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Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  11,015 ratings  ·  1,166 reviews
As a young man, Frederick Douglass (1818–1895) escaped from slavery in Baltimore, Maryland. He was fortunate to have been taught to read by his slave owner mistress, and he would go on to become one of the major literary figures of his time. His very existence gave the lie to slave owners: with dignity and great intelligence he bore witness to the brutality of slavery.

Hardcover, 912 pages
Published October 16th 2018 by Simon & Schuster
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Nov 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is beautiful. One description called it "cinematic" and I think that's pretty accurate. You feel the sense of Douglass and the beautiful prose really captures his words and the time. It's annoying that people call him an "imperfect man." I mean, who isn't an imperfect person? This book certainly covers the warts and all. What's amazing about Douglass is that he never wavered. He never softened. He was strident until the end. After talking against slavery, he moved on to lynching and th ...more
Apr 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
"Men talk of the Negro problem. There is no Negro problem. The problem is whether the American people have honesty enough, loyalty enough, honor enough, patriotism enough to live up to their Constitution" -Frederick Douglass

"There is no man in the country whose opinion I value more than yours." -Abraham Lincoln to Douglass

David Blight's biography of Frederick Douglass was great. In it Blight effectively shows that Douglass was a prophet, who used rhetoric couched in the Old Testament, for the ab
Diane S ☔
Jul 22, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: 5000-2019
Yes, I know this won a Pulitzer and I'm only a reader/reviewer, but I struggled with this. Maybe it was a Grant hangover, but that biography from Chernow I rated five stars. This was well researched, numerous sources listed, but there were so many facts, words that evokes no emotion in me. I finished the book knowing who Douglass was and what he accomplished, but never felt I knew the man. I also dislike when a author guesses what a person would do in a given situation. Words like possibly or ma ...more
Donna Davis
2.5 stars, rounded up. Thanks go to Net Galley and Simon and Schuster for the DRC, which I received free in exchange for this honest review.

Douglass is a key figure in American history, and Blight has made his career largely through his expertise on Douglass’s life. I expected to be impressed here, and indeed, the endnotes are meticulous and I would be amazed if there was a single error anywhere in this work. But aspects of the biography rub me the wrong way, and ultimately, I realized that the
I've put off reviewing this because I feel like I want to find the right quote, the perfect words, the right path to unpacking my thoughts about this piece. It was a lot to digest. My main information about Douglass comes from his popular Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. This book expands on all of Douglass' narratives and serves as both a biography of Douglass and a BLACK history of his time, but also as an analysis of those autobiographies. There are multiple themes Blight is worki ...more
Peter Beck
Oct 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: lincoln
Frederick Douglass is the most brilliant and inspiring person I have ever encountered. This sprawling 769-page book was the balm I needed to help get me through what will hopefully be the final days of our Trumpian dystopia. I knew little about Douglass or the African-American experience before reading this book, save for raptly watching “Roots” as a kid. For example, I was unaware of the historical significance of 1619 or the meaning of Juneteenth until recently. “Frederick Douglass” fills a ga ...more
Daniel Chaikin
Jul 11, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Years ago I read Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave and was kind of blown away, not only because it was such a powerful book, but also because it seemed so beautifully written. Unfortunately I've long forgot any aspect other than my impression and few factual details. But that impression stuck with me. Not everyone was writing beautiful autobiographies in 1845, and no one had his story line. The memory made me quite interested when this book came out.

Frederick Douglas
Dave Tamanini
Oct 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Stupendous biography by David Blight. Douglass is among the greatest of Americans and his life work is as relevant today as back then. A long read but worth the time and knowledge gained.
Lark Benobi
This is a wonderful biography. David Blight imagines Douglass so deeply. Blight brings Douglass to life with such loving clarity. As I began this book, I was wondering what was left to learn about Douglass, when Douglass himself left us his autobiographies and his speeches. I was wrong. There is so much to learn about him. The way this biography opens, with the scene of the speech Douglass gave at the public dedication of the Emancipation Memorial, electrified me. I had of course read Douglass's ...more
Samantha Zee
I'm going to be up front and say that this is a very detailed and well done biography of Douglass, to the point where if you are not extremely interested in his life, or writing some sort of extensive paper on Douglass, DO NOT READ THIS.

