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Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

(The Autobiographies #1)

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  104,623 ratings  ·  4,922 reviews
Born a slave circa1818 (slaves weren't told when they were born) on a plantation in Maryland, Douglass taught himself to read and write. In 1845, seven years after escaping to the North, he published Narrative, the first of three autobiographies. This book calmly but dramatically recounts the horrors and the accomplishments of his early years—the daily, casual brutality of ...more
Paperback, 158 pages
Published September 1st 2004 by Ingram (first published 1845)
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AFMasten Are you referring to Vincent DiGirolamo's Crying the News?…moreAre you referring to Vincent DiGirolamo's Crying the News?(less)
Amani Clark-Bey This is a great book but he should of gave some more information on some specific topics. They should of gave more information on how they whipped him…moreThis is a great book but he should of gave some more information on some specific topics. They should of gave more information on how they whipped him. People need to know what he truly went through. He just didn't become a leader over day. They need some more information on here. Let's just give some more information on this topic.(less)

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Thank you Mr. Douglass…this was a life changer for me. You are a true American hero and the fact that there are not more monuments, government buildings, holidays or other commemorations of your life seems to me an oversight of epic proportions.

How often is it that you can honestly say that you’ll never be the same after reading a book? Well, this life story of a singular individual has changed me....irrevocably. I will never be able to sufficiently express my gratitude to Mr. Douglass for that
Petra's mechanic says her car isn't worth fixing
Time for a reread! What I like more about Douglass than anything else at all is his clear thinking on subject peoples. He saw that the discrimination against blacks and women was from an identical stance. That white men were imposing a structure of equality and entitlement that placed them at the top, and everyone else far beneath them. Indeed America's much lauded equality didn't apply to Blacks as they property not people. It hasn't changed much in very many countries, if not all, but you can ...more
Sean Barrs
"Once you learn to read you will forever be free"

This is powerful, so, so powerful. This is a remarkable achievement considering it is written in such a straight forward manner by a man who taught himself to read. There is no embellishment or dramatic imagery here; it is simple, straightforward, harrowing, fact. It is such a strong narrative that I’m extremely glad I read. I recommend it to everyone.

Moreover, to emphasise the sheer depravity, and brutality, these slaves were subjected to,
This book is not an important historical document to be placed in a glass case and venerated during Black History Month. It should be read by all, regardless of race or creed, as a warning against prejudice and oppression.

Douglass' description of the cruel conditions of slavery is mind-searing. His analysis of the system which fostered and condoned it shows amazing depth. He shows that slavery made wretched the lives of the victims but that it also warped the perpetrators, and created a regime i
Dec 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those wanting a glimpse of american history through slave narratives
"…My copybook was the board-fence, brick wall, and pavement; my pen and ink was a lump of chalk. With these, I learned mainly how to write."As with Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, I feel as though I should start by reiterating these simple truths about the narrative: Yes, Douglass did write this book himself; No, he was not against Christianity, only a staunch opponent of hypocritical Christians; No, he did not promote hatred of man - his hate was of slavery.
The hearth is desolate. Th
Jun 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
Book Review
I first read the biographical introduction about Frederick Douglass and learned many new things. I knew he wrote a few autobiographies, but I never knew that he spanned them over 40 years of writing and that he lived for close to 80 years. I then read both the preface by Garrison and the letter to Douglas. They were excellent introductions to the narrative by Frederick Douglass. They set the mood and get you ready to experience a whole new set of emotions when you read Dou
Jason Koivu
Sep 10, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Powerful, eloquent and utterly moving, especially considering it was written by a man who taught himself how to read and write while a slave.

The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass regrettably does not go into detail regarding the particulars of Douglass' escape to freedom. Having written his memoirs while slavery was still ongoing, he was afraid to reveal his methods for fear of endangering the lives of those who assisted him, as well as potentially shutting down an avenue of escape fo
Excellent. It’s an end in itself, of course, but I’m also reading as a kind of preface to Caryl Phillips’s Crossing the River, Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing and as an afterword to David M. Oshinsky’s Worse Than Slavery: Parchman Farm and the Ordeal of Jim Crow Justice. The writing is marvelous. On to My Bondage and My Freedom. ...more
Paul Bryant
Sep 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoirs
Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?

(Rom 13:9, Luke 10:29)

This short intense painful powerful book shows us very clearly that the regime in American slaveholding farms in the 19th century was similar to Nazi concentration camps.
What a powerful piece of writing this is. Slavery is such an ugly part of American history, and this narrative tells all of the ordeals that Frederick Douglass had to overcome, including whippings, beatings, hunger, tyrannical masters, backbreaking labor, and horrible living conditions.

