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Publisher's Summary

Winner of the 2021 Wolfson History Prize

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.” (David A. Bell, The Guardian)

A new interpretation of the life of the Haitian revolutionary Toussaint Louverture

Among the defining figures of the Age of Revolution, Toussaint Louverture is the most enigmatic. Though the Haitian revolutionary’s image has multiplied across the globe—appearing on banknotes and in bronze, on T-shirts and in film—the only definitive portrait executed in his lifetime has been lost. Well versed in the work of everyone from Machiavelli to Rousseau, he was nonetheless dismissed by Thomas Jefferson as a “cannibal.” A Caribbean acolyte of the European Enlightenment, Toussaint nurtured a class of black Catholic clergymen who became one of the pillars of his rule, while his supporters also believed he communicated with vodou spirits. And for a leader who once summed up his modus operandi with the phrase “Say little but do as much as possible,” he was a prolific and indefatigable correspondent, famous for exhausting the five secretaries he maintained, simultaneously, at the height of his power in the 1790s.

Employing groundbreaking archival research and a keen interpretive lens, Sudhir Hazareesingh restores Toussaint to his full complexity in Black Spartacus. At a time when his subject has, variously, been reduced to little more than a one-dimensional icon of liberation or criticized for his personal failings—his white mistresses, his early ownership of slaves, his authoritarianism —Hazareesingh proposes a new conception of Toussaint’s understanding of himself and his role in the Atlantic world of the late eighteenth century. Black Spartacus is a work of both biography and intellectual history, rich with insights into Toussaint’s fundamental hybridity—his ability to unite European, African, and Caribbean traditions in the service of his revolutionary aims. Hazareesingh offers a new and resonant interpretation of Toussaint’s racial politics, showing how he used Enlightenment ideas to argue for the equal dignity of all human beings while simultaneously insisting on his own world-historical importance and the universal pertinence of blackness - a message which chimed particularly powerfully among African Americans.

Ultimately, Black Spartacus offers a vigorous argument in favor of “getting back to Toussaint” - a call to take Haiti’s founding father seriously on his own terms, and to honor his role in shaping the postcolonial world to come.

Shortlisted for the Baillie Gifford Prize | Finalist for the PEN / Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography

Named a best book of the year by the The Economist | Times Literary Supplement | New Statesman

A Macmillan Audio production from Farrar, Straus and Giroux

©2020 Sudhir Hazareesingh (P)2020 Macmillan Audio

What listeners say about Black Spartacus

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Liberator of Haiti and a lamp to the world

This book greatly expands on my knowledge of Toussaint Louverture the mythic liberator of Colonial Haiti. Haiti was a French slave colony which wrested goods and wealth on the backs of people stolen from Africa to the benefit of the people of France through the brutal and inhumane system of slavery.

Most of the now so civilized nations of Europe were not to long ago the most wretched people on earth, who learned to justify that which they would not tolerate and built their now wealthy countries by subjecting their brothers and sisters. Having gained the benefit of these ill gotten gains the same nations preach civility while occasionally overthrowing whatever rickety attempts at self government which might spring in the wake of their regimes.

If you want to understand Haitian history I strongly recommend this book.

Mike Dupuy

4 people found this helpful

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Terrible performance

Very frustrating listen. The narrator is very flat and monotone. Even the most exciting parts of the book, sounds like reading a list.

Worse, often key points are explained with quotations in French, but no English translations are not provided.

The book opens lamenting how the central figure is overlooked and unknown in the English world yet snobbishly refuses to explain his most triumphant rejoinders in English.

Also, the book is the fawning hero worship that tries to square too many circles.

1 person found this helpful