Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Quick Book Reviews

I got a few books for Christmas, but with a newborn at home I didn't exactly plow through them. If it weren't for my streetcar ride to and from work, I don't know when I'd find the time.

The March - E.L. Doctorow

To me, Doctorow is the Terence Malick of American fiction. His writing has a dream-like quality, and the words wash over you like a wave. Although ostensibly about Sherman's march through Georgia, this book is really about how people respond to anarchy. The cast of characters is varied, and each one finds a way to survive amidst the chaos. The best and worst of people can be seen. What I found most amazing, was the sense of calm Doctorow is able to instill. You can almost hear the birds chirping as the exhausted soldiers drag their feet along a dirt road. This is great stuff, and I recommend it to anyone looking to anyone looking to take a langurous stroll through a well written novel.

Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves - Adam Hochschild

This wonderful book by the author of the great King Leopold's Ghost sets out to examine the fight for the abolition of slavery in the British Empire. I have read a great deal on slavery and the slave trade, but I don't recall coming across any books dealing with the grassroots movement to first end the slave trade and then abolish slavery altogether. What Hoschchild is able to convey very early on in this book is that while history has seen many men fight for their own right, it was truly revolutionary to see men fighting for the rights of others. The author takes us from the shores of West Africa to English shipping towns to the plantations of the West Indies. He covers an incredible amount of ground in a mere 370 pages and manages to point out interesting details without ever getting bogged down by tagential discussion. When we think of the end of the slave trade and emancipation, we tend to think of fixed dates, and never really comtemplate just how long the journey it was for those fighting for the cause. Hoschchild demonstrates that is was the almost endless stream of petitions, boycotts and slave revolts (both failed and successful) that ultimately led to the Emancipation of British slaves. For anyone interested in learning more about this little known facet of history that touches Africa, Europe and America - I strongly recommend this book.

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