Frederick Douglass
**Winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in History**Named one of the Best Books of 2018 by The New York Times Book Review, The Wall Street Journal, Time, and Smithsonian Magazine.​“Extraordinary…a great American biography” (The New Yorker) 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. 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, using his own story to condemn slavery. By the Civil War, Douglass had become the most famed and widely travelled orator in the nation. In his unique and eloquent voice, written and spoken, Douglass was a fierce critic of the United States as well as a radical patriot. After the war 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 “cinematic and deeply engaging” (The New York Times Book Review) 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. “Absorbing and even moving…a brilliant book that speaks to our own time as well as Douglass’s” (The Wall Street Journal), Blight’s biography tells the fascinating story of Douglass’s two marriages and his complex extended family. “David Blight has written the definitive biography of Frederick Douglass…a powerful portrait of one of the most important American voices of the nineteenth century” (The Boston Globe).

Frederick Douglass Details

TitleFrederick Douglass
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseOct 16th, 2018
PublisherSimon & Schuster
ISBN-139781416590316
Rating
GenreBiography, History, Nonfiction, North American Hi..., American History, Biography Memoir, Military History, Civil War

Frederick Douglass Review

  • Mehrsa
    January 1, 1970
    This book is beautiful. One description called it "cinematic" and I think that's pretty accurate. You feel the sense of Douglass and the beautiful prose really captures his words and the time. It's annoying that people call him an "imperfect man." I mean, who isn't an imperfect person? This book certainly covers the warts and all. What's amazing about Douglass is that he never wavered. He never softened. He was strident until the end. After talking against slavery, he moved on to lynching and th This book is beautiful. One description called it "cinematic" and I think that's pretty accurate. You feel the sense of Douglass and the beautiful prose really captures his words and the time. It's annoying that people call him an "imperfect man." I mean, who isn't an imperfect person? This book certainly covers the warts and all. What's amazing about Douglass is that he never wavered. He never softened. He was strident until the end. After talking against slavery, he moved on to lynching and then Jim Crow. He wasn't soft like Booker T. Washington. He wasn't afraid to call out everybody--Susan B. Anothony, Lincoln, everybody. And he eviscerated the Southern Democrats. He was also incredibly prescient in what would happen in the south (it got worse). He was not predjudiced against immigrants and he fought for womens suffrage (even when the suffragette's showed their racism and their claws). The book is long and not all parts of it are necessary, but it's beautiful!
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  • Hadrian
    January 1, 1970
    An impressive and revealing biography of a major figure in American history.Douglass had lived an extraordinary life, and it is hard to keep track of all of his separate tasks and roles through his three autobiographies. From his own life, he was born a slave, then became a fugitive, then a fighter against the criminal institutions of slavery, and then had some decades of life in peace and comparative victory. His biographies tell a story of self-creation and independence, supported by a relentl An impressive and revealing biography of a major figure in American history.Douglass had lived an extraordinary life, and it is hard to keep track of all of his separate tasks and roles through his three autobiographies. From his own life, he was born a slave, then became a fugitive, then a fighter against the criminal institutions of slavery, and then had some decades of life in peace and comparative victory. His biographies tell a story of self-creation and independence, supported by a relentless work ethic. Blight's own biography underlines this own personal achievement but does not neglect the turmoil of Douglass' own personal life - overwork and frequent illness from a staggering travel schedule, a combative nature that played off well against those who wanted to retain slavery, but also led to problems with other abolitionists, and the isolating effects of the violent trauma of slavery itself, including a difficult family life. He was not given to complacency or ease. When some other abolitionists proposed a retreat from activism or current political institutions as too corrupt, he said this was not enough. He went on, even if he doubted that slavery would be abolished in his own lifetime. Yet when it did finally happen, and he found himself suddenly past that goal that unachievable, still others said their work was ended, he said this was not enough - suffrage was next. Blight does allow for extensive quotations from Douglass' speeches and writings but also situates them in contemporary debates, making it easier to place Douglass as a figure who defined the contemporary debate on slavery and abolition, and how he would thus interact with other figures. To give one example - he finds John Brown having noble ideals but backed off from earlier support, as he was concerned about Brown not knowing enough of the local terrain to launch an insurgency. The book is a bit long and tends to wander, but this is understood because there are so many roles the man played. He was, at times, a newspaper editor, charge-de-affairs to Haiti, fighting for his life with the plantation overseer, thrown out of railroad cars, or a patron, or a husband, or a husband with a wandering eye. In the best biographies you get a sense of the human being who was there, and the world they lived in, and Blight finds that Frederick Douglass, even though the mythologies and monuments that have been left ahead of him.
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  • Raymond
    January 1, 1970
    "Men talk of the Negro problem. There is no Negro problem. The problem is whether the American people have honesty enough, loyalty enough, honor enough, patriotism enough to live up to their Constitution" -Frederick Douglass"There is no man in the country whose opinion I value more than yours." -Abraham Lincoln to DouglassDavid Blight's biography of Frederick Douglass was great. In it Blight effectively shows that Douglass was a prophet, who used rhetoric couched in the Old Testament, for the ab "Men talk of the Negro problem. There is no Negro problem. The problem is whether the American people have honesty enough, loyalty enough, honor enough, patriotism enough to live up to their Constitution" -Frederick Douglass"There is no man in the country whose opinion I value more than yours." -Abraham Lincoln to DouglassDavid Blight's biography of Frederick Douglass was great. In it Blight effectively shows that Douglass was a prophet, who used rhetoric couched in the Old Testament, for the abolition of slavery, voting rights for blacks, women's suffrage, and other civil rights issues. But this is not a complete hagiography, Blight gives a balanced look on his subject. He is critical of him when Douglass made racist and misogynistic statements against Native Americans and women, respectively (even though he was highly depended upon women throughout his life). What impressed me the most about his story is that how later on in life he motivated and encouraged a new generation of leaders to become active, leaders such as Ida B. Wells, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois, and Paul Laurence Dunbar. Finally, Blight does a great job of using Douglass's words from his speeches, letters, and other writings to share his thoughts on the issues of the 19th Century. Douglass's words still ring true in the 21st Century.
