Reader reviews and comments on Underground Airlines, plus links to write your own review.

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Underground Airlines

by Ben H. Winters

Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters X
Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2016, 336 pages
    Jul 2017, 336 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Gary Presley
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There are currently 27 reader reviews for Underground Airlines
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Mary G. (Purcellville, VA)

Underground Airlines by Ben Winters is the best book I have read in a very long time. The book presents an alternative history of the United States. One in which the Civil War never happened. In this America, slavery still exists in four states and the Underground Airlines is the modern-day version of the underground railroad trying to extricate slaves from those states. The book tells the story of "Victor," a former slave conscripted to return slaves to their owners in exchange for his own quasi freedom.

This book is beautifully written and hooks the reader from the very start. While I recommend this book very highly, I do offer this warning: do not read it alone. It is so provocative that it begs to be discussed. It is a no-brainer as a book club selection.
Ann B. (Kernville, CA)

Bold, controversial premise atop scaffolding of by-the-book noir
I was introduced to the first few chapters of this book via the audio version read by William DeMeritt. His voice nailed the tone of this classic noir thriller, which posits that the Civil War never happened and that four southern states continue to practice slavery. It's a remarkable novel in so many ways, but especially as it serves as one more ingress to our current national conversation about race and #blacklivesmatter. It begs the question: how far from reality is this alternate history, after all?
Julie G. (West Hartford, CT)

Underground Airlines
I absolutely loved this book. The writing was spot on, and while I could have read it in one sitting, I kept closing the book because I didn't want it to end. As an alternative history, it is compelling, gripping, and frighteningly plausible. The plot twists were impossible to predict, the dialog was great, and the main character was very human. I would highly recommend it.
Josephine J. (Goshen, CT)

Wonderful alternative history fiction
What if the Civil War never happened? What if the Crittenden Compromise became law? This is the premise of Ben Winters' riveting new novel. In this book, slavery is still legal in four Southern states, and slave catchers are authorized to find runaways and return them to their "plantations". Jim, or Victor, or Brother (he goes by various aliases) is one of them, an escaped slave himself who is given a chance at life if he becomes a bounty hunter. The main plot of the novel is his hunt for the slave known as Jackdaw. But as he goes on his search, it becomes clear Jackdaw is no ordinary runaway slave. This book also raises many questions of morality. We know today that slavery is a vile institution; are there any circumstances where slavery would be acceptable? Can a good person do bad things? Can I, the reader, root for this bounty hunter? Or do I become complicit? This book would make an excellent book club selection! It's a provocative page turner. I enjoyed it immensely.
Stephen H. (Palo Alto, CA)

Did "Slavery" in America Ever Really End?
What if the abolition movement had failed? What if slavery was alive and well in the United States today? That's the brilliant premise the author uses to plot a really suspenseful thriller about a federal agent who is assigned to re-capture escaped slaves. Had this book not been a perfectly crafted thriller, it probably would've turned out to be a disappointing morality tale about the state of Racism in America. But Ben Winters really nails the suspense and I was transformed by how real this novel feels. This is the stunning narrative about a black man who must face his own fears to save us from a brutality we all know still exists. Brilliant and worth sharing with my students.
Patty Linville

What could be...
It is present day America except for this: the Civil War did not happen and four states have legalized slavery. The main character is a quasi-freed black man living outside of the Hard Four states. Victor grew up on a plantation but escaped when he was a young teen. Although recaptured he is microchipped and has been trained to hunt down and capture fellow escapees. While he is bound to answer to his manager, Bridge he is not geographically enslaved, his life is not unbearable and he is proud of his accomplishments thus far. But things are starting to get complicated; he is beginning to reminisce about his past and question his present.
Winters alternative history thriller is just that—a tightly wound page turner that twists traditional standards into confused pretzels. The legal slave states, the Hard Four, provide the labor force that produce goods for the rest of the country, legally and covertly. This labor force is the oil of the Hard Four economies and along with the various private corporations, they protect and defend their status vehemently. Utilizing people like Victor to track down and recapture their chattel is one such defense. Inevitably the seeds of oppression produce corruption and revolution into which all are drawn.
Underground Airlines may require the reader to consent to the alternate history premise of the story: slavery of black people is legal and exists in four of the United States of America. The premise is a foundation upon which the story is built but the resulting consequences are more familiar to present day than we may want to acknowledge.
Underground Airlines is highly recommended. Winters prose is face paced and readable. The resulting wonder at what could have been takes a lot longer to digest, if at all.
Susan S. (Lafayette, CA)

A thought-provoking thriller
As I was reading this book, I was at first thinking 'there is no way this could actually happen in the 21st century'. But as I continued to read, I realized how many parallels there were to things that actually are happening, and I changed my mind. And that makes the book pretty chilling and extremely thought-provoking. The author did an excellent job of imagining what else would have followed from the original premise both in the U.S. and in the rest of the world (the U.S. is a pariah in the world and is not a world power). The alternate history is a background setting for a mystery/thriller with several twists (none of which I saw coming) and it works on that level also. I highly recommend it.
Candace B. (Grand Island, NY)

Thriller with profound social issues
This well written novel grabbed my attention on the first page and the first twist had me immersed for the rest of the book. The story's premise was thought provoking to begin with but as the characters were developed, the profound implications for their society and ours made me want to weep.
I enjoyed this book enormously for the story line and the way the author helped you feel characters' pain and despair and admire their bravery and survival skills. This book is an A for me and I am already reading one of Ben Winters' past books.

Beyond the Book:
  The Underground Railroad

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