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Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution [Paperback]

Laurent Dubois
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

Nov. 30 2005 0674018265 978-0674018266
The first and only successful slave revolution in the Americas began in 1791 when thousands of brutally exploited slaves rose up against their masters on Saint-Domingue, the most profitable colony in the eighteenth-century Atlantic world. Within a few years, the slave insurgents forced the French administrators of the colony to emancipate them, a decision ratified by revolutionary Paris in 1794. This victory was a stunning challenge to the order of master/slave relations throughout the Americas, including the southern United States, reinforcing the most fervent hopes of slaves and the worst fears of masters. But, peace eluded Saint-Domingue as British and Spanish forces attacked the colony. A charismatic ex-slave named Toussaint Louverture came to France’s aid, raising armies of others like himself and defeating the invaders. Ultimately Napoleon, fearing the enormous political power of Toussaint, sent a massive mission to crush him and subjugate the ex-slaves. After many battles, a decisive victory over the French secured the birth of Haiti and the permanent abolition of slavery from the land. The independence of Haiti reshaped the Atlantic world by leading to the French sale of Louisiana to the United States and the expansion of the Cuban sugar economy. Laurent Dubois weaves the stories of slaves, free people of African descent, wealthy whites, and French administrators into an unforgettable tale of insurrection, war, heroism, and victory. He establishes the Haitian Revolution as a foundational moment in the history of democracy and human rights.

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What Laurent Dubois has achieved is a synthesis of the most current research in a strikingly accessible and appealing presentation, be it to experts or to general readers unfamiliar with the subject. Avengers of the New World is more than likely to become the new standard work in English on one of the most under-reported events in the history of the Western Hemisphere. (Madison Smartt Bell, author of All Souls Rising and Master of the Crossroads)

The course of the Haitian Revolution was as checkered as the storyline of an Italian opera. Laurent Dubois wisely and eloquently reduces that complexity to understandable proportions. He shows how the revolutionary leadership evolved over time, both defining its own objectives and winning its battles along the way. With care and good judgment, Dubois builds for us a compelling picture of the emergent consciousness of the slaves. His distinctive contribution is to bring to life one of the most significant events in modern political history, an event that has been deliberately misrepresented for the past two centuries. (Sidney Mintz, author of Caribbean Transformations and Sweetness and Power)

By abolishing slavery and granting citizenship to all men, the Haitian Revolution fulfilled the ideals of the Age of Democratic Revolution in a way that France, the United States, and other nations were not yet ready to accept. Dubois demonstrates the revolutionary determination of enslaved Caribbean- and African-born people and captures the voices of key actors including Toussaint Louverture, individual slaves, free people of color, rival black generals, and white women. This is a story that needs to be told in the engaging yet scholarly voice that Dubois achieves. (John Garrigus, Professor of History, Jacksonville University)

Avengers of the New World is a luminous model for the history of revolution, for a 'people's' history of freedom, and, not least, for a history that is truly Atlantic in scope. At once original, deeply learned, and gracefully written, Dubois's achievement is worthy of its great lineage: that of C.L.R. James and Aime Cesaire. (James C. Scott, author of Domination and the Arts of Resistance and Weapons of the Weak)

[A] sinuous and stirring account of 'the largest slave revolt in the history of the world, and the only one that succeeded.' (John Leonard Harper's 2004-03-01)

In this exhaustively researched and valuable account, Laurent Dubois, a history professor at Michigan State, looks back to the founding of Haiti… Dubois, writing in an accessible style and with a wide-ranging focus, has done an impressive job depicting the tumultuous founding of Haiti. Readers wanting to place the Caribbean nation's current struggles in a larger historical context will find Dubois an eminently worthwhile resource. (Chuck Leddy Christian Science Monitor 2004-03-23)

A stern and brilliant new book… The Haitian Revolution, in all its ugliness and brutality, was the response of the oppressed, indentured and enslaved to their unjust condition. And it is this whirling and chaotic world that Dubois so vividly brings to life in Avengers of the New World and so accurately deconstructs… Dubois starts this book about war with chapters about love, death, books and graveyards. His discussions of interracial love affairs and the attitudes of slaves both toward death among slaves and toward death among masters are riveting and eloquent. Indeed, Dubois' literary sensibility informs the book from start to finish, so that at its beginning as well as its end, the reader feels as if the story must be fiction, yet it is not… Dubois calls Haiti a nation 'founded on ashes,' and he has written splendidly about the fires, both political and cultural, that lit up the land during the days of revolution and that are still, in a sense, burning today. (Amy Wilentz Los Angeles Times Book Review 2004-04-18)