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  • Chris
    January 1, 1970
    Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley We like, want, our heroes to be uncompleted, to always be heroic and constant while in the spotlight, and to leave that spotlight before they change politics or ideals. We want to remember Lincoln as the great emancipator not as the man who at one point wanted all freed slaves to return to Africa, a place they had never seen. That ruins the image of martyr Lincoln. We have the same feeling of many of our heroes, including Frederick Douglass. Who despite what some pe Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley We like, want, our heroes to be uncompleted, to always be heroic and constant while in the spotlight, and to leave that spotlight before they change politics or ideals. We want to remember Lincoln as the great emancipator not as the man who at one point wanted all freed slaves to return to Africa, a place they had never seen. That ruins the image of martyr Lincoln. We have the same feeling of many of our heroes, including Frederick Douglass. Who despite what some people think is, in fact, dead. Perhaps the memory of Douglass is doing great things in a symbolical sense, but the actual man is long dust. For most people, Douglass is the man who escaped slavery and publicly spoke out against it. Some people even confuse him with Henry “Box” Brown. Many students read Douglass either his Autobiography, or perhaps more commonly, the selection detailing his learning to read. The drawback to the commonly used selection is that it is many times the student’s only reading of Douglass, who sometimes some students think is a woman who is having sex with her mistress. People today have heard of Douglass, but they don’t know of Frederick Douglass. David W. Blight corrects that in his massive, though it does not read that way, new biography of Douglass. Perhaps the hardest part of any Douglass biography is the reconstruction of his early life. This isn’t because of a lack of memoirs, but a surfeit of them, including subtle but important differences. Did he ask to be taught or did Sophia Auld teach him because of her own idea? A combination of both perhaps? Blight’s reconstructing of Douglass’s early life makes it clear when there is a question about what happened, where Douglass himself differs or where scholars raise questions. He does not choose sides; he deals with facts and context. A refreshing thing. It is also something that he uses when dealing with Douglass’s relationship to his first wife Anna Murray, a free black woman who played a central role in Douglass’s escaping slavery. Murray was illiterate, not stupid, but illiterate as common for many people than. She and Douglass married soon after his escape, and they stayed married until her death. She birthed his children, she gave him a home to return to. Sadly, we do not know what she thought about her husband, about his relationship with the white women who would stay at her house, or about his feelings towards her for she is left out of his writing – much of interior family life seems to be. Blight, it seems, is slightly frustrated by this mystery of Anna Murray, and in the beginning, it almost seems like he is being, not condescending or dismissive, but almost shrugging off, not an accurate description but close. As the biography progress, however, you become grateful and happy that Blight does not presume to know what Anna Murray would think. He does suggest authors that try to channel her, but Blight keeps her presence as a real woman, almost shaking his head at Douglass’s silence. It helps that he keeps Douglass’s second wife, Helen Pitts, off page for much of the time as well. Blight’s depiction of Douglass is within the context of his time and dealing with those who see contradictions and problems in who Douglass was – such as his expansionist tendencies, his view on Native Americans. Blight presents an imperfect human, as all humans are, but presents him with understanding and a feeling of fascination that are easily transmitted to the reader.
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  • Donna Davis
    January 1, 1970
    2.5 stars, rounded up. Thanks go to Net Galley and Simon and Schuster for the DRC, which I received free in exchange for this honest review. Douglass is a key figure in American history, and Blight has made his career largely through his expertise on Douglass’s life. I expected to be impressed here, and indeed, the endnotes are meticulous and I would be amazed if there was a single error anywhere in this work. But aspects of the biography rub me the wrong way, and ultimately, I realized that the 2.5 stars, rounded up. Thanks go to Net Galley and Simon and Schuster for the DRC, which I received free in exchange for this honest review. Douglass is a key figure in American history, and Blight has made his career largely through his expertise on Douglass’s life. I expected to be impressed here, and indeed, the endnotes are meticulous and I would be amazed if there was a single error anywhere in this work. But aspects of the biography rub me the wrong way, and ultimately, I realized that the best way around this is to go back and read Douglass’s own autobiographies again. Whether we read what Douglass tells us, or what Blight (or any credible biographer) has to say, there are two impediments that stop me short, and because I have never been required to start at the beginning and end at the end to complete a scholastic or professional assignment, I tend to read the beginning; recoil; abandon; and then return in an undisciplined, skipping-around manner that is uncharacteristic of my usual methods. First we have the Christian aspect. Douglass was tremendously devout, and during his time it was much more common to discuss religion publicly and even in daily conversations, sometimes at length. It repels me. So that’s my first problem. It’s not Blight’s problem, but it’s one I have to deal with. The second problem—again, not Blight’s, and it’s inherent in reading about Douglass—is that slavery was horrible. Douglass actually had a slightly better life than most of his peers, gaining an education and living in the master’s house, but it was nevertheless traumatic. It is unavoidable to see what he endured and not reflect on exactly how hellish life was for the four million that endured life in this dehumanizing, degrading system. After I read a certain amount of it, I feel as if I need to take a long shower to wash away the stain. As for Blight’s book, there are some good moments here, and I learned some things. Who helped Douglass on his road to freedom? Free Black people did. Who knew that there were vastly more free Black folks in Baltimore, Maryland than there were slaves? The textbooks and other materials used to teach adolescents about slavery and the American Civil War overemphasize, to a degree amounting to deception, the participation of kindly white people, largely Quakers, and provide only a fleeting glimpse of the occasional African-American. But I find that the eloquent passages that I highlight as I read this are not Blight’s words, but quotations from Douglass himself. Meanwhile, the obstacles to appreciating this book are consistent and irritating. Blight makes much of inconsistencies in Douglass’s three autobiographies, and when he refers to the differences there is a superior, smirking quality to his prose that doesn’t sit well. I wouldn’t like it coming from any writer, but when the writer is a Caucasian, it adds an extra layer of insult. No matter how long Blight publishes, no matter his standing in the Ivy League, he will never be fit to polish Douglass’s boots. If he once knew it, I suspect he has forgotten it. So that’s a problem, and it’s hard to read around it.The other issue, a more common one, is the tendency to guess at what is not known. This makes me crazy. The narrative will flow along in a readable, linear fashion, and then I start seeing the speculation, which is barely visible. Might have. Must have. Likely. It makes me want to scream. If you don’t know, Professor Blight, either don’t put it in, or address the unknown in a separate paragraph explicitly addressing the possibilities. Weed out the unimportant guesses and deal with the more critical ones head on. When these inferences are salted randomly into the text, we come away with tangled notions. Apart from the key events in his life, which of the finer details were fact, and which were surmise? Excuse me. I need to find a nice brick wall so I can slam my forehead against it. So there it is. For all I know, Blight may gain half a dozen prestigious awards from this work; it wouldn’t be the first time a book I’ve complained about went on to garner fame and glory. But I call them like I see them, and what I see is that it’s a better plan to read what Douglass says about himself, even though Blight appears to consider himself a more reliable resource than his subject. If you want this thing, you can have it October 2, 2018.
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  • Christopher Saunders
    January 1, 1970
    Monumental biography of one of 19th Century America’s most remarkable men: Frederick Douglass, who went in a few decades from runaway slave to abolitionist figure and writer to presidential adviser, political rabble-rouser and living legend. Douglass hasn't received a full biography in decades (not since a tiresome psychobiography by William McFeely) so I was thrilled about this, especially knowing Blight's other work. It certainly didn't disappoint, though I'll caution that Blight's approach is Monumental biography of one of 19th Century America’s most remarkable men: Frederick Douglass, who went in a few decades from runaway slave to abolitionist figure and writer to presidential adviser, political rabble-rouser and living legend. Douglass hasn't received a full biography in decades (not since a tiresome psychobiography by William McFeely) so I was thrilled about this, especially knowing Blight's other work. It certainly didn't disappoint, though I'll caution that Blight's approach is a little idiosyncratic. While the book does follow a roughly chronological narrative, he does zero in on specific writings and speeches of Douglass's, using them to frame his personal development, his reaction to specific events and how his inspiring words and human actions either complemented or diverged from each other. I found this particularly interesting the chapter on John Brown, showing how Douglass, the apostle of violent resistance to slavery, refused an opportunity to put words into action (though, in fairness, he may well have been put off by the quioxtic nature of Brown's enterprise). Blight also explores Douglass's fractious relations with abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison, politicians like Lincoln and Grant and younger black leaders who viewed the older Douglass more as a mouthpiece for the Republican Party than a devoted civil rights leader; his efforts to tangle post-emancipation with new issues (racial equality, women's suffrage and lynching), his fame and fractious personal life (from a menage-a-trois with his first wife and a German admirer to a dastardly son-in-law who repeatedly tried blackmailing, then destroying Douglass). At worst, Blight can loose track of the thread in his digressions, or engage in odd speculation (particularly when dealing with Douglass's first wife, who left little record making it hard to reconstruct her thoughts and actions). On the whole though, it's as insightful, thorough and engaging a documentary as a towering figure like Douglass deserves.
