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Bound for Canaan

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4.12 of 5 stars 4.12  ·  rating details  ·  326 ratings  ·  81 reviews
With a historian's grasp of events and a novelist's ear for story, Fergus M. Bordewich has written a grand epic of American history -- focusing on the sixty years leading up to the Civil War, which brought to a climax the country's bitter division. But its beginnings can be traced to a clandestine alliance of both black and white abolitionists and slaves, who joined forces ...more
ebook, 540 pages
Published September 25th 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers (first published January 1st 2005)
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K.C.
Dec 12, 2007 K.C. rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
A truly, truly amazing read. A page-turner yet full of fascinating information. Best of all it debunks the idea that Blacks were passive victims during slavery who made no attempts to free themselves. If you are interested in this country and the people who created it, White and Black, read this book.
Jaime Payne
I thought this book was fabulous. It was meticulously researched and the stories of both known and unknown participants were told in a very compelling way. Some of the reviews I saw saw here complained about the stories starting off and then being picked up later. I loved that about this book, because instead of profiling each of the participants separately,like a series of unrelated short stories within the book, they were weaved together in a chronological order. We got to see the whole pictur ...more
Bookmarks Magazine

The Underground Railroad was, by its very nature, a silent, loose-limbed organization. This fog of anonymity may explain why, despite its critical role in American history, historians have attempted so few chronicles of it. Bordewich, author of My Mother's Ghost (2000) and Killing the White Man's Indian (1997), was undeterred by the challenge. If he can't rescue all names from anonymity, he succeeds in laying bare the heroic spirit of the escapees' struggle. He also breaks "the hard sheen of myt

...more
Nicole
4.5 stars - this was a solid, well-written, clearly well-researched history of an important and fascinating part of American history. Most people have heard of the Underground Railroad, but what do you really know about it? Prior to this book, my answer would have been "honestly, not much." I'm glad that this book gave me a chance to rectify that.

Some standout points for me: the connections between the Underground Railroad and the beginnings of the women's rights movement; the importance of Can
...more
Alex
Feb 26, 2015 Alex is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
NOTES

"The British colonies of North America and the United States imported only about 6 percent of the between 10 and 11 million slaves that were brought from Africa."

"From the earliest days of settlement, at least some colonists had equivocal feelings about slavery. In 1641 Massachusetts forbade slavery."

Philadelphia was the early center of the underground railroad, and Quakers were early pioneers: around 1800, "in the cobbled lanes of Philadelphia, fugitive slaves, free blacks, and white Quake
...more
Kim M-M
I give this an excellent for ease of reading. Fergus unfolds history like an epic story, which is all the better because it was true. Harriet emerges a heroine, and many others who found the courage to fight the system.
This is what history books should read like. Moving and expertly told, you get an immediate sense of what challenges the underground railroad was up against, and find yourself rooting fervently for the slaves bound for freedom.
Sam Diener
"The dictates of humanity came in opposition to the law of the land, and we ignored the law."
- Levi Coffin, Quaker abolitionist, from Bound for Canaan

In Bound for Canaan: The Epic Story of the Underground Railroad, America's First Civil Rights Movement, Fergus Bordewich vividly brings to life Levi Coffin, scores of black and white abolitionists, and astonishing tales of the ingenuity and courage exhibited by fugitives and their helpers. What came to be called the Underground Railroad, a movemen
...more
Bob Schmitz
Great book. Meticulously researched from original sources. Quoting from newspapers, letters and other documents you really get the feel for what people were thinking and experiencing during the time. Besides the sweep of the story of the system to conduct runaway slaves from the south to the northern states or Canada you learn detailed snippets of history:

-In NC I believe a white man bought a slave and set him free and then bought the slaves son and gave the son to the father so that the father
...more
Pauline
Clear, enlightening, yet as engrossing as a novel, Bound for Canaan tells the amazing stories of the Underground Railroad, from its beginnings among an informal network of anti-slavery Quakers (dating before there was even such a thing as a railroad!) to the dawn of the Civil War.

