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The Known World

3.81  ·  Rating Details  ·  26,210 Ratings  ·  2,574 Reviews
In one of the most acclaimed novels in recent memory, Edward P. Jones, two-time National Book Award finalist, tells the story of Henry Townsend, a black farmer and former slave who falls under the tutelage of William Robbins, the most powerful man in Manchester County, Virginia. Making certain he never circumvents the law, Townsend runs his affairs with unusual discipline. ...more
ebook, 432 pages
Published March 17th 2009 by HarperCollins e-books (first published January 1st 2003)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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karen
Apr 06, 2010 karen rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: it-is-for-class
there is that old adage that a good book will tell you how to read it. and i have no idea to whom that should be attributed, only that my undergrad professors seemed to have been born to quote that thought endlessly: in my gothic lit class, my enlightenment class, my victorian lit class... the african and irish lit professors mostly kept their mouths shut on the subject. but the rest - hoo boy - did they love to drag that old chestnut out...

and it makes sense, to a certain degree. but this book
...more
Jason
Jul 26, 2008 Jason rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Manchester County, Virginia doesn't exist. Never has. After reading The Known World, however, you'd be forgiven if you thought you could take a tour of it's plantations and slave cemetaries on your vacation to colonial Williamsburg. The complicated pre-civil war Southern society that Edward P. Jones creates feels as real and surreal as any factual history of slavery you've read. It was not so much the story of Henry Townsend, a black slave owner, and all the people that his death allows us to me ...more
K.D. Absolutely
Dec 08, 2010 K.D. Absolutely rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to K.D. by: Pulitzer
Shelves: pulitzer, favorites
In this book I learned that there used to be black slaveholders in the US. I thought that only white people were allowed to own slaves during the time that owning slaves were like owning properties. During that pre-Abolition time. During those sad dark days in the American history.

Black Edward P. Jones (born 1951) wrote this historical epic novel, The Known World based on the not well known fact that there were some black slaveholders (black people owning black slaves) in the state of Virginia d
...more
Emily
May 20, 2010 Emily rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Dear The Known World:

I'll be blunt. I'm breaking things off. This just isn't working. It's not you; it's me. Well, maybe it's you, too, a bit.

I really thought when we got together that we would have a brief but mutually satisfying relationship. I'd read you, you'd provide enlightenment or emotional catharsis or entertainment, maybe even all three. All the signs were there: the laudatory quotes on your jacket, a shocking and unexpected premise, high marks on goodreads. But something was just off
...more
Anne Sanow
Feb 09, 2008 Anne Sanow rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm going to have to rave a bit, because this is one of the best books I've read in the past ten years.

Jones packs in all the historical detail you could want, and of course he's hit on a subject--black slaveowners--that in and of itself is tabloid-sensational. Where lesser writers might lean too hard on the sensational aspect (or rely on it to bolster an otherwise weak narrative), Jones works it into a compelling and powerful story.

What makes it so powerful is a mix of fascinating characters wh
...more
Rosey
Apr 26, 2007 Rosey rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Basically - a book about slavery in the South. I enjoy those kind of thing, especially The Secret Lives of Bees, but with this one, it felt like the book had no point. While I was reading, I kept on going "what did I just read? Am I really reading/understanding this book?" and kept on referring to the back cover of the book. No. The story was simply what I read. O.......K! Then ugh. I HATE leaving a book unread, so I kept on forcing myself to read thru the whole book. Finally the misery I was pu ...more
Catherine
Sep 06, 2012 Catherine rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-group, abandoned
There is probably an important and interesting story in here somewhere (for example, if it were actually about the widow of a black slave owner trying to run a plantation after her husband's death, as claimed on the book jacket). However, any plot that might exist was buried so deep beneath the convoluted chronology and extraneous characters and details that I decided I didn't care to keep digging for it, and quit on page 198. The author seemed determined to insert every existing anecdote about ...more
Marigold
A very complex and beautiful, compelling book about Henry, a former slave who becomes a slave owner, & his wife Caldonia. But they're just the start - the book is really a series of stories & vignettes about the families, friends, neighbors & community surrounding Henry & Caldonia. It took me a really long time to get into the book, because there are so many characters, some important & some not, & the book jumps around in time, making it difficult to follow. Trust me, us ...more
Michael
Despite some luminous moments where the characters come alive in a special way, this novel about the lives of slaves in a fictional community in Virginia of the 1830s felt too hermetic and sealed off for me to enjoy it as thoroughly as others might.