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  • Scott Hitchcock
    January 1, 1970
    It's amazing how little I knew about Douglass beyond a couple of headline bullets. When thinking of Civil Rights leaders the 1950's and 60's leaders are well documented in our society but not nearly enough attention is given to their predecessors. Douglass was an amazing orator to rival King and going on a tour of the south to do it during the reconstruction era at least as dangerous if not much more so than 80 years later. What was also amazing was his time abroad in Europe after escaping slave It's amazing how little I knew about Douglass beyond a couple of headline bullets. When thinking of Civil Rights leaders the 1950's and 60's leaders are well documented in our society but not nearly enough attention is given to their predecessors. Douglass was an amazing orator to rival King and going on a tour of the south to do it during the reconstruction era at least as dangerous if not much more so than 80 years later. What was also amazing was his time abroad in Europe after escaping slavery. His treatment there much better than in America a lesser man might have washed his hands of the situation or maybe just written on the topic rather than return. Then there's the grief aspect. He lost over ten grandchildren and a few of his children in the course of a few years. So much pain. I'm sure continuing in his struggle helped keep his mind off of is pain. The author does a good job of pointing out Douglass's flaws and humanizing him. No man is perfect. His struggles with other abolitionists and at times with woman's suffrages groups was at times very tenuous. Highly recommended.
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  • Scott Pomfret
    January 1, 1970
    This account of the life of Frederick Douglass convinced me that in a hundred years we will view anti-immigrant sentiment as we now look at those who opposed abolition. Not because "Prophet of Freedom" made any such case, but because all the bones of the current strife are within Douglass's life, writing, and oratory. Douglass was an incredibly prescient and forward-thinking man.To be sure, "Prophet of Freedom" is no hagiography. There's plenty to disturb modern ears. Douglass was virulently ant This account of the life of Frederick Douglass convinced me that in a hundred years we will view anti-immigrant sentiment as we now look at those who opposed abolition. Not because "Prophet of Freedom" made any such case, but because all the bones of the current strife are within Douglass's life, writing, and oratory. Douglass was an incredibly prescient and forward-thinking man.To be sure, "Prophet of Freedom" is no hagiography. There's plenty to disturb modern ears. Douglass was virulently anti-Catholic and anti-Irish, and his emphasis on self reliance can come across as blaming the oppressed and his thirst for civil war as almost unprincipled. Moreover, his slavish adherence to the Republican party after it largely abandoned the project of Reconstruction disappoints. These flaws, however, do not detract from the powerful figure and autodidact who made his own life emblematic of the not-quite-endless possibilities of a determined and gifted black man even in an often unapologetic white slave-holding America.Blight's is a brisk, well-written, well-organized account that attempts mostly successfully not to rely too much on Douglass's prodigious auto-biographical output. Blight situates Douglass in his era, paints masterful portraits of Douglass's wives, children, and fellow travelers (and in particular of a trio of American presidents--Lincoln, Johnson and Grant--from the perspective of a contemporary person of color). Blight pulls no punches when addressing the flaws referenced above, but he does effectively contextualize them. In any event, Douglass's accomplishments were awesome and for all his pride his moral force remains resonant. I heartily recommend this biography.
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  • Samantha Zee
    January 1, 1970
    I'm going to be up front and say that this is a very detailed and well done biography of Douglass, to the point where if you are not extremely interested in his life, or writing some sort of extensive paper on Douglass, DO NOT READ THIS. It's long. Like technically 900+ pages long, but with the occasional picture and the notes/sources in the last section, it is closer to just over 700 pages. I would like to say this is written like a narrative, but while it's mostly in chronological order, a lot I'm going to be up front and say that this is a very detailed and well done biography of Douglass, to the point where if you are not extremely interested in his life, or writing some sort of extensive paper on Douglass, DO NOT READ THIS. It's long. Like technically 900+ pages long, but with the occasional picture and the notes/sources in the last section, it is closer to just over 700 pages. I would like to say this is written like a narrative, but while it's mostly in chronological order, a lot of the material directly quotes from Douglass' works/letters/speeches. Almost excessively. Which really took me out of the experience, since the tone and wordage of Blight did not always flow with the quote form Douglass. There are also a few sections during Douglass' life with less information available, so Blight uses what he can to piece together what he thinks happened. Surprisingly, while the book is obviously focused on Douglass, the topic of his marriage and kids are glanced over, at best. There are entire chapters dedicated to women out side of his marriages, but just a couple sentences a chapter (if at all) about his wives and kids. Honestly, I would not recommend this book to a casual reader because it is a lot of work to get through. Unless you are really into biographies or need to write a research paper on Douglass, I would pass on this book.
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  • Calzean
    January 1, 1970
    This is a big book that held my interest for most pages.The book traces the life of Frederick Douglass in a linear progression. The early chapters on his years in slavery depend mostly on his autobiographies which is not surprising given the lack of other written sources. The best chapters related to the civil war and its aftermath. Again this is not surprising given this is the author's chosen field.At times the book sunk into a lot of detail which would be only for the determined fan.The autho This is a big book that held my interest for most pages.The book traces the life of Frederick Douglass in a linear progression. The early chapters on his years in slavery depend mostly on his autobiographies which is not surprising given the lack of other written sources. The best chapters related to the civil war and its aftermath. Again this is not surprising given this is the author's chosen field.At times the book sunk into a lot of detail which would be only for the determined fan.The author has an easy style which has produced a five star effort that provides an honest, and extremely well referenced, biography of a much needed man of his time.
