A NEW YORK TIMES and TIME TOP 10 BOOK OF THE YEAR
The definitive, dramatic biography of the most important African American of the nineteenth century: Frederick Douglass, the escaped slave who became the greatest orator of his day and one of the leading abolitionists and writers of the era.
As a young man Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) escaped from slavery in Baltimore, Maryland. He was fortunate to have been taught to read by his slave owner mistress, and he would go on to become one of the major literary figures of his time. He wrote three versions of his autobiography over the course of his lifetime and published his own newspaper. His very existence gave the lie to slave owners: with dignity and great intelligence he bore witness to the brutality of slavery.
Initially mentored by William Lloyd Garrison, Douglass spoke widely, often to large crowds, using his own story to condemn slavery. He broke with Garrison to become a political abolitionist, a Republican, and eventually a Lincoln supporter. By the Civil War and during Reconstruction, Douglass became the most famed and widely travelled orator in the nation. He denounced the premature end of Reconstruction and the emerging Jim Crow era. In his unique and eloquent voice, written and spoken, Douglass was a fierce critic of the United States as well as a radical patriot. He sometimes argued politically with younger African-Americans, but he never forsook either the Republican party or the cause of black civil and political rights.
In this remarkable biography, David Blight has drawn on new information held in a private collection that few other historian have consulted, as well as recently discovered issues of Douglass’s newspapers. Blight tells the fascinating story of Douglass’s two marriages and his complex extended family. Douglass was not only an astonishing man of words, but a thinker steeped in Biblical story and theology. There has not been a major biography of Douglass in a quarter century. David Blight’s Frederick Douglass affords this important American the distinguished biography he deserves.
An Amazon Best Book of October 2018:: There are many biographies of Frederick Douglass, but there has not been a major one written in nearly twenty five years. David W. Blight’s new book is a valuable contribution to the understanding of Douglass as both a man and as a historical figure, utilizing papers that had not previously been available. Although direct in his message, Douglass, like many great men, was a person of contradictions. Blight explores those contradictions, painting Douglass as a complete human being, even as he lays out the clear argument for his greatness. This thorough and highly readable biography traces Douglass’s entire life, starting on a plantation in Maryland, covering his education and eventual escape, his two marriages, his complicated relationship with his family, and his work as an abolitionist and orator. In the end, the reader will walk away with a deeper grasp of a still deeply misunderstood chapter of American history, as well as understanding, respect, and admiration for one of the county’s greatest figures. –Chris Schluep, for the Amazon Book Review
“Cinematic and deeply engaging. . . . a tour de force of storytelling.” (Brent Staples The New York Times Book Review)
“Absorbing and even moving . . . Mr. Blight displays his lifelong interest in Douglass on almost every page, and his own voice is active and eloquent throughout the narrative. It is a book that speaks to our own time as well as Douglass’s. . . . A brilliant book.” (John Stauffer The Wall Street Journal)
“The first major biography of Douglass in nearly three decades. . . . Blight isn’t looking to overturn our understanding of Douglass, whose courage and achievements were unequivocal, but to complicate it — a measure by which this ambitious and empathetic biography resoundingly succeeds.” (Jennifer Szalai The New York Times)
“Extraordinary. . . . Blight has certainly written, in the book’s texture and density and narrative flow—one violent and provocative incident arriving right after another—a great American biography.” (Adam Gopnik The New Yorker)
“A consistently engrossing book that is likely to remain the definitive account of Douglass’s life for many years to come.” (Eric Foner The Nation)
“A stunning achievement. Blight captures an icon in full humanity. From riveting drama in slavery and Civil War, his Douglass rises into clairvoyant genius on the blinkered centrality of race in our struggle for freedom.” (Taylor Branch, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of America in the King Years)
“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. . . . The resulting chronicle enriches our understanding of Douglass and the challenges he faced and offers a lesson for our own troubled times. . . . Magisterial.” (Eddie S. Glaude, Jr. The Boston Globe)
“David Blight’s incandescent Frederick Douglass is a monumental achievement of biographical empathy, historical context, and grim comprehensiveness, a much-awaited masterpiece of a life that emblematized slavery as the problem of the 19th century, as was race that of Du Bois’s 20th, the legacy of both the problem of our 21st century.” (David Levering Lewis, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of W.E.B. Du Bois: The Biography of a Race, 1868-1919)
“Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom is a triumph—elegantly written, with much new material about one of the most famous and important men in modern history. David Blight has created a vibrant and convincing portrait of a towering figure who was also, Blight says, ‘thoroughly and beautifully human.’ A great American gets the stellar biography he deserves from one our country’s greatest historians.” (Annette Gordon-Reed, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family)
“This much-anticipated biography of the foremost black leader and one of the greatest Americans of the nineteenth century fully lives up to and even exceeds high expectations. It is a work not only of stunning scholarship but also of literary artistry. David Blight’s—and Frederick Douglass’s—achievements have immeasurably enriched our understanding of slavery, abolitionism, the Civil War, and Reconstruction.” (James M. McPherson, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era)