The special hook that the story holds is its rendering of freed blacks who became slave owners themselves. The focus is on one such plantation with about 30 slaves which is struggling to adapt to the death of its black master, Henry Townsend. We get a
...more
Alex
Feb 22, 2015 Alex rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: rth-lifetime, 2015
The Known World does this weird thing: it cites its sources. And it's weird because they don't exist. There are passages like this:
[Manchester, VA] went through a period of years and years of what University of Virginia historian Roberta Murphy in a 1948 book would call 'peace and prosperity'.
Jones goes on to tell you the publication history of that book, and a few more things about what was in it, and to imply that Roberta Murphy was a little racist. But there is no Roberta Murphy, there is no
...more
Nathan
Feb 05, 2016 Nathan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels
What a brilliant read! It wasn't a particularly easy book. There are A LOT of characters and there are many threads to the story. It all weaves together in very interesting and unpredictable ways. In the end it was well worth the effort.

This is one of those books where every aspect of the writing clicked for me. I loved it. I made me reexamine what makes me who I am as a person and as an American. I think this book changed me a little for the better.
Lori
Jul 29, 2009 Lori rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I know there is something bizzare about me because I didn't like this book. I know it has a lot of good reviews on here, so people should still give it a chance. Honestly, it is the first book this year I just couldn't finish. I made it halfway through hoping with each chapter that I would become interested in the story.

I think my major problem was the way the author laid the stories out. Nothing is in chronological order, and it's extremely confusing to being going back and forth in character'
...more
Book Riot Community
This was the final assigned reading for my Introduction to Fiction class and it was SO GOOD. The omniscient third-person narrator takes some adjustment, but once you get into the voice, the book is grand. So many incredible characters populate Jones’ fictitious Virginia county and the discussion I’ve had on this book in class has been incredible. When considering the “Great American Novel,” The Known World should absolutely be part of that discussion. — Chris Arnone


from The Best Books We Read In
...more
N W James
Overall, the story was interesting; black families in Virginia owning their own slaves and the implications thereof.

The narration was told in a sweeping way that I'm sure was intended to sound like an oral history. I was willing to ignore my annoyance at not being able to gauge exactly where I was in the timeline. My problem was managing the timeline with all of the characters. I also had fun figuring out how to spot Jones's subtle segues into a new time. Toward the end of the book, I could spo
...more
Pamela_b_lawrencemsn.com
Great great book. One of the characters early on says, as strange as a world that makes him slave to a white man, "God had indeed set it twirling and twisting every which way when he put black people owning their own kind." Not much I can say that hasn't been said by many other reviewers, and probably the Pulitzer Prize committee, but this is a clear-eyed book about slavery in the 1850s about the moral bankruptcy that allowed it to happen and that it engendered. This novel is not a page turner a ...more
Nathanial
Jun 29, 2007 Nathanial rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: descendants of confederate rebels
Shelves: fiction
Glorious account that gets past cliches. The premise is that two slaves in 1840s Virginia bought their freedom, but their son stayed a little too long under the master's care. What does the family do when the son starts his own farm and buys his own slaves? The mastery of Jones' writing comes in the sense of history that he lends to minute objects, chance encounters, and incantatory reveries within a frought landscape.

Not content to write an unwritten history of forgotten people, Jones re-write
...more
Aberjhani
Apr 22, 2015 Aberjhani rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Whoever enjoys a good novel.
Shelves: literature, fiction

Edward P. Jones' Bold Vision of "The Known World"

This story would have been exciting enough based only on the fact that Edward P. Jones so boldly took the antebellum novel to a place it has never gone before; namely, to black slave-owner Henry Townsend's plantation in Manchester, Virginia. There, the "Known World" is wholly different from what one might expect. But this seemingly obviously absurd anomaly of U.S. history, wherein black masters owned black slaves, doesn’t stop with that rarely dis
...more
Jennifer D
Feb 12, 2015 Jennifer D rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015-books
2.5-stars, really.

here is a perfect example of a books i should love, and yet.... i didn't. the book was a lot of work and, for me, very little reward. i think most of my issues are because of the style/structure of the novel:

* the third-person, omniscient narrator - this was distracting from very early on in the read. i held off judging it. i wanted to trust jones and his choice.
* non-linear narrative - i don't tend to have problems with this at all, but i found it super-clunky here. also dist
...more
Heather
Apr 06, 2008 Heather rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: history buffs, patient readers
Shelves: fiction
I felt that this book was important to read because it deals with a piece of American history that, like Europe's Holocaust, can never be comprehended, but should never be forgotten, either. The story is told from the less common third person omniscient point of view, which made it read more like a history book than a novel in some parts. It's hard to say which, if any, of the characters was the protagonist. This book sets itself apart from other books set in the antebellum South because the sla ...more
O
Jan 26, 2016 O rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
So if you ever want to read about a fictional town in Virginia taking place after the Civil War with more characters you can shake a fist at, this is your book. If you want a streamlined story with characters that are not flat, and a plot that is not all over the place, this is not the book for you.