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  • Marks54
    January 1, 1970
    While I had known of Frederick Douglass since high school, the first time I really encountered him was while watching Ken Burns’ miniseries The Civil War in 1990, when Morgan Freeman stirringly read several of Douglass’ speeches and writings as part of the story. That is fitting, since Douglass was one of the most powerful writers and orators in all of American history and not just in the 19th century, when he had few rivals, if any. (Lincoln no doubt but who else?)David Blight has written an am While I had known of Frederick Douglass since high school, the first time I really encountered him was while watching Ken Burns’ miniseries The Civil War in 1990, when Morgan Freeman stirringly read several of Douglass’ speeches and writings as part of the story. That is fitting, since Douglass was one of the most powerful writers and orators in all of American history and not just in the 19th century, when he had few rivals, if any. (Lincoln no doubt but who else?)David Blight has written an amazing one volume biography of ?Douglass, who rose from a slave on the Maryland Eastern Shore to become the most visible negro and the most prolific autobiographer, not to mention the most recognizable voice for abolition and against slavery, racing, hatred and lynching in the period leading up to and following the US Civil War. This was an astonishing life, whose achievements and dilemmas remain relevant today. Blight has written an outstanding and highlyly readable account of this long story that does a good job at incorporating all of the personal variety, joys, and sorrows of this many as he lived a highly public life as well as carrying on with an extensive multigenerational family, developing and maintaining lasting professional relationships throughout the US and Europe, and conducting a long career of public service along the way.It is clear that Mr. Blight thinks the world of his subject (that seems easy enough to do). This is not a hagiography, however, and Douglass’s life is developed in its positives and negatives. What I liked the most about the book was how Douglass was situated within his times to help explain the tensions he had to work with once he began his career. The variety of positions within Abolitionism are clearly presented, as are the dynamics within the movement as the Civil War approached. The relationships between wormen’s rights advocates and anti slavery forces are also well developed, especially in the accounts of how Douglass wove his way through different activist communities.The shift from abolitionism to freedman’s rights during the Civil War and Reconstruction is also well presented, as are Douglass’s reactions to the retreat from Reconstruction after 1876. All of this history is very much living and breathing and is enlightening seen at a distance of 150 years. The complexity of Douglass as an individual comes across well in his dealings with family, political opponents, younger upstarts in battles against lynchings, and even with his former owners and tormentors in Maryland.Overall, Blight did a good job at presenting this complex story in as few pages as he did. Still, this is a long book but strangely one that leaves the reader looking for more to ingest. In particular, more detail into Douglass’s writings would have been appreciated, although I understand the need to make the book manageable within the context of a single volume.I have high expectations for the book, but it exceeded those expectations and is a fine book.
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  • Colleen Browne
    January 1, 1970
    David Blight is one of those historians who, when another book is published, I put it on my list of books to buy because of my deep respect of his ability. In his work, he focuses a lot on memory, particularly as it relates to the Civil War and because of the way that the purpose of the war was hijacked by Lost Causers and their memories.I have read at least one of Douglasses autobiographies and some of his speeches, along with his letter to Thomas Auld. I thought I knew a lot about him but read David Blight is one of those historians who, when another book is published, I put it on my list of books to buy because of my deep respect of his ability. In his work, he focuses a lot on memory, particularly as it relates to the Civil War and because of the way that the purpose of the war was hijacked by Lost Causers and their memories.I have read at least one of Douglasses autobiographies and some of his speeches, along with his letter to Thomas Auld. I thought I knew a lot about him but reading this book revealed to me just how wrong I was. The book reveals Douglass to the reader as a great man and one of the great leaders of the Nineteenth Century, unafraid to speak truth to power whether he was addressing Abraham Lincoln or any of the luminaries of his times. The reader learns about Douglass, the public man and the private man with so many struggles within his own family. Blight presents his subject, warts and all and humanizes him. It is quite long but worth it. I recommend it highly.
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  • Rachel Rooney
    January 1, 1970
    I was over 90% done with this 36 hour audiobook when it was cruelly ripped out of my ears by the library, so I am going to call it done for now and hope to finish it later this year when my hold comes in again. This was a great biography of Douglass. I appreciate that it was honest about his flaws even as it demonstrated his importance to history.
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  • Michael Austin
    January 1, 1970
    "It is easy to call Douglass a prophet; this book attempts to show how he merits that lofty title. “The prophet is human,” wrote the great Jewish theologian Abraham Heschel, “yet he employs notes one octave too high for our ears. He experiences moments that defy our understanding. He is neither ‘a singing saint’ nor ‘a moralizing poet,’ but an assaulter of the mind. Often his words begin to burn where conscience ends."--Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom, p. xviiiVery early on in his magnifi "It is easy to call Douglass a prophet; this book attempts to show how he merits that lofty title. “The prophet is human,” wrote the great Jewish theologian Abraham Heschel, “yet he employs notes one octave too high for our ears. He experiences moments that defy our understanding. He is neither ‘a singing saint’ nor ‘a moralizing poet,’ but an assaulter of the mind. Often his words begin to burn where conscience ends."--Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom, p. xviiiVery early on in his magnificent biography of Frederick Douglass, David Blight lets the reader know that his use of the term "prophet" in the subtitle is something more than a marketing ploy. Frederick Douglas: Prophet of Freedom takes the idea of prophecy seriously (as anyone citing Abraham Heschel must) and applies both its negative and its positive connotations to his subject. The negative connotations are legion. Prophets are difficult to deal with, absolutely convinced of their own rightness, unwilling to compromise or even consider practicalities, harsh, demanding, vain, difficult to care for, and not particularly well suited for human relations. On the plus side, they speak a compelling moral truth with absolute clarity, they demand that people live up to that truth, and they speak the mind of God. Douglass was all of these things, and the truths he spoke mattered; they helped to move the crucial generation of Americans to do the hardest thing that Americans had ever done: to rid the nation of the scourge of slavery, in a war that almost destroyed the Union.Blight acknowledges right up front that, like all of Douglass's biographers, he has the blessing and the curse of three autobiographies written at the beginning, the middle, and the end of Douglass's public career. Both the blessing and the curse are really only evident in the first hundred pages of the book, which discuss Douglass's life as a slave. His autobiographies are really the only substantial documents of Douglass's early life that a historian can work with, but they give much more information about the young Douglass (Fred Bailey until he escaped) than we have about all but a handful of antebellum slaves, so the biographer is reduced to stating the facts as Douglass stated them and then trying to evaluate the reliability of his memory.But beginning in about 1840, Blight has an enormous number of documents to work with, so Douglass's own opinions about his life become crucial background to the historical record. This is such a studied period that I was surprised how much I learned by seeing it from Douglass's perspective. But, even though I have