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The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution

4.32  ·  Rating details ·  3,608 ratings  ·  223 reviews
A classic and impassioned account of the first revolution in the Third World.

This powerful, intensely dramatic book is the definitive account of the Haitian Revolution of 1794-1803, a revolution that began in the wake of the Bastille but became the model for the Third World liberation movements from Africa to Cuba. It is the story of the French colony of San Domingo, a pla
Paperback, 2nd Edition, 428 pages
Published October 23rd 1989 by Vintage (first published 1938)
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Dan Golding A cursory knowledge of the French Revolution (up until Napoleon becoming first consul for life) would help. A quick summary from something like the Wi…moreA cursory knowledge of the French Revolution (up until Napoleon becoming first consul for life) would help. A quick summary from something like the Wikipedia would be fine. Otherwise it's pretty self contained. Give it a try.(less)
Carlos Llosa The most radical political group that came out of the French Revolution. This radicalism extended to Haiti (like pamphlets) and played a crucial role …moreThe most radical political group that came out of the French Revolution. This radicalism extended to Haiti (like pamphlets) and played a crucial role helping organize slave revolts.(less)

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Oct 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: politics
This is the classic account of the Haitian revolution; one of the most significant slave revolts. C L R James is a historian in the Marxist tradition and he is passionate about his subject. James was a Trinidadian and I knew him originally as a writer about cricket (I kid you not) and he has written one of the best books ever written about cricket (Beyond a Boundary). The Black Jacobins was first published in 1938 and was one of the seminal works of the history of the African diaspora.
James was
Jul 25, 2007 rated it it was amazing
James' masterpiece. It's considered one of the most important histories ever written. I consider it a landmark in my own life. It had explosive effects on my thinking. There is no way to do justice to this book in a review. But let me try.

I am going to rave about this book. But there is also plenty of criticism of it. Every historian of the Haitian Revolution has to comment on this book. All of them have to write in his shadow and in response to James. You can hardly call yourself a Third World
Jun 18, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: france
With The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Overture and the San Domingo Revolution, C. L. R. James provided an ideologically-tinged account of the slave insurrection on the French colonial island of Saint-Domingue that created the nation of Haiti. In 1791 the oppressed black people of the island rebelled against their plight. The imperialist powers of France, Britain, and Spain fought at different times to suppress the uprising and reimpose slavery. They all underestimated the courage, tenacity, and n ...more
Jan 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: theory, race
This is a fascinating and tragic story, one I knew very little about, and on the most basic level of simply understanding an incredibly complex part of history, this does a very engaging job. He writes the history of places like Haiti the way they should always be written, as playing a part on a world-wide stage, deeply influenced by and deeply influencing other countries. France's wealthiest colony, San Domingo funded the French Revolution, it diverted a sizeable number of (and bested) British ...more
E. G.
Oct 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, 4-star, own
Preface to the Vintage Edition
Preface to the First Edition

--The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution

Appendix: From Toussaint L'Ouverture to Fidel Castro
I’m too tired to do this book justice, for which I apologise. Briefly, I’d only come across references to the Haitian Revolution before in histories of the French Revolution. The two were closely entwined, however the importance of the Haitian Revolution is often overlooked as it was a revolution led by black slaves against their colonial oppressors: the French. It’s a great deal more complicated than that, however as the book closes an army of former slaves has defeated Napoleon’s army, the bes ...more
There is no possible way I can convey how important reading this book is. I am not a major reader of history books but in reading this I learned so much. I joked with my friend that when I finish this book I should be given a BA in Haitian History and rightly so. The Black Jacobins gives an in-depth look on the history of Haiti, the revolution and the impact the man called Toussaint L'Ovuerture.

I have always had a bit of fascination with the country Haiti mainly because of its rich culture an
James's history of the anti-colonial rising in what is now Haiti during the French revolution and its suppression by the revolutionary regime is one of the great analyses of colonial rebellion and struggles for liberation. Essential reading for a grasp of imperialism and colonialism – and I was delighted to see that Toussaint L'Ouverture is now commemorated in The Panthéon – France's monument to national heroes. He is not buried there: he died in a French prison and the location of his place of ...more
Mar 03, 2020 rated it liked it
Wow, were those French some brutal folks. Lest anyone think Napoleon a compassionate dictator, just have a look at how he directed his troops in Haiti, San Domingo as it was then known. I guess there’s no end to the tales of deprivations and sufferings that our civilization inflicts, is there? Maybe I should stop reading tales of woe and shift to things happy?