I don't know what else to really say besides this book has so many characters it is pretty hard to sit down and point at one and say that's the main protagonist. The book synopsis for The Known World
...more
Gwendolyn
May 21, 2008 Gwendolyn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a great book, very well written and an interesting read. Tackling the complex morale issues surrounding slavery from a new perspective, this book delves into the territory of black owners of slaves. Without preaching, the author successfully navigates barbaric treatments and offers a view into the mental justifications and rationalizations. Characters of great strength, courage and resilience are interspersed on both sides of the issue, as are truly terrible individuals.

The author conti
...more
BC
Mar 26, 2009 BC rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Lamia
Jun 30, 2013 Lamia rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
رواية العالم المعروف تبحر بك في القرن السابع عشر في ولاية فرجينا الإمريكية وما يجاورها من مدن في زمن العبودية والتاريخ الأسود الذي رافق تلك الفترة قبل الحرب الأهلية الإمريكية .
لا الرغم من عدم شهرة الرواية إلا إنها حققت ربحا في المبيعات على الرغم من بعدها عن الإثارة وفوز كاتبها "بوليترز" وكذلك تم تصنيفها على إنها رواية تاريخية حيث أمضى الكاتب 10 سنوات في كتابة مادة الرواية وهي واقعية لدرجة كبيرة وتميل للإنسانية ولا ريب في ذلك إذا علمنا بإن جونز هو الابن الوحيد لعامل مطبخ وخادمة في فندق وعملت أمه
...more
Andrea
Mar 11, 2010 Andrea rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Another disappointing Pulizter choice. The narrative jumps from present to past to future which can be wonderful when there are characters one cares about but I found I didn't care much about any of them. There are almost no positive marital, sibling, or parental relationships. While the value systems of the time period are hard to understand today, no one in this book seemed to have real value system at all. The book may be revealing to many who were not aware of the practice of free African Am ...more
Meredith
Oct 24, 2007 Meredith rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is so great b/c of its ability to express all of the moral complexities of slavery pre-civil war. Duty, religion, morality, justice, law, success, conformity, experience……all contribute to the intricacies of slavery. The main characters revolve around Henry, who is a former slave that upholds an estate of slaves. Other characters are a God-fearing slave owner, a slave owner who falls in love with a black woman and has a child, and an educated black woman. Although rare, I had never kno ...more
Chris McClinch
This is a book I wouldn't have gotten past page 50 of had I not been reading it for a book club. While the author clearly did his research and posed a fascinating premise--free blacks owning slaves in 1840s Virginia--there wasn't much of a story or a key character or set of characters for you to hang your hat on. As such, I found the book to be much more of a slog than I would have expected with such a fascinating premise. This is one of those books where I want to take the author--who is clearl ...more
Monica
Aug 10, 2012 Monica rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012, pulitzerfiction
Gorgeously woven and incredibly interesting historical fiction about black slave owners, slaves, and the people who surround them in antebellum Virginia. At first I thought the shifting timeline might annoy me as being too postmodern, but the storytelling is epic and the characters are richly textured and sympathetic.

Jones doesn't let anyone get away without blame in this book, but he manages to infuse even the most vile characters with enough motivation and rationalization for their actions. He
...more
Sam
Dec 17, 2007 Sam rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: all my friends
My well-read mother-in-law referred this one to me. Fascinating. Well written. A modern day Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Freed Blacks owning slaves turns many of the justifications for slavery on their head, from the inferior black man argument, to God’s disapproval of the race. Touching, depressing, exciting, I couldn’t put this one down. I have yet to reconcile my believe and patriotism in America with the despicable practice of slavery that endured for over 100 years. This is a topic that really intrig ...more
Sonia
Jan 14, 2009 Sonia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very complex themes and characters. Historical fiction set in virginia, era 1800's. The tale of former slaves being slave owners. Learned some facts, very fascinating. Draw back: hard to remenber all the characters and how they are inter-relate.
Rebekah
I think I can go for several years now without reading another novel about slavery.
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Edward P. Jones has won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, and the Lannan Literary Award for The Known World. He received a MacArthur Fellowship in 2004, and his first collection of short stories, Lost in the City, won the PEN/Hemingway Award and was short-listed for the National Book Award. His most recent collection, All Aun ...more
More about Edward P. Jones...

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