read dozens of books and biographies about this period of American history, I found myself being constantly surprised by the information that Blight provides. Here are two examples, meant to be illustrative rather than exhaustive.First, I did not really understand the diversity of thought within American Abolitionism in the 1840s and 1850s. William Lloyd Garrison, whom Douglass became connected with within weeks of escaping to the North, represented only one of three major and mutually exclusive factions within the most radical abolitionists of the 19th century. Garrison believed in moral suasion and political non-participation, and he considered it a grave heresy to believe in voting for candidates who wanted to end slavery. Or in voting period. Garrison believed that evil had to be confronted by pure religion and non-cooperation. When Douglass began supporting political candidates, he and Garrison had a falling out, and Douglass became a political abolitionist--someone who believed that the Constitution was inherently anti-slavery and that political action could bring an end to slavery. But this second group of abolitionists were, like the first, pacifists. When Douglass met John Brown and other advocates of violence, he moved to the third school of abolition, which believed that slaves and people of conscience had a right and an obligation to use violence to end slavery.It was interesting, and a little bit depressing, to see how much these groups fought with each other. And it was equally disturbing to see how often the tried to stage-manage Frederick Douglass and make sure that he publicly represented their version of abolition. But he was also very successful at going along with his allies as far as he could and then striking out on his own. Like most prophets, he had to ultimately control his own message.A second eye-opener for me was the postbellum conflict between Douglass and other advocates for the 14th and 15 Amendments and advocates for women's suffrage, such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. Douglass always favored, and spoke for, women's suffrage. But when push came to shove, there was a lot of pushing and a lot of shoving. Stanton and Anthony opposed the 15th Amendment that guaranteed voting rights to African-American males if it did not also enfranchise women. Douglass believed that the vote was immediately necessary to save the lives of freed slaves in the South. Stanton and Anthony were, apparently, not above using racist rhetoric to complain that uneducated black men should not be able to tell highly educated and cultivated white women what to do. And so it went.Again, these are examples drawn from a huge field of information that I sort of knew but had never really understood from a perspective like Douglass's. The narrative arc of Douglass's life and the moral arc of the United States join together about half way through the book. Blight does a very good job of creating this arc, which includes the great hope of the election of Abraham Lincoln, the disappointment with Lincoln's early attempts to preserve the Union without ending slavery, the dawning realization that such a thing cannot be done, the thrill of Emancipation, and tragedy of Lincoln's assassination, and the crushing disappointment of reconstruction, when Americans chose peace over justice and allowed slavery to be re-instituted under a different name.A significant strength of the book is that, in addition to arguing correctly that Douglass was a prophet, it also gets his day job right. Douglass did a lot of things in his life. He was a newspaper editor, a writer, an army recruiter, a federal marshal, a civil servant, a foreign diplomat, and, very briefly, a bank director. But what he WAS was an orator. A maker of speeches, whose primary source of income came from speaker fees. We have people like that today of course, but the logic has been reversed. Today, somebody has to become a celebrity before someone will pay them a huge fee to come and speak. But Douglass was a speaker who was so good at his job--so good at writing and delivering speeches--that he became a celebrity. The difference is that Douglass lived in an oratorical culture in which speakers could become famous. We live in a celebrity culture in which famous people can become speakers.One would have a hard time thinking of a better career for a prophet than "orator." Blight does an excellent job of showing both the urgency and the rhetorical power that animated Douglass during his long life as a public figure. He had one very clear message: slavery is wrong, and America must do everything it can to eliminate it and to give people of all races the same rights, the same justice, and the same playing field. He never wavered, and he left the details to people like Lincoln and Grant, who had to figure out out to fight a war and win a peace. And he still keeps shouting at us, because we have still not caught the very simple vision that Douglass articulated. And his message is often jarring and hard to listen to, because Frederick Douglass really was a prophet, and prophets aren't supposed to be cuddly and nice.I suppose I could find things wrong with the book: It needn't be quite so long, it relies a bit too much on speculation, and it often tries too hard to explain some of Douglass's less savory views in ways that make 21st century liberals more comfortable with his 19th century opinions. There are things wrong with any book, and this is one of them. But there is really no point in quibbling. I can't think of anyone older than 15 or 16 who shouldn't read it, or who would not be a better person by understanding the remarkable life and urgent prophecies of Frederick Douglass.
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  • Porter Broyles
    January 1, 1970
    1. How well written is it?I purchased the audio book through Audible. The person who read the book has a very smooth seductive voice. When I first started listening to the book I kept thinking, "This guy needs to read sleazy romances." The story itself is well written and concise. I would put the prose and style at a lower level college course. It was not overly complex, but I would not consider it to be pulp history.2. How interesting is the subject?Frederick Douglass is arguably one of the two 1. How well written is it?I purchased the audio book through Audible. The person who read the book has a very smooth seductive voice. When I first started listening to the book I kept thinking, "This guy needs to read sleazy romances." The story itself is well written and concise. I would put the prose and style at a lower level college course. It was not overly complex, but I would not consider it to be pulp history.2. How interesting is the subject?Frederick Douglass is arguably one of the two or three most important African Americans in American history. I'm reluctant to say "Civil Rights" because he was fighting for something more basic than "Civil Rights", he fought for the emancipation of the slaves. His story is one that I was familiar with, but really didn't know. How did he escape? How did he become the phenom that he was? How did he get his name? What was his relationship to other abolitionist? How was he able to operate without fear of his former owner coming after him? What was his message?The book answers these questions and more.3. Does the book offer novel insight into the subject or is it just regurgitating already known facts? For me, the book was very insightful. It was a 37 hour long audio book (912 pages per Goodread) and did not repeat facts any more than necessary. I was enthralled with the story.Blight does a good job at differentiating between Douglass the man and the myth. Not everything in the book is complimentary of Douglass. Some of the things that he stood for and advocated fly in the face of modern Civil Rights movement---but that is because he was a creature of his time. He was also somewhat stubborn (his loyalty to the Republican party being one of those issues.)The only real criticism that I have is that the book clearly leads you to believe that the friendship between Douglass and Ottilie Assing was more than just platonic. It might have been, but I felt that it was a little strong in reaching this conclusion.
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  • Annie
    January 1, 1970
    Since I just finished a Harriet Tubman biography, it's hard not to contrast these two prominent leaders of the rebellion (whose paths crossed several times). To me, the most salient difference between the two of them is that Frederick Douglass viewed things on a more big-picture scale, whereas Harriet focused on the individuals involved, on the individuals who suffered as slaves. A very detailed, expansive biography of Douglass. The prose was a little dry for my taste, so I docked a star.