Douglass was born in Maryland in 1818, but even that year is a guess because slaves were generally not allowed to know their birthdate. He knew little of his mother because the master sent her away, and then she
Ruxandra (4fără15)
O, God, save me! God, deliver me! Let me be free! Is there any God? Why am I a slave? I will run away. I will not stand it. Get caught, or get clear, I’ll try it. I had as well die with ague as the fever. I have only one life to lose. I had as well be killed running as die standing. Only think of it; one hundred miles straight and I am free! Try it? Yes! God helping me, I will. It cannot be that I shall live and die a slave. It may be that my misery in slavery will only increase my happiness whe ...more

Unlike many on this site, if one may judge from the reviews and most popular tags of this work, I did not encounter this in school. This is unfortunate, as exposure to this at a younger age may have made my frame of references less solidified, Moby Dick over here and slavery narratives of there and all the usual sorts of aborted cross-reference and false literary linearity. These days, I am not as suspect to being fenced in by required reading in academia, but there are some still some sick
Feb 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: autobiography
This is a very brief first volume of a three volume autobiography. It is moving, powerful and horrific portrait of slavery in one of the so-called more humane slave states in the 1820s and 1830s.
It is an important historical document, but is also much more than that; published in 1845 it opened a window for the general public in the north who knew little about the inner workings of slavery. Douglass does not know his birthday, who his father was and was separated from his mother very early in l
Jon Nakapalau
Every once in awhile you read what I call a 'satori' see things from a perspective that will never let you go back to your previously held beliefs. This book really opened my eyes to slavery and the toll it took on countless human beings. Frederick Douglass is truly one of the great intellectuals of American history. ...more
Kevin Shepherd
Frederick Douglass was a man of faith, and as such he wanted to believe that all men of faith were, at their core, decent men.

“In August, 1832, my master attended a Methodist camp meeting held in Bay-side, Talbot county, and there experienced religion. I indulged a faint hope that his conversion would lead him to emancipate his slaves, and that, if he did not do this, it would, at any rate, make him more kind and humane. I was disappointed in both these respects...”

Experience taught Frederick Do
Cinzia DuBois
Oct 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is just the first volume of a three volume autobiography which paints a horrific portrait of the so-called “humane” slave states in the early 1800s.

Douglas’ eloquent and powerful narrative details brutality of slave existence, from being separated from their mothers at a young age, to rape, whippings, abuse and denial of any human rights or sense of self.

His autobiography shares various, intricate details to the nuanced experience of slavery. He gives us glimpses into the various attitude
Feb 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Zanna by: Paul
Houston A Baker Jr introduces Douglass' narrative by positioning it within a rich tradition in two senses. Firstly, many former slaves published accounts of their experiences - a fact that I was not aware of and that Baker says has been poorly acknowledged, while the work of white abolitionists has been much-celebrated. Secondly, the literary interests of the period, absorbed by Douglass in his forbidden, covert, voracious reading, are expressed through the lyrical and dramatic qualities of his ...more
Apr 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
If you want a primer on defying impossible odds, GRAB THIS BOOK. Page after page we hear a singularly strong, impassioned voice yearning, trying, and roaring like a lion. Given the time period, the writing has run-on sentences and difficult word-flow ... but compared to contemporaries like Thoreau/Alcott, they're still few and far between. Considering Douglass was a self-educated slave, you really develop tremendous respect for a clarity in expression that far outshines New England's celebrated ...more
Jul 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is one of the most amazing pieces of writing I have ever read. Unfortunately, I grew up in Texas--a fact for which I have only recently forgiven my parents, with difficulty--and therefore was never forced to read anything more incendiary than To Kill a Mocking Bird or Uncle Tom's Cabin. Digression: Also, I had a creationist biology teacher. But yes. We didn't read any firsthand slave narratives. I don't even remember learning about the civil rights movements. Maybe we did. All of this jibba ...more
Apr 28, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Douglas Wilson
Feb 20, 2016 rated it really liked it
Well written & moving.
Feb 24, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013
This is one of those works of nonfiction where it is difficult (if not impossible) to rate. As a memoir or narrative autobiography it is good and solid, just not great. After reading it, I wished Douglas had gone into more detail and bulked it up a bit with more of his experiences.

However, if you consider the time, the author, the impact, etc., of NLoFD it is hard NOT to give the book every accolade. This book seems to be the 'Common Sense' of the Pre-Civil War abolitionist movement. It didn't
Craig Johnson
Jan 30, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: calendar designers
Not bad for a guy who taught himself to write while his masters weren't looking. Even the smallest knowledge of Douglass' post-slave life makes you wonder at the title: Who would have the gall to chain him up, of all men? The facts of slavery are still frightening after all this time. What makes it scarier is that Douglass was in Maryland, the Northernmost of southern states. Evidentally, the farther south you were the worse it was, so if this happened in Maryland, I don't like to think about Lo ...more
Aug 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
“My long-crushed spirit rose, cowardice departed, bold defiance took its place; and I now resolved that, however long I might remain a slave in form, the day had passed forever when I could be a slave in fact.”