Seldom if ever have I read such an exciting nonfiction book. Without wanting to slight its historical importance, what I remember best about this book was that it had all the qualities of a page-turning, edge-of-your-se
...more
Mary
It started as a loosely connected group of mostly white Quakers and a few black freedmen seeking to get newly run- away slaves to the relative freedom of some of the larger cities in the North like New York, Philadelphia, and eventually Chicago. By the time it was over, it reached into the deeper parts of the South and, of necessity, went all the way to Canada. But it was never really organized, except here and there locally, and it was never without great opposition, not only in the South, but ...more
Caroline
The Underground Railroad has become one of the legends of American history. Populated with characters like Federick Douglass, Harriet Tubman and John Brown, it has taken on a mythic quality, and the truth of the now-anonymous men and women, black and white, who often risked life, limb and property to assist fugitive slaves to freedom in the northern states and Canada, has been all but lost.

The Railroad was not the systematic, structured, trans-American organisation that it is often portrayed as.
...more
Matt
The Underground Railroad holds a certain mystique in American culture and I remember when I was a kid reading stories and thinking “Harriet Tubman must have been pretty cool.” Of course, I was a kid and barely understood the gravity of what slavery meant or the implications for people, their families, or our country.

This book truly shines as a cohesive work. Sometimes, in non-fiction you get this mixed bag where there are great biographies or great stories that give context to a particular time
...more
Sher
I learned so much from this book. I am amazed once again that men can be so inhumane to other men even to the extreme of thinking they can own other human beings, and have the right to treat them worse than cattle. I just don't get it. But I was also reminded of how passionate men can be about freedom and the fair treatment of other men. By "men" I mean humankind, male and female.

I read of the brave, gritty Harriet Tubman who took her own life in her hands every time she set about to help free
...more
Willis
I found this to be fascinating and once I started I couldn't really put it down. It describes the evolution of the Underground Railroad from the early 1800's until its end with the Civil War. There are a lot of courageous people (both black and white) who were part of the effort to bring slaves from the South to the North and then onto Canada. It also talks about the effect that the Underground Railroad had on the Civil War, the eventual abolishment of slavery and even its impact on the women's ...more
david
This book filled in massive knowledge gaps for me about the Underground Railroad.. Bordewich writes like a champ and does a great job of weaving a bunch of harrowing and inspiring narratives while keeping an eye on major events leading to the Civil.

The Underground Railroad was our second great resistance, and it really gave birth to most our major reform movements: Women's Rights, Unions, Civil RIghts, LGBT, etc.

Read it!
Maggie
A must-read for all Americans; we must acknowledge the reality of the horror and extreme abuse the people enslaved suffered, and for their descendants who relive the experiences through family stories passed down the generations! And we must also tell of the cooperation of the Black and White communities to end the practice by lazy, sub-human southerners!
Ryan
This was a good book. Here is some of what I learned:

1. The North as a whole was less friendly to runaway slaves than I'd thought.

2. Canada was a sure place of refuge. Masters had no hope of recapturing a fugitive slave once he or she reached Canada.

3. There was more racism among the ranks of the Abolitionists than I'd thought. They opposed the institution of slavery, but still thought blacks were inferior.

Some of the negatives: it was hard to keep track of who was who in this book - Bordewich
...more
Daniel Farabaugh
This was a stellar account of the underground railroad. It combined the narratives with factual support in a way that lessened none of the drama. It really did a good job of illuminating a topic that has previously been limited to Harriet Tubman in popular tales.
Terri
This book has an vast amount of information about the history of the Underground Railroad. My biggest problem with it was that there were so many stories and people that appeared throughout the book (and reappeared) that I couldn't remember who was who other than a couple of well-known characters such as Frederick Douglas and Harriet Tubman. I read the entire book because the stories were compelling and I feel I learned a lot from reading it...however, it was not easy to read. The writing in a l ...more
Davedc
The "Underground Railroad" was neither underground, nor a railroad. That is all most folks know about the Underground Railroad. As this book shows, it was much more than that.