It's long. Like technically 900+ pages long, but with the occasional picture and the notes/sources in the last section, it is closer to just over 700 pages.

I would like to say this is written like a narrative, but while it's mostly in chronological order, a lot
May 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing

A triumph of historical biography. Blight is very even handed in his treatment of such a venerated figure of American history - he shows Douglass as fully human, warts and all. I savored the reading of this over many months and enjoyed marinating in the story of such an important part of my country's history. The bibliography of this book is so rich; I will be reading from Blight's referenced materials for years to come.
Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley

We like, want, our heroes to be uncompleted, to always be heroic and constant while in the spotlight, and to leave that spotlight before they change politics or ideals. We want to remember Lincoln as the great emancipator not as the man who at one point wanted all freed slaves to return to Africa, a place they had never seen. That ruins the image of martyr Lincoln. We have the same feeling of many of our heroes, including Frederick Douglass.

Who despite what some pe
Sam toer
Feb 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A comprehensive, scholarly and monumental work; a powerful portrait of a self-made hero, and one of the most important figures of the nineteenth century, whose voice lives on. As Blight writes, “There is no greater voice of America's transformation from slavery to freedom than Douglass's." ...more
Jul 26, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: tbb-master

This Pulitzer Prize-winning biography was catalyzed by the author’s lifelong interest in Douglass and his access to a collection of privately-held documents covering the last decades of his subject’s life. What resulted is a weighty, thorough, meticulously thoughtful and incredibly penetrating analysis of Frederick Douglass’s life and times.

Readers expecting a colorful and carefree journey through Douglass’s life are likely to be disappointed, however. Thi
Christopher Saunders
Monumental biography of one of 19th Century America’s most remarkable men: Frederick Douglass, who went in a few decades from runaway slave to abolitionist figure and writer to presidential adviser, political rabble-rouser and living legend. Douglass hasn't received a full biography in decades (not since a tiresome psychobiography by William McFeely) so I was thrilled about this, especially knowing Blight's other work. It certainly didn't disappoint, though I'll caution that Blight's approach is ...more
Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by David Blight was a beautiful and meticulously researched biography of one of history's giants of the nineteenth century. From his humble beginnings as a slave in the south, he ultimately escaped slavery as a young man in Baltimore, Maryland. Frederick Douglass worked tirelessly for the abolition of slavery and reconstruction after the Civil War. He later fought just as relentlessly for the suffrage movement. As a young child he had been taught to read by ...more
Ashley G.
Dec 27, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This was fascinating throughout. The photographs within the text were invaluable. The conclusion and the way David Blight held up Frederick Douglass' words about lynching next to the cries of 21st century protest was chilling.

I found myself continuously enamored with the life of Frederick Douglass as told by Blight. There is just so much content as the book comes in at 775 pages before the notes section but some highlights for me:
- Quotes from a speech given at a dedication of an Abraham Lincol
Colleen Browne
Apr 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, biography
David Blight is one of those historians who, when another book is published, I put it on my list of books to buy because of my deep respect of his ability. In his work, he focuses a lot on memory, particularly as it relates to the Civil War and because of the way that the purpose of the war was hijacked by Lost Causers and their memories.
I have read at least one of Douglasses autobiographies and some of his speeches, along with his letter to Thomas Auld. I thought I knew a lot about him but read
Sep 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing

“In thinking of America, I sometimes find myself admiring her bright blue sky, her grand old woods, her fertile fields, her beautiful rivers . . . her star-crowned mountains. But my rapture is soon checked, my joy is soon turned to mourning. When I remember that all is cursed with the infernal spirit of slaveholding . . . when I remember that with the waters of her noblest rivers, the tears of my brethren are borne to the ocean . . . and that her most fertile fields drink daily of the warm blood
May 16, 2019 rated it liked it
Frederick Douglass was a gifted orator, brilliant writer, and not a bad strategist when it came to dealing with the politics and politicians of his day, but he was still a very complexed man.

This biography comes in at over 900 pages and through it all, Frederick Douglass is still some what of a mystery to me. This was basically a repackaging of his autobiographies with some outsider commentary and opinions (which tend to contradict the man the world adores). The author seems to fill in the blan
Nov 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Summary: Perhaps the definitive biography of this escaped slave who became one of the most distinguished orators and writers in nineteenth century America as he for abolition and Reconstruction and civil rights for Blacks.

