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The Known World

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  39,981 ratings  ·  3,496 reviews
One of the most acclaimed novels in recent memory, The Known World is a daring and ambitious work by Pulitzer Prize winner Edward P. Jones.

The Known World tells the story of Henry Townsend, a black farmer and former slave who falls under the tutelage of William Robbins, the most powerful man in Manchester County, Virginia. Making certain he never circumvents the law, Towns
Paperback, Later Printing edition, 388 pages
Published August 29th 2006 by Amistad (first published September 2003)
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Average rating 3.82  · 
Rating details
 ·  39,981 ratings  ·  3,496 reviews

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Jul 26, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Manchester County, Virginia doesn't exist. Never has. After reading The Known World, however, you'd be forgiven if you thought you could take a tour of it's plantations and slave cemetaries on your vacation to colonial Williamsburg. The complicated pre-civil war Southern society that Edward P. Jones creates feels as real and surreal as any factual history of slavery you've read. It was not so much the story of Henry Townsend, a black slave owner, and all the people that his death allows us to me ...more
Apr 01, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: it-is-for-class
there is that old adage that a good book will tell you how to read it. and i have no idea to whom that should be attributed, only that my undergrad professors seemed to have been born to quote that thought endlessly: in my gothic lit class, my enlightenment class, my victorian lit class... the african and irish lit professors mostly kept their mouths shut on the subject. but the rest - hoo boy - did they love to drag that old chestnut out...

and it makes sense, to a certain degree. but this book
Michael Finocchiaro
I know this is a critically acclaimed book, a Pulitzer winner, and a book tackling a difficult and complex stain on America history: slavery and black slave owners. There are moments when the book does say some interesting things or reveal some unsavory and uncomfortable truths, but it was so hard to engage with as a reader. I mean, I hung in with DFW through the first 600 pages of Infinite Jest where nothing happens -- but because I was fascinated by Hal, Orin, Marathe, Steeply, and Mario and M ...more
This is a complex novel, with dense writing, a non-linear structure, and an abundance of characters. It reads much like a true historical account of a place, Manchester County, Virginia, and time, pre-Civil War 1800s. This could very nearly have passed for a non-fiction book; each character feels so real, their personal stories and histories so authentic. The author even goes so far as to tell us what happens to many of them ten, twenty or even fifty years in the future. And yet, Edward P. Jones ...more
May 11, 2010 rated it did not like it
Shelves: fiction
Dear The Known World:

I'll be blunt. I'm breaking things off. This just isn't working. It's not you; it's me. Well, maybe it's you, too, a bit.

I really thought when we got together that we would have a brief but mutually satisfying relationship. I'd read you, you'd provide enlightenment or emotional catharsis or entertainment, maybe even all three. All the signs were there: the laudatory quotes on your jacket, a shocking and unexpected premise, high marks on goodreads. But something was just off
Anne Sanow
Feb 04, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I'm going to have to rave a bit, because this is one of the best books I've read in the past ten years.

Jones packs in all the historical detail you could want, and of course he's hit on a subject--black slaveowners--that in and of itself is tabloid-sensational. Where lesser writers might lean too hard on the sensational aspect (or rely on it to bolster an otherwise weak narrative), Jones works it into a compelling and powerful story.

What makes it so powerful is a mix of fascinating characters wh
This book demands that you read it slowly and intently. Like eating a huge Thanksgiving dinner, you need to pause and digest before you have the next course. At the outset, the plot seems to be all over the place, bouncing from character to character, telling too many stories, not telling enough and then seeming to tell too much. Ah, but then, you make a little progress and the rhythm begins to assert itself, the stories begin to weave together, the minute details begin to become a diorama, the ...more
K.D. Absolutely
Nov 18, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, pulitzer
In this book I learned that there used to be black slaveholders in the US. I thought that only white people were allowed to own slaves during the time that owning slaves were like owning properties. During that pre-Abolition time. During those sad dark days in the American history.

