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Shortlisted for THE BAILLIE GIFFORD PRIZE FOR NON-FICTION, 2020
The Haitian Revolution began in the French Caribbean colony of Saint-Domingue with a slave revolt in August 1791, and culminated a dozen years later in the proclamation of the world's first independent black state. After the abolition of slavery in 1793, Toussaint Louverture, himself a former slave, became the leader of the colony's black population, the commander of its republican army and eventually its governor. During the course of his extraordinary life he confronted some of the dominant forces of his age - slavery, settler colonialism, imperialism and racial hierarchy. Treacherously seized by Napoleon's invading army in 1802, this charismatic figure ended his days, in Wordsworth's phrase, 'the most unhappy man of men', imprisoned in a fortress in France.
Black Spartacus draws on a wealth of archival material, much of it overlooked by previous biographers, to follow every step of Louverture's singular journey, from his triumphs against French, Spanish and British troops to his skilful regional diplomacy, his Machiavellian dealings with successive French colonial administrators and his bold promulgation of an autonomous Constitution. Sudhir Hazareesingh shows that Louverture developed his unique vision and leadership not solely in response to imported Enlightenment ideals and revolutionary events in Europe and the Americas, but through a hybrid heritage of fraternal slave organisations, Caribbean mysticism and African political traditions. Above all, Hazareesingh retrieves Louverture's rousing voice and force of personality, making this the most engaging, as well as the most complete, biography to date.
After his death in the French fortress, Louverture became a figure of legend, a beacon for slaves across the Atlantic and for generations of European republicans and progressive figures in the Americas. He inspired the anti-slavery campaigner Frederick Douglass, the most eminent nineteenth-century African-American; his emancipatory struggle was hailed by those who defied imperial and colonial rule well into the twentieth. In the modern era, his life informed the French poet Aimé Césaire's seminal idea of négritude and has been celebrated in a remarkable range of plays, songs, novels and statues. Here, in all its drama, is the epic story of the world's first black superhero.
©Sudhir Hazareesingh 2020 (P) Penguin Audio 2020
This is an erudite and elegant biography with a message that resonates strongly in our own time
remarkable ... the sharpest portrait yet of Louverture ... Black Spartacus is a triumph. It takes a nearly impossibly complex history and weaves it into a compelling and accurate narrative that reads like fiction.
Black Spartacus is a tour de force: by far the most complete, authoritative and persuasive biography of Toussaint that we are likely to have for a long time...an extraordinarily gripping read.
There is no better literary contribution to the year of Black Lives Matter than Sudhir Hazareesingh's Black Spartacus, an authoritative biography of Toussaint Louverture, who led the successful "slave revolt" in Haiti and paved the way for Haitian independence.
an outstanding biography that breaks fresh ground and scrapes the crust of folklore, and cliché, from the Toussaint story ... scrupulous and absorbing ... After the summer of 2020, there could hardly be a more urgent and valuable book.
This thrilling, magisterial, superb biography, full of new material, tells the extraordinary swashbuckling, bloodspattered, inspirational life of Toussaint, brilliant leader of the Haitian slave revolt against France
Lustrous pearls ... scattered throughout Black Spartacus, turn this detailed, blow-by-blow account of Toussaint's military exploits into a dazzling, complicated narrative ... a breath-taking picture of the decade of Toussaint's dream
Sudhir Hazareesingh's engrossing new life is the story of an island as well as a man ... Hazareesingh brings to the task a voracious appetite for original sources and a discerning ear for those that have the ring of truth. He also has a gift for tracing those threads that reveal a previously unrecognised pattern in the fabric of a life.
With Black Spartacus, Sudhir Hazareesingh has produced the fourth - and best - biography of Toussaint Louverture since the bicentenary of Haitian independence ... The book deftly tackles the early stages of the slave uprising and gives one of the most convincing accounts yet of Toussaint's likely role in its opening moves.
This superb new history of Louverture and his legacy portrays Saint-Domingue as the most profitable slave colony the world had ever known ... with rare narrative verve, Hazareesingh conjures his subject's extraordinary life.