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Fergus M. Bordewich
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Bound for Canaan: The Underground Railroad and the War for the Soul of America

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4.15  ·  Rating details ·  713 ratings  ·  144 reviews
An important book of epic scope on America's first racially integrated, religiously inspired movement for change.

The true story of the Underground Railroad is much more morally complex and politically divisive than even the myths suggest. Against a backdrop of the country's westward expansion arose a clash of values that evolved into a fierce fight for nothing less than th
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Published March 28th 2011 by Recorded Books (first published April 1st 2005)
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Average rating 4.15  · 
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Alex
Feb 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Alex by: JenniferD
I wanted a book about the Underground Railroad; here's the book my research led me to, and I'm glad it did. I had a pretty murky understanding of what the whole thing was about - like, Harriet Tubman and a bunch of underground tunnels? Now I know better.

Here are all the stories you know: Nat Turner, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Solomon Northup (the Twelve Years a Slave guy), John Brown. The slave escape that inspired Uncle Tom's Cabin and the story that inspired Beloved.

Here also are impo
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K.C.
Oct 20, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
A truly, truly amazing read. A page-turner yet full of fascinating information. Best of all it debunks the idea that Blacks were passive victims during slavery who made no attempts to free themselves. If you are interested in this country and the people who created it, White and Black, read this book.
Christine
Very readable history, though a bit light on the women.
Bookmarks Magazine

The Underground Railroad was, by its very nature, a silent, loose-limbed organization. This fog of anonymity may explain why, despite its critical role in American history, historians have attempted so few chronicles of it. Bordewich, author of My Mother's Ghost (2000) and Killing the White Man's Indian (1997), was undeterred by the challenge. If he can't rescue all names from anonymity, he succeeds in laying bare the heroic spirit of the escapees' struggle. He also breaks "the hard sheen of myt

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Jaime Payne
Aug 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I thought this book was fabulous. It was meticulously researched and the stories of both known and unknown participants were told in a very compelling way. Some of the reviews I saw saw here complained about the stories starting off and then being picked up later. I loved that about this book, because instead of profiling each of the participants separately,like a series of unrelated short stories within the book, they were weaved together in a chronological order. We got to see the whole pictur ...more
Nicole
4.5 stars - this was a solid, well-written, clearly well-researched history of an important and fascinating part of American history. Most people have heard of the Underground Railroad, but what do you really know about it? Prior to this book, my answer would have been "honestly, not much." I'm glad that this book gave me a chance to rectify that.

Some standout points for me: the connections between the Underground Railroad and the beginnings of the women's rights movement; the importance of Can
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Kim M-M
I give this an excellent for ease of reading. Fergus unfolds history like an epic story, which is all the better because it was true. Harriet emerges a heroine, and many others who found the courage to fight the system.
This is what history books should read like. Moving and expertly told, you get an immediate sense of what challenges the underground railroad was up against, and find yourself rooting fervently for the slaves bound for freedom.
Lene Jaqua
Sep 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Shawn Gray
Mar 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Highly recommend for those seeking a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the Underground Railroad and the characters involved with it.
Bob Schmitz
Oct 09, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great book. Meticulously researched from original sources. Quoting from newspapers, letters and other documents you really get the feel for what people were thinking and experiencing during the time. Besides the sweep of the story of the system to conduct runaway slaves from the south to the northern states or Canada you learn detailed snippets of history:

-In NC I believe a white man bought a slave and set him free and then bought the slaves son and gave the son to the father so that the father
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Tony Diaz
Feb 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
A primary source for Colson Whitehead's visionary novel, The Underground Railroad, Bound for Canaan tells the even more gripping story of the US' original civil disobedience movement. Bordewich's carefully-sourced history breathes new life into the men and women who risked their own lives, freedoms, and more to defy US chattel slavery. He revives the names of forgotten abolitionists who dismantled the institution where they could, aided runaways, opened secret routes out of slave states and refu ...more
Jeff
Oct 27, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's a moving history of the resistance towards institutionalized slavery in America. To consider the amount of illegal activity against slavery, activity that today we see as the moral answer to that evil (a generally accepted evil both north and south), might give us pause. But it was the willingness of so many to work fervently against that evil, at great personal risk, some of whom doing so for decades without remedy in sight, that opened up our language of freedom, not just based on race, b ...more
Sarah Finch
Nov 25, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A well-written, extraordinarily thoughtful account of the Underground Railroad. It covers the famous luminaries such as Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass and introduces readers to previously obscure figures such as James Rankin, Josiah Henson, Levi Coffin, and many others. Bordewich excels at putting the Railroad in context and demonstrating how it worked within other antebellum movements such as the nascent women's suffrage movement, Quaker philosophy, John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry, t ...more
Deb Holden
This could have been a great book if the author had used better editing skills. So much repetition that the book was actually boring in places. I got to page 200 and almost gave up. Instead I slogged through it. It does contain a lot of information and most of it was very engaging. However, as is the case with many nonfiction books, too much material can be a bad thing.
Dave Johanson
Dec 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this book. When I first chose it as my next read, I wanted to learn more in depth about something I had only a superficial knowledge of - the Underground Railroad. I often found myself absolutely riveted by the individual stories of fugitive slaves and abolitionists who together formed the informal networks that became the primary conduit for slaves escaping to points north, including in many cases Canada. One of the things this book really drives home is the utterly tenuous nat ...more
Richard
When I recently came across Bound in the bibliography of another book on African American issues, I recalled having found it very informative the first time I read it a year or two after its publication in 2005. I must admit, however, that I could only recollect the most general of impressions about it.  Thus, I decided to reread it for two reasons.  First, I was curious to find out what I might think of it after having done a lot of reading in this area in recent years.  Second, I hoped I would ...more
David  Cook
Nov 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
I have read several other books, mostly biography, related to individuals involved with the Underground Railroad but this is the first book I have read that deal with the larger issues surrounding the UR, its conductors, successes and failures. The book is incredibly engaging, inspiring and heart wrenching.