This book is a stellar history of the Underground Railroad. It highlights the major players and changes within the movement. It also focuses some much needed light on the great contributions of large numbers of free and fugitive blacks in "Underground." I loved this book, and really recommend it for anyone -- but especiall
...more
Dawn
This book has been an insightful and compelling journey into history. It has been a great book, but if you have had a rough week and are looking for a respite, this is not the book for you. It is a very real, well researched, and sometimes agonizing view into the causes and far reaching power of slavery in America. I was intrigued by all I have not learned before, and appreciated the honesty and detail into personal stories of some of the characters involved in the advent of the Underground Rail ...more
Phyllis
Richly drawn story of the many players in the Abolitionist movement. A deeper study and understanding of how the westward expansion played a key part in speeding up the railroad, how federal government overreach with the Fugitive Slave Act pushed many 'Yankees' to fully defy the law, and how slave owners & their supporters beliefs about slaves' intellectual abilities allowed the railroad to flourish.
Jabberwock
Social history at it's very best! Bordewich has done a masterful job of pulling together the limited primary sources for this largely undocumented period of our history. What I especially liked is the way he humanized each individual - their personalities, motivations, and determination to "do the right thing" were made palpable.

I've read biographies devoted to some of the more well known players - John Brown and Fredrick Douglass - but none come close to conveying the texture and humanity of bo
...more
Emma
Bound for Canaan is something of an historical epic in its scope, cutting through a swathe of history and individuals. This is something it should be commended for: instead of focusing on a few well known historical figures or the (white)legalistic frameworks that ultimately overturned slavery this book focuses on the complex web of individuals and communities who exercised civil disobedience to create an environment for law makers to implement serious reform. It was, at times, quite a moving ac ...more
Pam George
An important book in understanding some of our American history. Because the author mentions so many people, I found it helpful to record their names and a brief description for quick reference.
Josh
Great American History read. Well written and some excellent short stories within about the harrowing risks taken to get folks to freedom.
Bill
This book only got better for me. I have always been interested in the Civil War but have read little on the lead up to it and about the "Underground Railroad". This book filled in a lot of those gaps and has sparked my interest to know more.

The book does have a cast of hundreds, it seems, and it is hard at time to recall someone from earlier in the book. (reminds me of reading War and Peace) I started to write down notes to myself to help me recall some of the people when they were mentioned ag
...more
Kathie
Feb 13, 2015 Kathie rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Kathie by: Barb
Shelves: history
I read this book for a history book club and found it extremely well written and informative.
Myra
Compelling account of the "Underground Railroad" from it's beginning in 1800 to it's end in the years following the Civil War.
Sarah Finch
A well-written, extraordinarily thoughtful account of the Underground Railroad. It covers the famous luminaries such as Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass and introduces readers to previously obscure figures such as James Rankin, Josiah Henson, Levi Coffin, and many others. Bordewich excels at putting the Railroad in context and demonstrating how it worked within other antebellum movements such as the nascent women's suffrage movement, Quaker philosophy, John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry, t ...more
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FERGUS M. BORDEWICH is the author of five non-fiction books: Washington: The Making of the American Capital (Amistad/HarperCollins, 2008); Bound for Canaan: The Underground Railroad and the War for the Soul of America (Amistad/HarperCollins, 2005); My Mother’s Ghost, a memoir (Doubleday, 2001); Killing the White Man’s Indian: Reinventing Native Americans at the End of the Twentieth Century (Double ...more
More about Fergus M. Bordewich...
America's Great Debate: Henry Clay, Stephen A. Douglas, and the Compromise That Preserved the Union Washington: The Making of the American Capital Killing the White Man's Indian: Reinventing Native Americans at the End of the Twentieth Century My Mother's Ghost: A Courageous Woman, a Son's Love, and the Power of Memory Cathay: A Journey in Search of Old China

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