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The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution

4.26 of 5 stars 4.26  ·  rating details  ·  1,914 ratings  ·  105 reviews
A classic and impassioned account of the first revolution in the Third World.

This powerful, intensely dramatic book is the definitive account of the Haitian Revolution of 1794-1803, a revolution that began in the wake of the Bastille but became the model for the Third World liberation movements from Africa to Cuba. It is the story of the French colony of San Domingo, a pla
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Paperback, 2nd Edition, 448 pages
Published October 23rd 1989 by Vintage (first published 1938)
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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya AngelouThe Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm XThe Black Jacobins by C.L.R. JamesNarrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick DouglassBlack Boy by Richard Wright
Black biography
3rd out of 108 books — 21 voters
Nickel and Dimed by Barbara EhrenreichA Walk in the Woods by Bill BrysonA Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill BrysonThe Constitution of the United States of America by James Madison1984 by George Orwell
President Obama's Summer Reading List
49th out of 277 books — 148 voters


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Community Reviews

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Naeem
James' masterpiece. It's considered one of the most important histories ever written. I consider it a landmark in my own life. It had explosive effects on my thinking. There is no way to do justice to this book in a review. But let me try.

I am going to rave about this book. But there is also plenty of criticism of it. Every historian of the Haitian Revolution has to comment on this book. All of them have to write in his shadow and in response to James. You can hardly call yourself a Third World
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Andrea
This is a fascinating and tragic story, one I knew very little about, and on the most basic level of simply understanding an incredibly complex part of history, this does a very engaging job. He writes the history of places like Haiti the way they should always be written, as playing a part on a world-wide stage, deeply influenced by and deeply influencing other countries. France's wealthiest colony, San Domingo funded the French Revolution, it diverted a sizeable number of (and bested) British ...more
Malcolm
James's history of the anti-colonial rising in what is now Haiti during the French revolution and its suppression by the revolutionary regime is one of the great analyses of colonial rebellion and struggles for liberation. Essential reading for a grasp of imperialism and colonialism – and I was delighted to see that Toussaint L'Ouverture is now commemorated in The Panthéon – France's monument to national heroes. He is not buried there: he died in a French prison and the location of his place of ...more
Artnoose Noose
After the earthquake in Haiti, all books about Haiti in the Pittsburgh library system were checked out. I was on the wait list for this book for about 6 months. Unfortunately it finally arrived at a time when I was trying to finish up another non-fiction book before going out of town. I was only able to get through about half of the book.

That being said, it was a lot more dry than I expected and had I not read another history on Haiti first, I may have been pretty lost. I think I must have a co
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Linn
I have held a long fascination for Haiti, first because of voodoo, but then because it was the first really successful slave revolt in the history of the western hemisphere. The Black Jacobins was written in the 1930's, and it shows, but James has a sharp tongue and an even sharper eye for the hypocrisies of revolutionary France and their bourgeoisie. He lays the Haitian revolution out clearly from the heyday of the slave-owning San Domingo colony, through the start of the French Revolution, and ...more
Alex
Daniel Meltzer wrote a wonderful review of this book, which I agree with:


This book was excellent read. The strengths included breathtaking battle scenes, rousing rhetoric for freedom and against slavery, brilliant stories of liberation, and page-turning political intrigue. The weaknesses in the book come from self-defeating politics of discipline for the sake of discipline, and the heart-rending compromises that Toussaint L'Overture makes with people who see him and the republic he created as no
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Rob
Last year's Haitian earthquake once again exposed how this desperately poor country has been since its creation at the mercy of powerful imperialist forces. Without doubt poverty and lack of infrastructure contributed to the casualties caused in that disaster, exacerbated by years at the mercy of market forces and the ideologues at the IMF. CLR James shows us how it all began. A story of brave and radical leaders, who literally shook off their chains to defeat Napoleon at the height of his power ...more
Misha
Not only is Toussaint one of the most interesting persona in history, C.L.R. James knows how to make of that a legend. It is worth considering just how good James is, since I remain just slightly suspicious of some of the descriptions, which make of Toussaint a more than human character. But there are enough cold hard facts to dispel even the most bitter of us, and draw us into Toussaint's story.