I noted a worthy remark in the author’s bibliography regarding histories of the French Revolution written in England and the United States
prz grz
Aug 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, politics
a passionate and meticulously sourced account of the Haitian Revolution and the life of its most celebrated leader, Toussaint L'Ouverture. James pulls no punches when discussing the contradiction between the lofty ideals of the French Revolution and the bourgeoisie's unwillingness to let go of the tremendous wealth of slave-cultivated San Domingo, nor does he spare the European abolitionists of the time.

it's a book full of gut-wrenching horrors, as any honest account of colonialism must be. it'
May 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
How was this book a million times better on the second read than I remembered it being on the first?!?
The history of a most significant revolution brought to light by C L R James. This was a revolution to make everyone free, not just a select few. One wonders at how different the world would be if the founders of Haiti had had been given an opportunity to establish themselves!
This for is for me is one of the best histories coming from the Caribbean! A book which brings the Haitian revolution and the characters involved to life.
Artnoose McMoose
Jan 17, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: couldn-t-finish
After the earthquake in Haiti, all books about Haiti in the Pittsburgh library system were checked out. I was on the wait list for this book for about 6 months. Unfortunately it finally arrived at a time when I was trying to finish up another non-fiction book before going out of town. I was only able to get through about half of the book.

That being said, it was a lot more dry than I expected and had I not read another history on Haiti first, I may have been pretty lost. I think I must have a co
Oct 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
I have held a long fascination for Haiti, first because of voodoo, but then because it was the first really successful slave revolt in the history of the western hemisphere. The Black Jacobins was written in the 1930's, and it shows, but James has a sharp tongue and an even sharper eye for the hypocrisies of revolutionary France and their bourgeoisie. He lays the Haitian revolution out clearly from the heyday of the slave-owning San Domingo colony, through the start of the French Revolution, and ...more
Apr 01, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Not only is Toussaint one of the most interesting persona in history, C.L.R. James knows how to make of that a legend. It is worth considering just how good James is, since I remain just slightly suspicious of some of the descriptions, which make of Toussaint a more than human character. But there are enough cold hard facts to dispel even the most bitter of us, and draw us into Toussaint's story.

Generally, I don't find histories to be gripping, but Toussaint's fight is the best kind of fight; f
Feb 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019
I wasn't too interested in third world liberation movements until quite recently when Ethiopians rid themselves of an oppressive regime (more on this later) right in front of my eyes, bringing to the fore the age old questions of class, identity and the potential for emancipation within one of the poorest countries which is deeply embedded in global capitalism and imperialism. So while there are 'no' parallels, I went back to this brilliant account - which is nothing less than a master piece - o ...more
Aug 10, 2011 rated it really liked it
Daniel Meltzer wrote a wonderful review of this book, which I agree with:

This book was excellent read. The strengths included breathtaking battle scenes, rousing rhetoric for freedom and against slavery, brilliant stories of liberation, and page-turning political intrigue. The weaknesses in the book come from self-defeating politics of discipline for the sake of discipline, and the heart-rending compromises that Toussaint L'Overture makes with people who see him and the republic he created as no
Garret Giblin
Mar 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
A fascinating read. Great prose. L'Ouverture was a remarkable figure. James also does a very good job of explaining and contextualising the French Revolution (with all its v confusing factionalism) and how it played out in Haiti. In conclusion, the French = rats
Bianca Christine
Feb 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing
C.L.R. James utilizes this text to shed the light on Haiti during the times leading up to the Haitian Revolution and the remarkable events during. We learn about the will of the people who refused to be treated badly and degraded; the determination and commitment to fight for freedom until the death and their fearlessness to pull these actions through. On an island inhabited by individuals stolen from their home country, they couldn't grasp the concept of why they needed to negotiate their lives ...more
Jun 15, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography, history
If you ever want to explore the sorrows that are the reality of today's Haiti, you should start with this book. The book explores the seeds of revolution in Haiti, the attempts by soldier/statesman L'Ouverture to diplomatically secure freedom for enslaved Africans in Haiti, to final military victory secured by Dessaline. It is a well written book about a country and people just written off by Nations of the Western Hemishphere and by France. The conditions and the brutality endured by the Africa ...more
Tom Shannon
Dec 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A great view of the fight against imperialism and slavery. Haiti is the first black republic and is often touted as having the only successful slave revolt in history. Haiti is also the first country in the Western Hemisphere to totally abolish slavery. The book showed the strength of Toussaint L'Ouverture and the imperialist racism of France under both the Monarchy and Napoleon. It shows L'Ouverture's weaknesses so as not to just be a book of pure hero worship. Like many Marxists books, I felt ...more
Mark Braithwaite
Mar 31, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book really lit a fire within me. I HIGHLY recommend it, especially if you are of African descent and/or West Indian descent. The slaves of San Domingo who eventually won independence for Haiti pulled off what seemed to be the impossible.