Though the Underground Railroad is one of the touchstones of American collective memory, there's been no comprehensive, accessible history of the secret movement that delivered more than 100,
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John Dozer
Aug 31, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
While I had been previously familiar with some of the primary characters involved in the Underground Railroad, I realized reading Bordewich's history that my knowledge of this heroic effort hardly scratched the surface of its scope and magnitude. Starting in roughly 1800, and going up to John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry and the start of the Civil War, Bordewich presents a dark period of American history, the evils of which are difficult to comprehend in our distance from them, and from which ...more
Iain
Jul 21, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Bound for Canaan: The Epic Story of the Underground Railroad, America's First Civil Rights Movement by Fergus M. Bordewich is what the title claims to be an epic story about the darkest chapters of American history and the people who risked everything to right that wrong. The civil war brought to a climax the country's bitter division. But the beginnings of slavery's denouement can be traced to a courageous band of ordinary Americans, black and white, slave and free, who joined forces to create ...more
Jackie
Sep 14, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wonderful history of the Underground Railroad, which actually predates railroads! The author calls it the first integrated civil rights movement and shows how free blacks, the enslaved, and white folks (both American and Canadian) worked together. There were some surprises—I knew the Quakers were important but so were the Evangelical!—but the book also put some things in a new context for me. For example, women started agitating for their rights after getting a taste of purpose with helping on t ...more
Tom
May 05, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Unlike with a few other authors, I probably won't seek out other books by Mr. Bordewich. I found his writing style awkward. Not overly academic or disjointed or conversational, just maybe disorganized. This particular book however very clearly earns the title "definitive" and I plan to hang on to it because it covers the subject as thoroughly (in my opinion) as one book can, it has a large bibliography, it contains many micro-biographies of key individuals involved in the underground railroad, r ...more
Moira
Mar 31, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
So I guess this is middle age. I've begun to be interested in history, in genealogy, in the abolitionist struggle. ...Oh no. Am I another white lady imagining her basement was a station on the underground railroad?

(Nonetheless: a well-written and at times compelling overview of the network of largely black or Quaker men and women who did the bulk of the dangerous work of guiding, hiding, financing, and assisting slaves who escaped to freedom. I was especially fascinated by the chapters on the
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Katharine
Nov 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the best non-fiction books I've ever read, and the first book I recommend when someone is looking for non-fiction. In school, the Underground Railroad was taught as a system run by white people, and this book did an amazing job of debunking that myth and showing how people of all races worked together--led by the formerly enslaved and black people born free--to rescue those in bondage and protect those who fled seeking a better life. This book does not downplay the horrors of slavery, but ...more
Matt
Jul 25, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent

Well written, easy to read, coherent story of the underground railroad. The only gripe I'd have with this book is that the author probably takes some liberties in describing the emotions or possible actions of actors where they aren't clear from primary sources but the language he uses almost always makes it clear where speculation exists.

The author does an,excellent job of weaving the overall story around the lives of several frequently recurring individual making the themes apparent
...more
Greg Hickey
Aug 03, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A comprehensive and illuminating history of the beginnings of the underground railroad and the push for emancipation. My only complaint is that in a history spanning sixty years, the cast of characters is enormous, and Bordewich has the maddening habit of shifting his focus back and forth between two characters for several alternating chapters. Other than that, it's hard to imagine a better account of this important movement in American history.
John Bunyan
Feb 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Comprehensive history of the people and organizations who helped slaves escape from the beginning of the Underground (before railroads existed) to when the Civil War and widespread abolition made the Underground unnecessary. The narrative is engaging, including stories of individuals as well as broad explanations of the social and legal environments.
It is tragic and inspiring, educational and embarrassing (to me as a white person who was taught to have pride in our founders and leaders).
Nancy Ross
Dec 31, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Long, exhaustively researched book that I thought I should read before Whitehead's The Underground Railroad. Learned a lot of history of all the states and their laws about slavery, all the religious denominations and their attitudes about it, and many famous men in positions of power and their mixed (but usually horrible) attitudes.
Susan Williams
Jul 17, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent book!!!!

I would recommend this to anyone intetested in American history and our slave roots. Well written, interesting, just enough detail and plenty of individual stories. I hadnt known much about Harriet Tubman or John Brown except for their names. So many sung and unsung heroes and heroines!!!
Warren Hershberger
Bound for Glory

This is the most thorough account of the history of the Underground Railroad that I have read. It read as an epic narrative of the roots and development of the UGRR, and includes many accounts of the involvement of slaves and freedmen, blacks and whites, westerners and easterners, Americans and Canadians who affected its development.
Cameron Miller tiedje
3 1/2 stars. This book was a bit too academic for my liking. The first half was especially repetitive, jumping back & forth between years, events, & individuals but was very well-researched and thorough. The last quarter was the best, and included the stories of Harriet Tubman, John Brown, & Margaret Garner (who appears to be the basis for Toni Morrison’s Beloved.) ...more
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FERGUS M. BORDEWICH is the author of eight non-fiction books: "Congress at War: How Republican Reformers Fought the Civil War, Defied Lincoln, Ended Slavery, and Remade America"; "The First Congress: How James Madison, George Washington, and a Group of Extraordinary Men Invented the Government" (awarded the Hardeman Prize in American History, in 2019); "America's Great Debate: Henry Clay, Stephen ...more

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