Generally, I don't find histories to be gripping, but Toussaint's fight is the best kind of fight; f
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FiveBooks
Trevor Phillips OBE ,head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, has chosen to discuss C L R James’s The Black Jacobins , on FiveBooks (http://five-books.com) as one of the top five on his subject - Equality, saying that:

“… This book is very complex because it does not make the rebellion’s leader, Toussaint L’Ouverture, into a sort of plaster saint. This is a guy who led a revolt against an absolutely brutal, manipulative slave-owning class and in some respects he had to be just as ghastl
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Lydia
If you ever want to explore the sorrows that are the reality of today's Haiti, you should start with this book. The book explores the seeds of revolution in Haiti, the attempts by soldier/statesman L'Ouverture to diplomatically secure freedom for enslaved Africans in Haiti, to final military victory secured by Dessaline. It is a well written book about a country and people just written off by Nations of the Western Hemishphere and by France. The conditions and the brutality endured by the Africa ...more
A.T. Hicks
I became a huge fan of anything to do with Hatian history while I was a student of French studies at North Carolina Central University in Durham, North Carolina. As a result, I came across C. L. R. James. His writing is impeccable, his research meticulous. If you are interested in Hatian history, this is a must-read.

http://www.saltygurl.com

Peaches and the Gambler (#1) by A.T. Hicks
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Baris
Jun 04, 2014 Baris rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: comps
Great classic on Haitian revolution. James is especially strong in his analysis of the class and race relations between whites, blacks and mulattoes both prior to and after the revolution. He convincingly describes how L'Overture brilliantly exploited the class and racial antagonisms between white planters, so-called small whites, rich and poor mulattoes, and --finally-- free and slave blacks.
Arguably there are two main weakness in the book, and both of these weaknesses are side effects of its
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Andrew
The history of a most significant revolution brought to light by C L R James. This was a revolution to make everyone free, not just a select few. One wonders at how different the world would be if the founders of Haiti had had been given an opportunity to establish themselves!
This for is for me is one of the best histories coming from the Caribbean! A book which brings the Haitian revolution and the characters involved to life.
Kate Savage
“Free is how you is from the start, an’ when it look different you got to move, just move, an’ when you movin’ say that is a natural freedom make you move.” -George Lamming

If you find yourself not particularly furious at imperialists, this book will cure you.

C.L.R. James keeps his eyes open, unmercifully. He'll tear down the old Mero Meros like Bonaparte and other traitors to the ideals of the French Revolution. In his own words: "they wallowed with zest in the filth and mire of their political
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Rebecca
I picked this because I wanted to learn more about Haiti and its history, but this book is dense history, too dense for me. It would help to already know the French revolution, which I don't. Oh well. I gave up around page 100. Life is too short to keep on reading a book I don't like.
Einschrein
Let's face it - I read this book for a class, otherwise I would never have finished it, despite my interest in the topic. Therefore, this book gets 5 stars for simply representing a history of Haiti (a topic lacking in historical narrative), however, at times it was exceedingly dry.
Edward
Jun 26, 2015 Edward marked it as to-read
Shelves: non-fiction, own
Map
Preface to the Vintage Edition
Preface to the First Edition


--The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution

Bibliography
Appendix: From Toussaint L'Ouverture to Fidel Castro
Index
Bianca
C.L.R. James utilizes this text to shed the light on Haiti during the times leading up to the Haitian Revolution and the remarkable events during. We learn about the will of the people who refused to be treated badly and degraded; the determination and commitment to fight for freedom until the death and their fearlessness to pull these actions through. On an island inhabited by individuals stolen from their home country, they couldn't grasp the concept of why they needed to negotiate their lives ...more
Micah
Hands down, without exaggeration, one of the best books I've ever read. Completely paradigm-shifting, in terms of how I think about modernity and a bunch of other issues.
Amber
It doesn't get better than this for haitian history. It reads like fiction.
Kay
A gripping, nasty, raw, and amazing history!
Colin
It is difficult to recall a more challenging book, both in detail and content. Difficult to follow, with a thousand French names to disentangle, and a hundred locations to remember. But rewarding beyond what normally expects from a book. I come as white anarcho-communist, but educated in the near and distant past in the traditions of white, European liberalism. I've probably for long seen things from a Marxist perspective, and reading James is in many ways comforting; he speaks in something clos ...more
Alex
Jul 28, 2013 Alex marked it as to-read
Recommended by Judkins.
Paul
This is vital history, and my hitherto ignorance of Caribbean formative history is in hindsight slightly shameful. But then, Caribbean history for whatever reason, just isn't very mainstream or accessible here.

