Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom” as Want to Read:
Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom

4.33  ·  Rating details ·  1,190 ratings  ·  262 reviews
**Winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in History**

*Winner of the Bancroft, Parkman, Los Angeles Times (biography), Lincoln, Plutarch, and Christopher Awards*

Named one of the Best Books of 2018 by The New York Times Book Review, The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, The Chicago Tribune, The San Francisco Chronicle, and Time

“Extraordinary…a great American biography” (The
Hardcover, 912 pages
Published October 16th 2018 by Simon & Schuster
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
4.33  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,190 ratings  ·  262 reviews

More filters
Sort order
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
Jan 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
An impressive and revealing biography of a major figure in American history.

Douglass had lived an extraordinary life, and it is hard to keep track of all of his separate tasks and roles through his three autobiographies. From his own life, he was born a slave, then became a fugitive, then a fighter against the criminal institutions of slavery, and then had some decades of life in peace and comparative victory.

His biographies tell a story of self-creation and independence, supported by a relentl
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
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
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
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
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
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
This is a big book that held my interest for most pages.
The book traces the life of Frederick Douglass in a linear progression. The early chapters on his years in slavery depend mostly on his autobiographies which is not surprising given the lack of other written sources. The best chapters related to the civil war and its aftermath. Again this is not surprising given this is the author's chosen field.
At times the book sunk into a lot of detail which would be only for the determined fan.
The autho
Dec 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
While I had known of Frederick Douglass since high school, the first time I really encountered him was while watching Ken Burns’ miniseries The Civil War in 1990, when Morgan Freeman stirringly read several of Douglass’ speeches and writings as part of the story. That is fitting, since Douglass was one of the most powerful writers and orators in all of American history and not just in the 19th century, when he had few rivals, if any. (Lincoln no doubt but who else?)

David Blight has written an am
Colleen Browne
Apr 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: those interested in 19th century America
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
Rachel Rooney
Jan 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I was over 90% done with this 36 hour audiobook when it was cruelly ripped out of my ears by the library, so I am going to call it done for now and hope to finish it later this year when my hold comes in again. This was a great biography of Douglass. I appreciate that it was honest about his flaws even as it demonstrated his importance to history.
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
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
Emmanuel Ayeni
Apr 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Great story about an orator and a great man and his fight for freedom,relevance and legacy.
Porter Broyles
1. How well written is it?

I purchased the audio book through Audible.

The person who read the book has a very smooth seductive voice. When I first started listening to the book I kept thinking, "This guy needs to read sleazy romances."

The story itself is well written and concise. I would put the prose and style at a lower level college course. It was not overly complex, but I would not consider it to be pulp history.

2. How interesting is the subject?

Frederick Douglass is arguably one of the two
Mar 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
Since I just finished a Harriet Tubman biography, it's hard not to contrast these two prominent leaders of the rebellion (whose paths crossed several times). To me, the most salient difference between the two of them is that Frederick Douglass viewed things on a more big-picture scale, whereas Harriet focused on the individuals involved, on the individuals who suffered as slaves.

A very detailed, expansive biography of Douglass. The prose was a little dry for my taste, so I docked a star.
Aug 25, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: netgalley
I received this title from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

TITLE - Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom

AUTHOR - David W. Blight

GENRE - Biography

THESIS - Marvelous example of inspirational writing that gives a new perspective to be explored, of the complexity and prowess that was Frederick Douglass

RATING - 3/5

SUMMARY - Blight's reconstruction of Frederick Douglass' early life is portrayed quite differently in comparison to other Douglass biographies. I found it to be most original,
Apr 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
"Frederick Douglass was first of all a man-honest within the limitations of his character and his time, quite frequently misquided, sometimes pompous, gifted but not always a hero, and no saint at all."
- James Baldwin

Blight provides us with this measured and intelligent quote from James Baldwin in his Introduction and signals his intent to provide a balanced rendering of Douglass' life. And he succeeds.
This is history book and biography rolled up into one.

I have never been more pleased to finish
Mar 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I have been fascinated with Frederick Douglass for as long as I can remember. He has always for me contained so many conflicting and sometimes contradictory forces all at the same time. I had read much of what he wrote (mostly his stirring speeches) and it was hard for me to fathom exactly how a former slave rose, without any formal education, to such a pitch of eloquence and erudition.