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  • Ashleigh
    January 1, 1970
    I received this title from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. TITLE - Frederick Douglass: Prophet of FreedomAUTHOR - David W. BlightGENRE - Biography THESIS - Marvelous example of inspirational writing that gives a new perspective to be explored, of the complexity and prowess that was Frederick DouglassRATING - 3/5SUMMARY - Blight's reconstruction of Frederick Douglass' early life is portrayed quite differently in comparison to other Douglass biographies. I found it to be most original, I received this title from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. TITLE - Frederick Douglass: Prophet of FreedomAUTHOR - David W. BlightGENRE - Biography THESIS - Marvelous example of inspirational writing that gives a new perspective to be explored, of the complexity and prowess that was Frederick DouglassRATING - 3/5SUMMARY - Blight's reconstruction of Frederick Douglass' early life is portrayed quite differently in comparison to other Douglass biographies. I found it to be most original, due to the directness of the facts presented, opposed to the authors interpretation of the events that unfolded. When retelling the story of how Douglass learned to read, Blight was unambiguous in the description.This seeming commitment to relaying the story in an authentic way left me underwhelmed with the portrayal of Douglass' wives. It is widely written that Douglass was unfaithful, and had affairs with white women. In a time of post slavery, this is a scandalous act that I feel it was a disservice not to include, along with more information about how this affected his marriage to Anna Murray & Helen Pitts.This is a story of the views, actions and opinions of a deeply complex man who was flawed, but also a hero to those who value equality. This book is an insightful humanization of a widely known and written about figure. "If there is no struggle, there is no progress." - Frederick Douglass
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  • Reid
    January 1, 1970
    I have been fascinated with Frederick Douglass for as long as I can remember. He has always for me contained so many conflicting and sometimes contradictory forces all at the same time. I had read much of what he wrote (mostly his stirring speeches) and it was hard for me to fathom exactly how a former slave rose, without any formal education, to such a pitch of eloquence and erudition.So when I heard that this new biography had been published to mostly glowing reviews, I felt I had to own a cop I have been fascinated with Frederick Douglass for as long as I can remember. He has always for me contained so many conflicting and sometimes contradictory forces all at the same time. I had read much of what he wrote (mostly his stirring speeches) and it was hard for me to fathom exactly how a former slave rose, without any formal education, to such a pitch of eloquence and erudition.So when I heard that this new biography had been published to mostly glowing reviews, I felt I had to own a copy. I must admit that I am easily distracted from reading nonfiction; a good novel comes my way and it's hard to resist the allure of escape. But I dedicated myself to reading nothing but this wonderful biography from start to finish without any intervening other side trips, and I am very glad I did.Douglass was, in truth, every bit as contradictory and surprising as my earlier impressions supposed him to be, even more so. In some ways, he was also the beneficiary of both luck and a relatively (and I do emphasize relatively) benign master while he was a slave. Though strictly speaking not allowed to learn reading or writing, little was done to stop him, and it sounds as if he was given both a bit more freedom and the opportunity for more exposure to cultural and literary materials than I would guess most slaves had. But the real truth is that, despite any advantages Douglass may have had over his fellows, he must have been a genius of rare character to take these scraps and leavings and build of them such a vast and commanding character, such a strong, piercing authorial voice and ability to speak truth to power with impressive grace.At the same time, he could be rather doctrinaire in his beliefs, and seemed to rarely change his point of view, even as evidence accumulated to challenge them (a case in point being his support for Republican presidential candidates, despite evidence that some of them were quite corrupt). And it is not too broad a statement to say that his home life was a mess and his long absences a contributor to the fact that none of his children ever seemed capable of functioning well in the world.But what all of these contradictions, all of this messiness, emphasizes for me is that Frederick Douglass was multifaceted and not at all easily encompassed by simplistic explanations and characterizations. He was a human being, one with great strength of character and unwavering devotion to a cause, but human nonetheless, with all of the shortcomings and foibles that implies.I am very grateful to David Blight for the insight he has given me into this important man and his place in the world. (As a side note, I am also chagrined to see that we have not, on the whole, made a considerable amount of progress in race relations since the 1850s). I did find it a bit odd that Blight seemed to be indulging in a bit of hagiography here; he was hesitant to be overly critical of Douglass, to the point of overpraising his gifts at times. I also found some of his word choices annoyingly repetitive (I hope not to hear of a jeremiad again for a year or so). And there is more than just a little of purple prose in his descriptions. But these are all mere quibbles with what is truly a masterful invocation of one of the most important Americans to ever grace us with his presence. I am truly glad to have made his acquaintance and am sure you will be, too.
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  • Connie Lacy
    January 1, 1970
    A tour de force biography of a fascinating man who helped bring an end to slavery in the United States.
  • Emmanuel Ayeni
    January 1, 1970
    Great story about an orator and a great man and his fight for freedom,relevance and legacy.
  • Casey Wheeler
    January 1, 1970
    I read this biography because I have not read one about Frederick Douglass although he has been indirectly addressed in an number of other books that I have read. This is a very detailed and exhaustive biography. That said, it is well written making it an engaging read. The author frequently refers to passages from the three autobiographies writtten by Douglass himself which provides a unique perspective to the book. While history has lionized the man, this biography points out his failings alon I read this biography because I have not read one about Frederick Douglass although he has been indirectly addressed in an number of other books that I have read. This is a very detailed and exhaustive biography. That said, it is well written making it an engaging read. The author frequently refers to passages from the three autobiographies writtten by Douglass himself which provides a unique perspective to the book. While history has lionized the man, this biography points out his failings along with his successes.I recommend this book for anyone with an interest in the the life of Frederick Douglass and the role he played in the development of our country.I received a free Kindle copy of Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by David W. Blight courtesy of Net Galley  and Simon and Schuster, the publisher. It was with the understanding that I would post a review on Net Galley, Goodreads, Amazonand my fiction book review blog. I also posted it to my Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google Plus pages.This is the first book I have read by the author.
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  • UChicagoLaw
    January 1, 1970
    I am currently reading David Blight's new biography of Frederick Douglass. I haven't finished it yet, but it's clear to me that this is a major book and beautifully done. In a way we know a lot about Douglass, since he wrote so much about his own life. But we have lacked an independent and comprehensive vantage point. Blight deftly embeds Douglass in the history of slavery, the Abolition movement, and Reconstruction, makes evident his immense oratorical skill and his charismatic effect on others I am currently reading David Blight's new biography of Frederick Douglass. I haven't finished it yet, but it's clear to me that this is a major book and beautifully done. In a way we know a lot about Douglass, since he wrote so much about his own life. But we have lacked an independent and comprehensive vantage point. Blight deftly embeds Douglass in the history of slavery, the Abolition movement, and Reconstruction, makes evident his immense oratorical skill and his charismatic effect on others, and does not shrink from examining a less laudable part of Douglass's life, his complicated and sometimes seemingly exploitative relationships with women. - Martha C. Nussbaum
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  • Stephen
    January 1, 1970
    These days, one of my favorite things to do upon finishing a book I really liked is to read the negative reviews of those who did not share my appreciation. Not surprisingly, the critiques of David Blight's book seem largely to turn on a single common misapprehension of the purpose of biographical writing: that the author speculates too much or crafts a narrative out of the subject's life where simple "facts" would do instead.Really? This anemic criticism is tantamount to suggesting that the bio These days, one of my favorite things to do upon finishing a book I really liked is to read the negative reviews of those who did not share my appreciation. Not surprisingly, the critiques of David Blight's book seem largely to turn on a single common misapprehension of the purpose of biographical writing: that the author speculates too much or crafts a narrative out of the subject's life where simple "facts" would do instead.Really? This anemic criticism is tantamount to suggesting that the biographer just shouldn't have bothered to write anything in the first place. Such quibbling ignores a simple truth: the writing of history is inherently interpretive. Even if one could appreciate a book that is a simple chronological list of facts (who would read such a book?), she would still be reading someone's choice of which facts to include and which to leave out. That very act of inclusion/exclusion is interpretive, period. Yet it seems as though some readers would have liked it if Blight could just have "gotten out of the way" of history and let it tell itself. This is absurd.Blight's prose is awkward at times, varying on a spectrum from exalted to obnoxiously stilted, but there are so many passages of great sensitivity and insightfulness that this concern evaporated for me. This is a learned, modern work that connects the themes of Douglass' life to the exigencies of today, without being tendentious. I'd recommend it to any student of American history.