There is no simple way to summarize this magnificent biography of Frederick Douglass. Douglass lived an amazingly full life captured admirably in these 764 pages from his birth, likely conceived by a white plantation owner, to the attempts to break him on Covey's plantation, hi
kayla goggin
Apr 18, 2019 rated it liked it
Exhaustive and exhausting. This is the boiled, unseasoned chicken breast of biographies.
I understand why this book won the Pulitzer for history this year because it really is incredibly detailed and well-researched (I would be shocked if there was a single detail of Douglass's life that wasn't included in this book) but Blight's bland, bland, BLAND writing made this a slog for me. 900+ pages but felt like 1500 pages.
Oct 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
Brilliant historian, amazing primary sources, and secondary source analysis. This book was a god send while I was researching and writing my history paper on Narrative's importance in comparison to his other abolitionist work. In fact even beyond pure research, it was genuinely interesting.

I would strongly recommend this book to anyone doing research on the abolitionist movement or Douglass. I would also recommend it to anyone looking to understand more about the experiences of a slave turned a
Scott  Hitchcock
Jan 05, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, history
It's amazing how little I knew about Douglass beyond a couple of headline bullets. When thinking of Civil Rights leaders the 1950's and 60's leaders are well documented in our society but not nearly enough attention is given to their predecessors. Douglass was an amazing orator to rival King and going on a tour of the south to do it during the reconstruction era at least as dangerous if not much more so than 80 years later.

What was also amazing was his time abroad in Europe after escaping slave
A must-read to gain a nuanced understanding of today's issues surrounding the history, ideology and entrenched attitudes of White supremacy and privilege Frederick Douglass and many others sought to eradicate so that the rebirth of the republic from the ashes of slavery could fulfill its promise. He was prescient, passionate about America fulfilling its own spiritual promise to the world--a promise, judging by the shootings, mass detentions, and destruction of civil rights, remains largely unrea ...more
Chaunceton Bird
Mar 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
Excellent look into one of the greatest orators of American history. Well and thoroughly told with lots of detail on not only Mr. Douglass, but all with whom he came in contact.
Frederick Douglass Prophet of Freedom

by David W. Blight

Here are my notes from reading this excellent book.

Born a slave, Frederick Bailey was raised on a plantation in Talbot Maryland in 1817. At age 8, he was sold to a family in Baltimore (the Auld’s) where Mrs. Auld taught Frederick to read. She was eventually admonished by her husband Hugh Auld. After this teaching abruptly ended, an eager Frederick would barter loaves of bread with the white Irish boys on Philpot Street and they taught him t
May 02, 2021 rated it really liked it
It’s interesting how Douglass’s life and experiences are incredibly relevant today 150 some odd years later. This book details how the “Prophet of Freedom” used his voice and his pen to influence the nation and chronicled his life from a self-educated slave through his escape and adult life growing to be one of the most recognizable Americans.

"The pen is often mightier than the sword and the settled habits of a nation mightier than a statute."

In reading this book, three themes or dichotomies jum
Michael Austin
Feb 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2019
"It is easy to call Douglass a prophet; this book attempts to show how he merits that lofty title. “The prophet is human,” wrote the great Jewish theologian Abraham Heschel, “yet he employs notes one octave too high for our ears. He experiences moments that defy our understanding. He is neither ‘a singing saint’ nor ‘a moralizing poet,’ but an assaulter of the mind. Often his words begin to burn where conscience ends."--Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom, p. xviii

Very early on in his magnifi
Scott Pomfret
Oct 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This account of the life of Frederick Douglass convinced me that in a hundred years we will view anti-immigrant sentiment as we now look at those who opposed abolition. Not because "Prophet of Freedom" made any such case, but because all the bones of the current strife are within Douglass's life, writing, and oratory. Douglass was an incredibly prescient and forward-thinking man.

To be sure, "Prophet of Freedom" is no hagiography. There's plenty to disturb modern ears. Douglass was virulently ant
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David W. Blight is Class of 1954 Professor of American History and Director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at Yale University. He is the author or editor of a dozen books, including American Oracle: The Civil War in the Civil Rights Era; and Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory; and annotated editions of Douglass’s first two autobiogr ...more

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