Illiterate, untrained in warfare or international relations, often times unclothed, these slaves decided that nothing was going to stop them from obtaining their God-given freedom. The skill with which Toussaint L’Overture motivated and developed his people
Aug 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The birth of Haiti is a story worth telling: it was the first black republic outside Africa, and the second post-colonial state of modern history. The USA was the first. CLR James’ history of Haiti is still a classic in decolonial histories. While some of the language is dated, the book has aged surprisingly well. The narrative is as tight as a thriller. His taut descriptions of key characters are unforgettable: the resolute Toussaint L’Overture, the conflicted Maximilien Robespierre, and the ru ...more
Jul 26, 2015 rated it really liked it

About the Author: Cyril Lionel Robert James was born in Trinidad in 1901. He early on exhibited an ardent interest in literature and cricket – two great passions that were to remain with him throughout his life. He became a schoolteacher in 1918, having received a classical British education with a scholarship to Queens Royal College in Trinidad. In 1932 James went to Britain to pursue a career as a writer and soon become cricket correspondent for the Manchester Guardian and the Glasgow Herald.
Mar 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing
In the 1790s-1800s, the Haitian revolution took place, and San Domingo, one of the most brutal slave colonies in the West Indies turned into Haiti, an independent state led by a former slave. Focusing on not only on Toussaint L'Ouverture, but on the material conditions that surrounded the only successful slave revolt in history, CLR James presents a very complete overview of the twenty years where history was made. His book gives a critical overview on how race and class can sometimes overlap, a ...more
Feb 26, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Trevor Phillips OBE ,head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, has chosen to discuss C L R James’s The Black Jacobins , on FiveBooks ( as one of the top five on his subject - Equality, saying that:

“… This book is very complex because it does not make the rebellion’s leader, Toussaint L’Ouverture, into a sort of plaster saint. This is a guy who led a revolt against an absolutely brutal, manipulative slave-owning class and in some respects he had to be just as ghastl
A.T. Hicks
I became a huge fan of anything to do with Hatian history while I was a student of French studies at North Carolina Central University in Durham, North Carolina. As a result, I came across C. L. R. James. His writing is impeccable, his research meticulous. If you are interested in Hatian history, this is a must-read.

Peaches and the Gambler (#1) by A.T. Hicks
Jack Wolfe
Apr 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
I'm going on a Caribbean cruise in two weeks and I'm a guilty white liberal, so here I am reviewing "The Black Jacobins," a milestone in post-colonial literature, a sensitive treatment of a complex man leading a totally improbable revolutionary movement, and the ultimate "fuck you" to white people. This is FIERCE history, man. C.L.R. James is a great scholar with a billion sources, so I'm inclined to believe what he says... Which is, basically, that Toussaint was a total fucking badass who led a ...more
Nov 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
certainly one of the most important books i’ve ever read. james is a genius and an amazingly eloquent, emotional writer who makes this seminal moment in anti-colonial revolutionary history feel alive and relevant in the 21st century. this book is a beacon, a warning, and a guide for all peoples seeking to overcome the depths of colonialism within themselves and their nations.
May 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: geeky-theory
I felt I needed to do a some supplementary re-reading/watching Youtube videos of the French Revolution, but a really exciting and complex unpacking of the successful slave uprising in Haiti. Combined with James' sarcasm, this is one of my faves.
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C. L. R. James (1901–1989), a Trinidadian historian, political activist, and writer, is the author of The Black Jacobins, an influential study of the Haitian Revolution and the classic book on sport and culture, Beyond a Boundary. His play Toussaint Louverture: The Story of the Only Successful Slave Revolt in History was recently discovered in the archives and published Duke University Press.

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