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  • Joseph Stieb
    January 1, 1970
    This is an inspiring and beautifully written (if mad long) biography of an American hero. Blight brings out so many fascinating aspects of a historical character I never knew much about. His political and intellectual evolution are particularly fascinating. As he worked his way into the lecturing and writing profession, he at first embraced the tenets of Garrisonianism: anti-politics, disunionism, and a view of the Constitution as an essentially pro-slavery doctrine. This part of the book remind This is an inspiring and beautifully written (if mad long) biography of an American hero. Blight brings out so many fascinating aspects of a historical character I never knew much about. His political and intellectual evolution are particularly fascinating. As he worked his way into the lecturing and writing profession, he at first embraced the tenets of Garrisonianism: anti-politics, disunionism, and a view of the Constitution as an essentially pro-slavery doctrine. This part of the book reminded me a bit of Invisible Man by Ralph Ellision. Douglass was a dynamic orator, but Garrison preferred that he not question the party ideology. Douglass, however, drifted toward a more political anti-slavery position, as he simply couldn't refuse to rally any possible means of defeating slavery, especially once the Republican Party formed. Douglass had a tumultuous relationship with the party at first, although the Civil War transformed him into a true partisan, which he remained for the rest of his life. His post-Civil War politics help us show why Reconstruction failed. Douglass envisioned a bi-racial United States about as early as any prominent American did. He consistently called for federal intervention to protect AA's in the south, guarantee their right to vote and their ability to hold office, and punish the Redemptionists. However, when it came to the economic structure of the south, Douglass was very much a classical 19th century liberal. He preached thrift, hard work, and vocational training, never warming to ideas to redistribute land or wealth to give blacks a stronger material foothold in Southern society. He was in many ways an Alger-type bootstrapper, as were many if not most Republicans after the Civil War. He certainly was not an anti-federal government ideologue, like modern conservatives portray him, but in economic thinking he was very much a product of his time.There are some truly fascinating side trips and points in this book that I had no idea Douglass was involved with. For one, it was fascinating to see the kind of ethnic and racial animosity outside of whiteness. Douglass, for instance, put down the Irish, whom he said were drunken papists who deserved the vote less than AAs. He also portrayed blacks as more patriotic and well-assimilated than the noble but stubbornly unreformed Indian, who was doomed to extinction. Moreover, Blight chronicles Douglass' ambiguous relationship with American empire. Strangely, he believed for a time that US annexation of the DR or Haiti might be good for those people, despite his lamentations of the failure of Reconstruction and the rise of Jim Crow and lynching. The chronicle of his trips to England and Scotland, as well as his ambassadorship to Haiti, are fascinating in their examination of race, empire, and American politics.I rarely say, this but this history book truly was masterfully written. Blight seems to know Douglass well that his prose just melds perfectly with Douglass' words. There are absolutely fascinating extended analyses of Douglass' major speeches, which all deserve their status in the canon of American rhetoric. The book is wicked long though, and I wasn't enthralled at all times. Once biographies hit the 500 page mark (or 30 hour mark), I'm usually ready to be done no matter what. Still, this is a monumental work that deserves a place among the great biographies of American history. Blight also brings out Douglass the human being in a way that few biographies do. He shows Douglass the restless, defiant slave, the traveling orator, the booming voice of moral conscience, the man struggling to provide for a large family that never lived up to his greatness, the partisan, the editor, etc. Blight also brings out Douglass' family, including his strange relationships with women and his odd relationship with his first wife, Anna, who remained illiterate for his whole life.One last thought on Douglass: to me, it wasn't so much that Douglass was a visionary of the future, but a brilliant interpreter of the past and an adapter of sacred texts. The title "American prophet" is perfect for this Jeremiah, who refused to let a country rest as the great sin of slavery flourished. He understood the centrality of memory in politics, and he tried to make Americans during Reconstruction remember that they had fought for a more just republic, not one that would paper over the destruction of minority rights and and rise of racist mob rule. He also asked his fellow Americans to remember that blacks fought to save the Union while Southern whites fought to destroy it. Douglass called us to be what we should be, and the tragedy of his life, and of 19th century US history, was that he won a great victory in the destruction of slavery but then lost it as the country retreated into a cynical, materialistic, and virulently racist era. This book, and his life, are a reminder to never let such injustice flourish in our home again.
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  • Brian Denton
    January 1, 1970
    If the animating spirit of the American experiment is to secure the blessings of liberty for the individual and for posterity then the preeminent founding father of America’s creed and country is Frederick Douglass. Few other people in the national history have advocated so beautifully, or so harrowingly, for human freedom and liberty as has the Sage of Cedar Hill. That his visage does not grace the stony permanence of Mount Rushmore alongside his junior counterparts of Washington, Jefferson, Ro If the animating spirit of the American experiment is to secure the blessings of liberty for the individual and for posterity then the preeminent founding father of America’s creed and country is Frederick Douglass. Few other people in the national history have advocated so beautifully, or so harrowingly, for human freedom and liberty as has the Sage of Cedar Hill. That his visage does not grace the stony permanence of Mount Rushmore alongside his junior counterparts of Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln is a testament to the poverty of our country’s historical awareness and its enduring racial inequality. Until this error is remedied David W. Blight’s new biography—a book as weighty in its nearly 1,000 pages as Mount Rushmore’s ageless granite—must suffice as witness to the great man’s life.Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom stands as the curious reader’s first stop in Douglass’s biographical corpus. Too often volumes from this school produce more of a symbol than a human in full. What emerges from Blight’s deep immersion into the life and times of his subject, however, is a well-written and honest account of the man more so than the myth. Here you’ll find not only the famous bardic hymns of human freedom and autonomy but also a portrait of the frailties and foibles of the man who produced them.The song of freedom sounded early in young Frederick Douglass’s life. Born into slavery, his first act as a freedom fighter was the liberation of his own self. Though he later extolled the hard virtues of independence and self-reliance, his personal freedom was the result of a kind of group effort. Blight’s telling of this portion of his story starts with the wife of Douglass’ enslaver, Sophia Auld. Sophia taught Douglass the alphabet and in so doing served as an unwitting agent of Douglass’s liberation. His enslaver soon discouraged these lessons but it was too late. The young man had caught the reading bug. In passages that will move the heart of any booklover, Blight pages through the young life of a slave enamored of reading and the awesome effect this passion exercises over the mind. Douglass’s newfound love culminates in his fateful discovery of Caleb Bingham’s The Columbian Orator, a collection of political essays, poems, and speeches that celebrates not only eloquence and articulation but also, most importantly for young Douglass, the importance of human rights and the liberal natural rights tradition.The Columbian Orator and the inspiration it lit in young Douglass’s soul blazed a path forward all the way through his daring escape from slavery, his career as an abolitionist expert in oratory and writing, his support of female suffrage, and, eventually, his role as a federal political operative in the nascent post-Civil War United States of America. And here is where Blight’s biography separates itself from other treatments of Douglass’s life. Blight’s telling of this journey is critical biography, not worshipful hagiography. Most books on Douglass, particularly his own autobiographies, understandably, present the American myth of the completely self-made man. Not so with Blight. Instead, what emerges is a portrait of a fully human individual, faults included.Perhaps the most important addition that Blight adds to Douglass’s story is his depiction of Douglass’s wife, Anna Murray Douglass. If your only knowledge of Frederick Douglass comes from his autobiographies you’d be forgiven for forgetting that Douglass was ever married. Anna appears but scant little in the autobiographies and this is a real tragedy because the role she played in abolitionism in general and her husband’s life in particular is quite substantial. In terms of abolitionism she was a dedicated member of the Underground Railroad and she also offered domestic support to the Douglass home while her husband engaged in his ceaseless travels of oratory and advocacy in support of the abolitionist cause. Anna is also responsible for her husband’s escape to freedom, providing him money for the escape and clothing purloined from her work as a laundress.He’s lucky to have met her and this luck of his seems to have followed him around, aiding in the building up of his career and success. Certainly Douglass’s industriousness and effort contributed to his success, more so than most things, but the role of good fortune and luck can’t be downplayed when looking at his life. His first lucky break, of course, is that he was taught to read when most others in his situation were not. He also got lucky when his enslaver sent him to Baltimore, a cosmopolitan port city teeming with opportunity, even for its enslaved population. Inexplicably, his enslaver even allowed Douglass to return to Baltimore after failed attempts to runaway. Luck also followed Douglass into freedom where he fell in with supportive members of the abolitionist movement, some of whom acted as financial benefactors for the rest of his life.It is this quintessential American life that we celebrate today, and there are few better ways to celebrate it right now than to read Blight’s new biography. In it you’ll find the complicated and stirring story of a man who is at once easily slighted yet enduringly potent in his determination, a great moral philosopher yet also a potential adulterer, a towering individual of the abolitionist movement yet also but a part of the collective of that movement. With this book Blight achieves what Douglass himself sought after in his bid for freedom: the humanization of a man.