Anyway, the importance of the subject matter is summed up by James himself: "West Indians first became aware of themselves as a people in the Haitian revolution" (p. 305). The revolution was the birth of an entirely new culture, mixing African, American and European elements but somehow at
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cscb
2/3 of the way through and completely enthralled. i look forward to my commute because of this book. the bus gets to my stop and i don't want to tear myself away and have to get off.

now finished. this is the type of history that i love to read - unabashedly expressive of the writer's politics while taking considerable length and effort to address conflicting viewpoints and demonstrate that his interpretation and presentation of events and individuals is largely a product of a deep and thorough
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MLD
The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution
By C.L.R. James (Toronto: Random House Canada, 1989), 418pp.

Michelle LD Fairbanks
University of New Brunswick

Revolutions have found their way into history textbooks, yet none written with the critical story-telling of C.L.R. James on the Haitian Revolution (San Domingo, 1794-1803). Chronicling the tragic events as they unfold, from the capture of slaves in Africa to work the sugar plantations in the Caribbean to the onset of
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Natalie
Overall, a good history read, though I'm not without my critiques.

This book was originally written in 1938, and it kinda shows. (Man needs an Angela Davis revision NOW!) (People who regularly read my reviews are probably getting sick of this, but would it really be SO HARD to just write history as if women actually existed? Really?)

CLR James did a little too much editorializing for my tastes. I mean, dude. You're writing about the first successful slave revolt in world history. You don't need t
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Daniel
Feb 17, 2011 Daniel rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Daniel by: James Herod
This book was excellent read. The strengths included breathtaking battle scenes, rousing rhetoric for freedom and against slavery, brilliant stories of liberation, and page-turning political intrigue. The weaknesses in the book come from self-defeating politics of discipline for the sake of discipline, and the heart-rending compromises that Toussaint L'Overture makes with people who see him and the republic he created as nothing more than slaves to be punished for their insubordination.

The utter
...more
Bradley
The first book on the Revolution in Haiti that I ever read, The Black Jacobins was a sweeping, emotional work that ignited my interest, despite its age. For the study of historiography, the book, with its Marxist analysis and one may infer, revisionist aim, is an excellent subject. Theretofore, the scholarship on the events in San Domingo must surely have been critical (something I will find out for sure with further reading). While the machinations of Pitt or Bonaparte were celebrated as states ...more
Evan
If on no earthly spot was so much misery concentrated as on a slave-ship, then on no portion of the globe did its surface in proportion to its dimension yield so much wealth as the colony of San Domingo.

A fascinating, miserable, soul-crushing testament to man's worst qualities. C.L.R. James's history of Saint-Domingue is at points breathlessly exciting. That this book is most accurately described as a Marxist history was, I thought, its only shortcoming, but in the end James makes it clear that
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C. L. R. James (1901–1989), a Trinidadian historian, political activist, and writer, is the author of The Black Jacobins, an influential study of the Haitian Revolution and the classic book on sport and culture, Beyond a Boundary. His play Toussaint Louverture: The Story of the Only Successful Slave Revolt in History was recently discovered in the archives and published Duke University Press.
More about C.L.R. James...
Beyond A Boundary Minty Alley Mariners, Renegades and Castaways A History of Pan-African Revolt American Civilization

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“When history is written as it ought to be written, it is the moderation and long patience of the masses at which men will wonder, not their ferocity.” 13 likes
“The rich are only defeated when running for their lives.” 9 likes
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