Frederick Douglass: Book summary and reviews of Frederick Douglass by David W. Blight

Frederick Douglass

Prophet of Freedom

by David W. Blight

Frederick Douglass by David W. Blight X
Frederick Douglass by David W. Blight
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  • Published in USA  Oct 2018
    896 pages
    Genre: Biography/Memoir

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Book Summary

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.

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Book Awards

  • award image Pulitzer Prize for Letters, Drama and Music, 2019

Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. Superbly written... sure to be considered the standard-bearer for years to come. A masterful, comprehensive biography." - Kirkus

"Starred Review. Though one might wonder, given Douglass 's extensive writings and the numerous works of scholarship discussing him, about the need for yet another biography, it turns out that there was much more to be learned about him." - Publishers Weekly

"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's incandescent Frederick Douglass is a monumental achievement of biographical empathy, historical context, and grim comprehensiveness, a much-awaited masterpiece." - 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...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

"David Blight brilliantly illustrates both the perils and possibilities of our national history through a rich and humane portrait of a man and his times. This is a remarkable book about a remarkable American and his enduring impact." - Drew Gilpin Faust, former president, Harvard University, and author of This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War

"Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom is a monumental achievement, a must-read for anyone charting the history of a democracy when it is most severely under attack." - Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Alphonse Fletcher University Professor, Harvard University

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Author Information

David W. Blight

David W. Blight is Class of 1954 Professor of American History and Director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at Yale University. He is the author or editor of a dozen books, including American Oracle: The Civil War in the Civil Rights Era; and Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory; and annotated editions of Douglass's first two autobiographies. He has worked on Douglass much of his professional life, and been awarded the Bancroft Prize, the Abraham Lincoln Prize, and the Frederick Douglass Prize, among others.

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