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  • Kayla Goggin
    January 1, 1970
    Exhaustive and exhausting. This is the boiled, unseasoned chicken breast of biographies. I understand why this book won the Pulitzer for history this year because it really is incredibly detailed and well-researched (I would be shocked if there was a single detail of Douglass's life that wasn't included in this book) but Blight's bland, bland, BLAND writing made this a slog for me. 900+ pages but felt like 1500 pages.
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  • Mark Miano
    January 1, 1970
    Stupendous biography. Long review to come....
  • Elissa Hamon
    January 1, 1970
    I can’t even finish this I’m so disappointed. It reads like a glorified book review of Douglass’ autobiographies rather than a biography of this stunning man’s life. Blight stumbles all over himself and Douglass in his insistent speculation of what Douglass may or may not have seen, felt, thought, read, done. Rather than laying out and presenting the story of Douglass’ life he irritatingly feels the need to pepper in teasing or hinting statements of where his life is headed or not headed, and I’ I can’t even finish this I’m so disappointed. It reads like a glorified book review of Douglass’ autobiographies rather than a biography of this stunning man’s life. Blight stumbles all over himself and Douglass in his insistent speculation of what Douglass may or may not have seen, felt, thought, read, done. Rather than laying out and presenting the story of Douglass’ life he irritatingly feels the need to pepper in teasing or hinting statements of where his life is headed or not headed, and I’m not even sure he ever gets back to fleshing our those details. What details he does offer are so sparingly illuminated leaving the reader begging for answers to so many questions.
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  • Ted Hunt
    January 1, 1970
    It was not simply coincidence that this new biography of Frederick Douglass was published during the 200th anniversary of Douglass's birth. Indeed, Blight participated in the city of Rochester's (where I live) commemoration of the great man. Taking advantage of every possible source of information available about Douglass, Blight has written what will no doubt be the definitive account of his life for years to come. As a history teacher living in Rochester, I was already familiar with much of Do It was not simply coincidence that this new biography of Frederick Douglass was published during the 200th anniversary of Douglass's birth. Indeed, Blight participated in the city of Rochester's (where I live) commemoration of the great man. Taking advantage of every possible source of information available about Douglass, Blight has written what will no doubt be the definitive account of his life for years to come. As a history teacher living in Rochester, I was already familiar with much of Douglass's story, and I have used his first autobiography in my classes for years. But there was much of his story that I was not familiar with, most notably his time after he moved from Rochester to Washington, D.C. The thing that I most appreciated about the book was how it made Douglass come alive as a man, and not simply a statue in Highland Park or the name on a school, a street, a bridge. He was an admirable man, but not without his flaws. He was strong, resilient, and courageous, but also could be arrogant, vindictive, and contradictory. His speaking tours were often monumental, but it meant that he was away from his wife and children for months at a time. His relationship with his children was often strained, as he bounced back and forth between pushing them to independence and always providing financial support when they needed it. His life was filled with triumph and tragedy, including the death of two children and almost a dozen grandchildren. He took his first wife Anna for granted for decades, but was despondent upon her death. His second marriage, to a white woman, showed how unconcerned Douglass could be about society's "norms," but it also showed his need to be around people who admired him. The section of the book where the details were the most speculative was, not surprisingly, his years as a slave, as we only have his own autobiographies (he wrote three) to rely upon. The section of the book that I found the most enlightening was the final section, primarily because I knew nothing about the last decade or so of his life. His time as the ambassador to Haiti, and then his service as the representative of that nation at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago, was very interesting to read about, as it illustrated very clearly his internal conflict between "American" and "black man." Not surprisingly, Douglass was attacked from all sides, and also not surprisingly, he defended his actions at all times with dignity and righteousness. Americans would do well to study more intensely the life of this great man. As the author pointed out in the last few pages of the book, Douglass arguably was the American who first articulated the "Black Lives Matter" position.
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  • Pedro
    January 1, 1970
    What an interesting man. His origin wasn't his result, but it sure helped in his perspective. He obviously had an extremely keen mind, fortunately accompanied by a fantastic ability to translate those thoughts into words. I'm glad I could get to know Frederick Douglass a bit better, and gain some understanding for what he, and so many others, went through. I'm glad he pushed onward with his pen and voice. What a hero he is/was to getting our nation closer to what it can/should be.Fred's impatien What an interesting man. His origin wasn't his result, but it sure helped in his perspective. He obviously had an extremely keen mind, fortunately accompanied by a fantastic ability to translate those thoughts into words. I'm glad I could get to know Frederick Douglass a bit better, and gain some understanding for what he, and so many others, went through. I'm glad he pushed onward with his pen and voice. What a hero he is/was to getting our nation closer to what it can/should be.Fred's impatience with change was both a benefit and drawback, but I loved that he simply kept pushing for it. I feel like the tides had turned with the Emancipation Proclamation, or at least in its aftermath. Had a complete waste of space not screwed up things in post-civil war reconstruction (seriously - Andrew Johnson was a really racist turd on legs), I feel like even larger strides would have continued to be made within the life of Frederick Douglass.As for the writing of this book - the author was effusive in his praise for Douglass, and frequently called him by various nicknames. In commenting on some of his speeches, the author would simply say how well Douglass made a point, but wouldn't necessarily illustrate that with excerpts of the speech. He included lots of Douglass' thoughts - both from speeches and his multiple autobiographies, but considering how pivotal certain speeches were, I wish more excerpts (and potentially some more historical context) would have been provided. Regardless, I can only imagine the daunting task of trying to review the hundreds and hundreds of thousands of words that were left by Frederick Douglass, and attempting to come up with a biography for one of America's real heroes.Should you read this book? I read it because I'm fascinated by events and people of this era. Had I not been, it may have felt like a real slog to get through. He's a fascinating person... but he didn't die young.
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