Book Review Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by David W. Blight

Pat Young

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From the Newsday review:

In one of the year’s most impressive biographies, Yale historian David W. Blight captures the many sides of this complex man. Blight has spent the better part of his scholarly career pondering Douglass’ odyssey. Even if the author's prose can shade into a fulsome ripeness, "Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom" is superb. It gives a full portrait of Douglass’ political evolution, his family life and the emotional upheavals born of Douglass’ unlikely trajectory from slave to, as he often put it, a “self-made man.”

Blight methodically details the emergence of Douglass as a prominent figure in the years leading up to the Civil War and the fractious tendencies of the antislavery movement. Tall and strikingly handsome — he was often photographed in elegant garb and starched white shirts — Douglass was a defiant speaker, melding Old Testament thunder with sarcasm, irony and withering scorn. Christian wrath resonated in his speeches denouncing the nation’s vile compact with slavery: “Oh! be warned! be warned! A horrible reptile is coiled up in your nation's bosom,” he told the audience at a July Fourth address in 1852. “The venomous creature is nursing at the tender breast of your youthful republic.”
 

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Pat Young

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The San Francisco Chronicle review concludes:

Blight’s book is a stunning achievement, executed with clarity and unpretentious elegance. It may not be the last Douglass biography, but it is one for the ages.
 

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The Washington Independent:

http://www.washingtonindependentrev...kreview/frederick-douglass-prophet-of-freedom

From the review:

David W. Blight has given to the canon of biography a compelling, deeply researched, and engaging account of Frederick Douglass, arguably the greatest abolitionist in the struggle to end slavery in the United States.

This sweeping, accessible work offers a microcosm of American life during the 19th century, as Douglass — born sometime in 1818 (he never knew the month of his birth) and passing in 1895 — was at the forefront of most of the critical issues of the era, all of which revolved around slavery and race.

Like its subject matter, the book is grand and impressive. As a student of “memory,” Blight offers a different outlook on Douglass’ life from what is rendered in the man’s several autobiographies. He challenges Douglass’ recall, as well as some of his attitudes, and, in doing so, distinguishes himself as a biographer par excellence.
 

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From the Boston Globe review:

David Blight has written the definitive biography of Frederick Douglass. With extraordinary detail he illuminates the complexities of Douglass’s life and career and paints a powerful portrait of one of the most important American voices of the 19th century. One would expect nothing less. Blight, considered a leading authority on the slavery period, has been thinking about Douglass for over 35 years. The Yale historian wrote his dissertation on him. And now with unprecedented access to a trove of material gathered by African-American art collector Walter O. Evans, Blight sheds light on the final 30 years of Douglass’s life in ways we have never seen. The resulting chronicle enriches our understanding of Douglass and the challenges he faced and offers a lesson for our own troubled times.
 

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From the conclusion of the Globe review:

His story, in Blight’s careful hands, was a dress rehearsal for our own times. Our present course of action, Douglass might say, must be shaped by “a history braced by a tragic sensibility” and be one that doesn’t shy away from who we actually are and the horrible things we have done. Otherwise, as we are now painfully aware, the ugliness overwhelms.
 

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From the conclusion of the Star Tribune review:

“Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom” is nothing if not a doorstop, and Blight’s exhaustive, donnish approach may not suit every reader’s palate. But it’s a commanding account of a singular life, a sumptuous portrait of a crusader unyielding in his pursuit of racial justice.
 

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From The Guardian’s review:

This is a monumental book, a definitive biography, rich with the biblical cadences that filled Douglass’ life and imagination. Slavery, redemption, vengeance, justice: these were Douglass’ themes, and like Jeremiah he would be a prophet to an often recalcitrant people. The lecture halls expected no less yet Douglass gave them more, probing new depths of social and political analysis, constantly imploring greater exertion for the causes of emancipation and full equality, unafraid to make his hearers deeply uncomfortable.
 

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Received this for Christmas. However might be some time before being able to read. Looking forward to it though. In full disclosure I did not read much of this thread because I will be reading the book, nothing personal to pat and contributors.
 

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Received this for Christmas. However might be some time before being able to read. Looking forward to it though. In full disclosure I did not read much of this thread because I will be reading the book, nothing personal to pat and contributors.
Hope you enjoy it.
 



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