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

4.20  ·  Rating details ·  830 ratings  ·  163 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
Published March 28th 2011 by Recorded Books (first published April 1st 2005)
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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
Oct 20, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Very readable history, though a bit light on the women.
Christopher Saunders
Fergus Bordewich's Bound for Canaan offers a lively narrative account of the Underground Railroad. Bordewich's book envisions the Underground as America's "first Civil Rights Movement," emphasizing the biracial coalition between freed blacks and white abolitionists that enabled the escape of thousands of slaves from bondage in the years leading up to the Civil War. The book contains numerous harrowing accounts of escape and pursuit, along with dozens of pen portraits of figures both well-known ( ...more
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
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.
Jun 05, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An excellent history of not just The Underground Railroad and abolitionism, but also of most of the US at the time period. I really liked all the explanations of the politics. Super interesting and worth the extra time it takes, being nearly 600 pages long. Lots of great personal stories from the Grand Old Quakers, abolitionists, slaves and John Brown.

"The underground was the greatest movement of civil disobedience since the American Revolution, engaging thousands of citizens in the active subv
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

Definitely an Epic Story! Well researched and well written history all about underground railroad from the early beginnings and until it dismantled with the start of the Civil War. This wasn't a fast read by any means, took me almost an entire month, but it was fascinating and gripping at moments.

Interesting fact: the underground railroad predates railroads in the country. Once the railroad (steel and metal kind) became something used as transportation the language became tied to the movement o
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
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
Jan 28, 2022 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2022
I promised myself I would be intentional about educating myself more on slavery, the underground railroad, and America's foundation this year. This book really helped give me a solid foundation to understand the underground railroad. There are so many people history has forgotten or written out of exitsence. This book gave life to many people I wish schools would talk more about. Overall this was at times a very dry read, but very educational nonetheless. ...more
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.
Alan D'Souza
A shocking oral history of a near mythical movement that set the stage for the American Civil War. This book makes a powerful case for how religious zeal can be used as a tool against oppression in ways where the enlightenment failed. Bound for Canaan is a great history of the Underground Railroad through a selection of deeply personal, visceral and powerful stories layered with a historical overview of what caused the rise of this organized counter movement that permitted the movement of escapi ...more
A book that needed writing. The Underground Railroad is a huge concept that should have more written about it than anyone can read. Certainly there should be more books written about it than one can comfortably read in a lifetime.

Not the same as a collection of the (nebulous) years it existed, nor the same as the (nebulous) people involved in transporting the (nebulous) people it transported, the underground railroad is nevertheless a pretty well defined concept. Well, so is pi.

Bordewich defines
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
Jan 16, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfic
In his intro the author states: I have tried to show how the underground came into being, how it operated, and more than anything else, what kinds of people--black and white, men and women--made it work [...] and show that the Underground Railroad was more than a picturesque legend, but a movement with far-reaching political and moral consequences that changed the relations between the races in ways more radical than any that had been seen since the American Revolution, or would be seen again un ...more
Stephen P
I have never read any significant history of the Underground Railroad, in fact it seems that they are in short supply. However, this book has received such positive reviews I thought I must read it. When both the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post consider this a must read history, I thought that it must be worth an investment of my time. This very detailed history was told through the personal stories of both fugitive slaves and conductors on the Railroad. I found it a compelling story ...more
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
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
Derek Emerson
I read this book when I realized most of my understanding of the Underground Railroad centers around Harriet Tubman. This book does a good job of showing the range of people, black and white, involved in beating this horrible aspect of American history. Where the books fails is in organization -- names and stories disappear and then are picked up much later, making it hard to follow. At times I had no idea of the context of the stories about people because it bounced around so much. But overall ...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
玉梅 石
Nov 04, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A Gripping Tale

Every good thing I'd heard about this book that came so highly recommended was amply justified. Historical figures I'd always admired, it turns out, had their flaws. The descriptions and explanations I found in this book helped me grasp the confluence of civil disobedience into which the abolitionist movement—and by association, the underground itself—morphed. I never would have thought I'd be so anxious to know what happened next to people I knew going in were long dead. No wadin
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.
Dustless Walnut
Jun 25, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting mini-biographies and overviews of the people that spent their lives helping to rescue slaves from slavery. Would have appreciated more stories of the escaped people themselves (though some of the prominent characters in running the UR were escaped slaves themselves.)

Worth a read!
Michael Mason-D'Croz
Good historical storytelling. But man ... so many names, so many facts. Hard to remember it all.
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
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: racism, 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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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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