So when I heard that this new biography had been published to mostly glowing reviews, I felt I had to own a cop
May 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a very long book. I listened to the audio (there was a wonderful reader!) which was over 38 hours. Realllly long. But it serves to underline what for me was one of the main takeaways from the book: making things different and better as Douglass did is a long, relentless, unyielding fight. It doesn't matter if the principle you are fighting for is as clear and true and right as: it is not ok to own, abuse, denigrate, exploit, or kill other people because of skin color. A message like that ...more
Connie Lacy
Dec 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A tour de force biography of a fascinating man who helped bring an end to slavery in the United States.
Theresa Leone Davidson
May 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I'll be honest, over 900 pages for a biography and my first thought is Are you kidding me? However, author David Blight does a terrific job keeping the reader engaged, and not once did I find this thorough and complex story of Douglass' life dull. He was a true American hero, and his actual words on the evil of slavery were the best part of the book. HIGHLY recommend!
Casey Wheeler
I read this biography because I have not read one about Frederick Douglass although he has been indirectly addressed in an number of other books that I have read. This is a very detailed and exhaustive biography. That said, it is well written making it an engaging read. The author frequently refers to passages from the three autobiographies writtten by Douglass himself which provides a unique perspective to the book. While history has lionized the man, this biography points out his failings alon ...more
I am currently reading David Blight's new biography of Frederick Douglass. I haven't finished it yet, but it's clear to me that this is a major book and beautifully done. In a way we know a lot about Douglass, since he wrote so much about his own life. But we have lacked an independent and comprehensive vantage point. Blight deftly embeds Douglass in the history of slavery, the Abolition movement, and Reconstruction, makes evident his immense oratorical skill and his charismatic effect on others ...more
Apr 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
These days, one of my favorite things to do upon finishing a book I really liked is to read the negative reviews of those who did not share my appreciation. Not surprisingly, the critiques of David Blight's book seem largely to turn on a single common misapprehension of the purpose of biographical writing: that the author speculates too much or crafts a narrative out of the subject's life where simple "facts" would do instead.
Really? This anemic criticism is tantamount to suggesting that the bio
Joseph Stieb
Nov 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is an inspiring and beautifully written (if mad long) biography of an American hero. Blight brings out so many fascinating aspects of a historical character I never knew much about. His political and intellectual evolution are particularly fascinating. As he worked his way into the lecturing and writing profession, he at first embraced the tenets of Garrisonianism: anti-politics, disunionism, and a view of the Constitution as an essentially pro-slavery doctrine. This part of the book remind ...more
May 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
Wow, Douglass is amazing. Just a relentless, powerful crusader against slavery and racial discrimination. While there were some moments of the biography that felt a bit slow, overall it's a beautiful and moving account of an incredible life. Reading about slavery, lynchings and the horrific treatment of African-Americans both before, during, and after the Civil War reminded me of something comedian Neal Brennan said: "If I were black, I'd never stop talking about reparations for slavery. When a ...more
Brian Denton
Dec 05, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If the animating spirit of the American experiment is to secure the blessings of liberty for the individual and for posterity then the preeminent founding father of America’s creed and country is Frederick Douglass. Few other people in the national history have advocated so beautifully, or so harrowingly, for human freedom and liberty as has the Sage of Cedar Hill. That his visage does not grace the stony permanence of Mount Rushmore alongside his junior counterparts of Washington, Jefferson, Ro ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
NonFiction Pulitzers: Frederick Douglass: July/August 2019 Group Read 8 14 20 hours, 27 min ago  

Readers also enjoyed

  • The War Before the War: Fugitive Slaves and the Struggle for America's Soul from the Revolution to the Civil War
  • American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation
  • The Civil War as a Theological Crisis
  • Strange Gods: A Secular History of Conversion
  • Richard Nixon: The Life
  • Redeemer: The Life of Jimmy Carter
  • The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War
  • Thomas Cromwell: A Life
  • Gorbachev: His Life and Times
  • The Quartermaster: Montgomery C. Meigs, Lincoln's General, Master Builder of the Union Army
  • The Moralist: Woodrow Wilson and the World He Made
  • Arthur Ashe: A Life
  • Walt Whitman's America
  • Seward: Lincoln's Indispensable Man
  • Losing Moses on the Freeway: The 10 Commandments in America
  • W.E.B. Du Bois: The Fight for Equality and the American Century, 1919-1963
  • Obama: The Call of History
  • President McKinley: Architect of the American Century
See similar books…
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
“But what man has made, man can un-make.” 3 likes
“It must be admitted, truth compels me to admit, even here in the presence of the monument we have erected to his memory, Abraham Lincoln was not . . . either our man or our model. In his interests, in his associations, in his habits of thought, and in his prejudices, he was a white man.” 3 likes
More quotes…