Jim's Reviews > Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave and Essays

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slav... by Frederick Douglass
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's review
May 18, 09

bookshelves: biography, 2non-fiction, historical, 1paper
Read in May, 2009

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 took him to make that leap was incredible. His simple account of what people can endure is heart wrenching.

The only reason this book didn't get 5 stars was the editor. I can't recall his name, but he is a professor at Columbia University & must think his audience is a bunch of idiots. His long winded introduction basically tells Douglass' entire story. It was a spoiler & redundant. The original publication had another introduction that is also included. This was doubly redundant due to the first, but would have been far better if just it was included.

The editor's constant footnotes, defining well known words that are well used in context, were distracting & occasionally incorrect. The end notes were better, but should have been footnotes instead. I was left with the impression that the editor was trying to impress me rather than help me understand Douglass' story. Blech!

Douglass has written his autobiography in several versions. This was his first. I'd be interested in finding a later one, especially with a different editor. In any case, for all the faults of the editor, the basic story is something that I recommend everyone read.
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Reading Progress

04/28/2009 page 40
31.25% "FINALLY got through all the intro's to the actual story. The editor is either an idiot or thinks I am. Footnote to define 'encompassing'?!"
05/12/2009 "Finally reading Douglass. Powerful writer. Wow!"

Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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Nancy So glad you enjoyed this, Jim.

message 2: by Jim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jim I really appreciate you turning me on to it, Nancy. Don't know how I missed it all these years. What did you think of the editor? He was like fingernails scratching across a chalkboard for me.

Nancy Jim, I didn't actually read this edition. The one I read has an introduction by David W. Blight and a second part which contains selected reviews, documents, and speeches, including Douglass' 1852 speech, "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?" I found the explanatory notes useful and not overly excessive.

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