Heritage Book)

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“...I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of the land... I look upon it as the climax of all misnomers, the boldest of all frauds, and the grossest of all libels. Never was there a clearer case of 'stealing the livery of the court of heaven to serve the devil in.' I am filled with unutterable loathing when I contemplate the religious pomp and show, together with the horrible inconsistencies, which every where surround me. We have men-stealers for ministers, women-whippers for missionaries, and cradle-plunderers for church members. The man who wields the blood-clotted cowskin during the week fills the pulpit on Sunday, and claims to be a minister of the meek and lowly Jesus. . . . The slave auctioneer’s bell and the church-going bell chime in with each other, and the bitter cries of the heart-broken slave are drowned in the religious shouts of his pious master. Revivals of religion and revivals in the slave-trade go hand in hand together. The slave prison and the church stand near each other. The clanking of fetters and the rattling of chains in the prison, and the pious psalm and solemn prayer in the church, may be heard at the same time. The dealers in the bodies of men erect their stand in the presence of the pulpit, and they mutually help each other. The dealer gives his blood-stained gold to support the pulpit, and the pulpit, in return, covers his infernal business with the garb of Christianity. Here we have religion and robbery the allies of each other—devils dressed in angels’ robes, and hell presenting the semblance of paradise.” 171 likes
“I have observed this in my experience of slavery, - that whenever my condition was improved, instead of its increasing my contentment, it only increased my desire to be free, and set me to thinking of plans to gain my freedom. I have found that, to make a contented slave, it is necessary to make a thoughtless one. It is necessary to darken his moral and mental vision, and, as far as possible, to annihilate the power of reason. He must be able to detect no inconsistencies in slavery; he must be made to feel that slavery is right; and he can be brought to that only when he ceased to be a man.” 42 likes
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