Black Edward P. Jones (born 1951) wrote this historical epic novel, The Known World based on the not well known fact that there were some black slaveholders (black people owning black slaves) in the state of Virginia d
A very complex and beautiful, compelling book about Henry, a former slave who becomes a slave owner, & his wife Caldonia. But they're just the start - the book is really a series of stories & vignettes about the families, friends, neighbors & community surrounding Henry & Caldonia. It took me a really long time to get into the book, because there are so many characters, some important & some not, & the book jumps around in time, making it difficult to follow. Trust me, use the cast of characters ...more
Apr 26, 2007 rated it it was ok
Basically - a book about slavery in the South. I enjoy those kind of thing, especially The Secret Lives of Bees, but with this one, it felt like the book had no point. While I was reading, I kept on going "what did I just read? Am I really reading/understanding this book?" and kept on referring to the back cover of the book. No. The story was simply what I read. O.......K! Then ugh. I HATE leaving a book unread, so I kept on forcing myself to read thru the whole book. Finally the misery I was pu ...more
Jar Of Death Pick #28

3.5 Stars

Most people probably believe that the only people who owned slaves were white people. But that's actually not the truth. Free blacks owned other black people. Some free blacks bought their family members and others just wanted the slave labor. Native Americans owned slaves for much of the same reasons.
The Known World introduces us to some of those people.

The Known World has won a whole gang of awards, so we know its an important book and the writing is top notch.
Nov 05, 2009 rated it did not like it
Shelves: book-group, abandoned
There is probably an important and interesting story in here somewhere (for example, if it were actually about the widow of a black slave owner trying to run a plantation after her husband's death, as claimed on the book jacket). However, any plot that might exist was buried so deep beneath the convoluted chronology and extraneous characters and details that I decided I didn't care to keep digging for it, and quit on page 198. The author seemed determined to insert every existing anecdote about ...more
Mar 22, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: rth-lifetime, 2015
The Known World does this weird thing: it cites its sources. And it's weird because they don't exist. There are passages like this:
[Manchester, VA] went through a period of years and years of what University of Virginia historian Roberta Murphy in a 1948 book would call 'peace and prosperity'.

Jones goes on to tell you the publication history of that book, and a few more things about what was in it, and to imply that Roberta Murphy was a little racist. But there is no Roberta Murphy, there is no
Mar 24, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: us, 21-ce, fiction
A knockout! Doesn't he have a new book coming out in the New Year? Soon I hope. He's a wonderful writer. Why hasn't Oprah made this into a film? What's she waiting for? ...more
Despite some luminous moments where the characters come alive in a special way, this novel about the lives of slaves in a fictional community in Virginia of the 1830s felt too hermetic and sealed off for me to enjoy it as thoroughly as others might.

The special hook that the story holds is its rendering of freed blacks who became slave owners themselves. The focus is on one such plantation with about 30 slaves which is struggling to adapt to the death of its black master, Henry Townsend. We get a
Jun 29, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
Glorious account that gets past cliches. The premise is that two slaves in 1840s Virginia bought their freedom, but their son stayed a little too long under the master's care. What does the family do when the son starts his own farm and buys his own slaves? The mastery of Jones' writing comes in the sense of history that he lends to minute objects, chance encounters, and incantatory reveries within a frought landscape.

Not content to write an unwritten history of forgotten people, Jones re-write
Joy D
Set in antebellum Virginia, a former slave, Henry Townsend, owns fifty acres of land and thirty-three slaves. As the story opens, Townsend is dying. The novel chronicles his life, the lives of his family members, and the lives of people he encountered in the community.

The main characters are three-dimensional and feel like real people, with both admirable traits and flaws. Jones employs an omniscient narrator and non-linear storytelling. He weaves together overlapping stories of past and presen
Oct 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: pulitzer-winners
What a brilliant read! It wasn't a particularly easy book. There are A LOT of characters and there are many threads to the story. It all weaves together in very interesting and unpredictable ways. In the end it was well worth the effort.

This is one of those books where every aspect of the writing clicked for me. I loved it. I made me reexamine what makes me who I am as a person and as an American. I think this book changed me a little for the better.
Horace Derwent
when you enslave others, you've been in a cage already. before you avenge someone, dig two graves

happened to meet this book(in a low price) which i'd longed for. maybe there's really a Book God and i'm blessed
Feb 10, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015-books
2.5-stars, really.

here is a perfect example of a books i should love, and yet.... i didn't. the book was a lot of work and, for me, very little reward. i think most of my issues are because of the style/structure of the novel:

