Dave's Reviews > American Uprising: The Untold Story of America's Largest Slave Revolt

American Uprising by Daniel Rasmussen
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's review
Oct 08, 11

bookshelves: read-in-2011, history, library-book
Read in October, 2011

Props to Rasmussen to researching and publicizing this incident of slave revolt. But that's about the only good thing I have to say about this stiflingly simplistic retelling of what should have been a riveting and important story.

Strike 1: Rasmussen's mantra
"We will never really know..." He uses this line about every 10 pages before filling in whatever gap he's identified with a clumsily executed piece of parallel history. Wondering what the leaders of the New Orleans revolt might have felt? Well, they were slaves, so they probably felt the same exact feelings that Olaudah Equiano felt a generation earlier in very different (and partially fictionalized) circumstances. After all, they were both black slaves. Check.

Strike 2: Rasumussen's writing
The tone ranges from cloying to earnest naivete, with the worst offences coming when Rasmussen decides (all too often) to embellish the bare bones historical account with his own little flourishes, like "the rippling muscles of the slave men" or "haughty gaze" of the plantation owners. These little cliches quickly erode the credibility of the narrative and, coupled with the fallacious comparisons described above, adulterate an original story with borrowed, hackneyed truisms.

Strike 3: Superficiality
Overall, this book reads like a promising undergraduate thesis that was rushed into production in the guise of a groundbreaking historical treatise. Good history looks past the easy sources of newspapers and similar, better documented events and gets creative. Time and again, Rasmussen gives the distinct impression that, because he couldn't find a certain type of source in his local library, it didn't exist. Great historians keep looking, and they don't publish accounts until they have something of substance to tell. American Uprising is the quintessential example of a good idea rushed into premature publication. A waste of Rasmussen's time and mine.
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