Frederick Douglass was an incredibly eloquent, brave, and honest man. We owe a great debt to his willingness to tell the truth, and provide us with this detailed history of the life of an American slave. His is an inspiring and illuminating story, and several things particularly stood out
My history professor assigned 4 books to read over the semester. I found the first 2 to be really boring, I did not enjoy them at all. Probably it had to do with the fact that my subconscious tends to hate everything that I'm forced to do. Like for example, if I'm not allowed to be absent from a class more than 3 times during the semester without failing it, I hate going, and feel the pressure everyday of having to drag myself to go to that particular class. On the contrary, if the teacher didn' ...more
Angela Blount
Candid, brutal, and entrancingly descriptive. This book is an absolute must for anyone seeking a better understanding of the “institution” of slavery in America.

Douglass' prose is the literary equivalent of a velvet-sheathed hammer—smoothly elegant, yet incredibly powerful. He had a real gift for drawing analogies and eliciting deeper comprehension. This very personal account is difficult to ingest, but even more difficult to put down.

It’s somewhat tempting to compare Douglass’ narrative to Book
Aug 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
What a powerful and wrenching narrative this is! How amazing that Frederick Douglass managed to teach himself to read and write in the manner in which he did, which opened the door to his eventually being able to escape his imprisonment in slavery. This has so much more impact than any novelization of what slavery was, because it is one man’s personal experience, set down in a very straightforward manner without any attempt at sensationalism. And, believe me, no embellishment is needed, the fact ...more
B. P. Rinehart
"Reader! are you with the man-stealers in sympathy and purpose, or on the side of their down-trodden victims? If with the former, then are you the foe of God and man. If with the latter, what are you prepared to do and dare in their behalf? Be faithful, be vigilant, be untiring in your efforts to break every yoke, and let the oppressed go free." - from the Preface by William Lloyd Garrison.

This autobiography is easily the most well-known and taught of any slave narrative in the United States. I
Jun 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I thought I'd read this important memoir in college since I was a History major. At any rate, I'm glad I finally did. ...more
Kym Moore
It is never easy reading about the type of fear, brutality, and oppression most slaves experienced as Frederick Douglass describes with his personal accounts. No matter what type of book I read about the history of enslaved people everywhere, the brutal accounts are the same and I wonder how the absence of compassion and humanity can let a person sleep in peace and without guilt when they cast such cruelty on another human being with hearts of stone. Yet, so many of these slaveowners resoundingl ...more
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Frederick Douglass (né Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey) was born a slave in the state of Maryland in 1818. After his escape from slavery, Douglass became a renowned abolitionist, editor and feminist. Having escaped from slavery at age 20, he took the name Frederick Douglass for himself and became an advocate of abolition. Douglass traveled widely, and often perilously, to lecture against slav ...more

Other books in the series

The Autobiographies (3 books)
  • My Bondage and My Freedom
  • Life and Times of Frederick Douglass

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“I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of the land... I look upon it as the climax of all misnomers, the boldest of all frauds, and the grossest of all libels. Never was there a clearer case of 'stealing the livery of the court of heaven to serve the devil in.' I am filled with unutterable loathing when I contemplate the religious pomp and show, together with the horrible inconsistencies, which every where surround me. We have men-stealers for ministers, women-whippers for missionaries, and cradle-plunderers for church members. The man who wields the blood-clotted cowskin during the week fills the pulpit on Sunday, and claims to be a minister of the meek and lowly Jesus. . . . The slave auctioneer’s bell and the church-going bell chime in with each other, and the bitter cries of the heart-broken slave are drowned in the religious shouts of his pious master. Revivals of religion and revivals in the slave-trade go hand in hand together. The slave prison and the church stand near each other. The clanking of fetters and the rattling of chains in the prison, and the pious psalm and solemn prayer in the church, may be heard at the same time. The dealers in the bodies of men erect their stand in the presence of the pulpit, and they mutually help each other. The dealer gives his blood-stained gold to support the pulpit, and the pulpit, in return, covers his infernal business with the garb of Christianity. Here we have religion and robbery the allies of each other—devils dressed in angels’ robes, and hell presenting the semblance of paradise.” 297 likes
“I have observed this in my experience of slavery,--that whenever my condition was improved, instead of its increasing my contentment, it only increased my desire to be free, and set me to thinking of plans to gain my freedom. I have found that, to make a contented slave, it is necessary to make a thoughtless one. It is necessary to darken his moral and mental vision, and, as far as possible, to annihilate the power of reason. He must be able to detect no inconsistencies in slavery; he must be made to feel that slavery is right; and he can be brought to that only when he ceased to be a man.” 115 likes
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