* the third-person, omniscient narrator - this was distracting from very early on in the read. i held off judging it. i wanted to trust jones and his choice.
* non-linear narrative - i don't tend to have problems with this at all, but i found it super-clunky here. also dist
Jun 29, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011
A beautifully paced novel that inverts every cliche about institution of slavery. While not exactly removing race from the issue of slavery, Jones is able to show that even among African-Americans the perniciousness of slavery could damn a generation. The best summary of this idea came from a NYTimes review:

'There are few certified villains in this novel, white or black, because slavery poisons moral judgments at the root. As Jones shows, slavery corrupts good intentions and underwrites bad ones
Here is a book about black slave owners in the antebellum South! My interest was immediately piqued. On top of that, the book has won all sorts of prizes:
*Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (2004)
*International Dublin Literary Award (2005)
*Anisfield-Wolf Book Award (2004)
*National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction (2003)
* Hurston/Wright Legacy Award Nominee for Debut Fiction (/2004
*National Book Award Finalist for Fiction (2003)
I knew I had to give it a try.

I am glad I have read it, but to say I li
I attended a workshop with some friends during which we all went around the room and recommended books that really moved us that year. I don't remember which book I suggested then, but I recall one woman in particular who really loved this book (or I believe she was more in love with Edward Jones' writing). At the end of the workshop we had a gift exchange raffle and she included this book as her contribution. I was the lucky recipient of this free copy.

I was interested in this historical novel
Will Byrnes
Oct 29, 2008 rated it liked it
This tells the tale of black slave owners in the pre-Civil War south. It is an ensemble cast of characters, beautifully drawn in rich language and told with respectful remembrance. The tale jumps back and forth in time, so we know ahead the fate of some, but not all the main characters. The endings, as there are many for the diverse characters tend towards the awful, but not all fit that description.
Feb 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Layers of excellence! I feel that I could immediately go back to the first page and read this book all over again! I have owned my first edition hardcover copy FOR SO LONG - including time spent boxed-up in a storage space. This has been the right time for me to finally read it.
Jul 25, 2009 rated it did not like it
I know there is something bizzare about me because I didn't like this book. I know it has a lot of good reviews on here, so people should still give it a chance. Honestly, it is the first book this year I just couldn't finish. I made it halfway through hoping with each chapter that I would become interested in the story.

I think my major problem was the way the author laid the stories out. Nothing is in chronological order, and it's extremely confusing to being going back and forth in character'
May 30, 2007 rated it liked it
Overall, the story was interesting; black families in Virginia owning their own slaves and the implications thereof.

The narration was told in a sweeping way that I'm sure was intended to sound like an oral history. I was willing to ignore my annoyance at not being able to gauge exactly where I was in the timeline. My problem was managing the timeline with all of the characters. I also had fun figuring out how to spot Jones's subtle segues into a new time. Toward the end of the book, I could spo
Book Riot Community
This was the final assigned reading for my Introduction to Fiction class and it was SO GOOD. The omniscient third-person narrator takes some adjustment, but once you get into the voice, the book is grand. So many incredible characters populate Jones’ fictitious Virginia county and the discussion I’ve had on this book in class has been incredible. When considering the “Great American Novel,” The Known World should absolutely be part of that discussion. — Chris Arnone

from The Best Books We Read In
May 15, 2017 rated it it was ok
Disappointing. I so much wanted to like this. One star for disjointed writing and three for what I learned about the period* for an overall generous two considering how hard it was to follow. I don’t have to like the characters when I read a story but as the author is their creator I like to sense that at least s/he does. So many acclaimed modern authors seem preoccupied with power and domination rather than love. Presumably that is what they value... But can a preference for power ever substitu ...more
Aug 31, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, literature

Edward P. Jones' Bold Vision of "The Known World"

This story would have been exciting enough based only on the fact that Edward P. Jones so boldly took the antebellum novel to a place it has never gone before; namely, to black slave-owner Henry Townsend's plantation in Manchester, Virginia. There, the "Known World" is wholly different from what one might expect. But this seemingly obviously absurd anomaly of U.S. history, wherein black masters owned black slaves, doesn’t stop with that rarely dis
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Edward P. Jones has won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, and the Lannan Literary Award for The Known World. He received a MacArthur Fellowship in 2004, and his first collection of short stories, Lost in the City, won the PEN/Hemingway Award and was short-listed for the National Book Award. His most recent collection, All Aun ...more

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