Avengers of the New World weaves the experiences and stories of slaves, free Blacks, wealthy whites, and French administrators into an unforgettable tale of insurrection, war, heroism, and victory. Laurent Dubois examines the actions of the famous leaders of the revolt such as Toussaint Louverture and Jean-Jacques Dessalines, but also of lesser-known men and women caught up in the violent and tumultuous events. Dubois establishes the Haitian Revolution, which is often misunderstood or forgotten, as a foundational moment in the history of democracy and of human rights… Avengers of the New World can help us put the current situation in Haiti in context, explain the reasons behind the violence, and give us an idea of what the future might hold. (Caribbean Life 2004-03-23)

Laurent Dubois's patient study offers a valuable glimpse into the complexities of the creation of modern Haiti that supplants the usual commonplaces on this 'first black republic.' (Nick Caistor Times Literary Supplement 2004-06-11)

There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of books about the Haitian Revolution, but only a handful are indispensable. Avengers of the New World joins that select company. A powerful narrative informed by the latest research, it digs beneath ready-made notions—whether of purely heroic rebels or of implacable caste hatreds—to bring to light the forging of new identities and new ideals. (Robin Blackburn The Nation 2004-10-04)

Brilliantly conceived, beautifully rendered, Laurent Dubois's narrative places the Haitian Revolution at the center of the Age of Revolutions—one of three that shook the world—challenging in the process the stubborn academic myopia that divides the history of Europe from its colonies, and whites from blacks. (Thomas Holt, author of The Problem of Race in the 21st Century)

This wonderfully readable account is a timely reminder of the perils and sacrifices that marked Haiti's revolutionary path, resulting in only the second independent nation of this hemisphere. Dubois rightfully emphasizes the impact of French revolutionary principles (i.e., the Rights of Man) on the Haitian rebel slaves, as well as the inextricable influence of French politics on the fate of its Caribbean colony, highlighted by the power struggles between Napoleon and Louverture. The author's insights about the nature of solidarity, trust, and leadership among the slaves, as well as the organization of insurgents across the colony, are well worth recalling, especially in this fateful year. (R. M. Delson Choice 2004-11-01)

For those who wish to recall the dramatic events that led to the creation of the world's first black republic and the Western Hemisphere's second independent nation, I would strongly recommend Laurent Dubois's Avengers of the New World… The story of Haitian independence is well known and has been told many times before, but Dubois's vigorous text brings the story to vibrant new life. The battles, personalities, and complex sociopolitical turmoil brought about in Haiti and elsewhere in the world, especially the slave-owning American South, are recalled with a depth and passion that makes this an invigorating work of historical writing. (Phil Hall New York Resident 2004-09-06)

Readers unfamiliar with the history of Haiti will find this thoughtful, gracefully written book an eye-opening account of the complexities of the Haitian revolution. (Milton Berman Salem Press Online)

How well Dubois wears the mantle of this exciting area of study. His engaging analysis of the social forces at play in Saint Domingue (now Haiti) at the turn of the nineteenth century reveals this conflict to be of wider significance than we may previously have thought… Dubois's masterful grasp of the 'contorted human relationships' that define the period renders his study infinitely relevant to our global society… With his help, we may yet come to understand the far-reaching impact of this amazing revolution and the true meaning of Haiti's beloved motto: L'Union fait la force. (Patti M. Marxsen French Review)

In Avengers of the New World, Laurent Dubois has crafted a nuanced yet highly readable narrative of the Haitian Revolution… It is a welcome addition to the growing literature on the revolutionary Atlantic World. Readers new to the Haitian Revolution will especially benefit from Dubois's lucid explanation of an enormously complex period. (Yvonne Fabella New West Indian Guide)

Review

What Laurent Dubois has achieved is a synthesis of the most current research in a strikingly accessible and appealing presentation, be it to experts or to general readers unfamiliar with the subject. Avengers of the New World is more than likely to become the new standard work in English on one of the most under-reported events in the history of the Western Hemisphere.
--Madison Smartt Bell, author of All Souls Rising and Master of the Crossroads --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good new account April 5 2004
Format:Hardcover
Although this book excuses and uses moral relativism to explain the violence of the rebellion it nevertheless succeeds in explaining and documenting the slave revolt of 1871 against the French the subsequent victory, the first of its kind by slaves, against the Europeans. Decidedly American in nature, although the author argues it was inspired by the French revolution, the Haitian revolt against both Spain and against England and Spain helped create the second independent republic in the Americas. Toussaint, the leader, became a folk hero and the consequences reverberated all across the Americas, as images of slaves putting their masters to death were scene in the daily papers. Of course the most important political implications is that the Haitian rebellion ended Napoleonic hopes for an expanding empire in the Americas.
This is an important analysis and account of the Haitian rebellion, interesting in light of the recent problems in Haiti, which has unfortunately become the poorest country in the Americas, in direct opposition to its American neighbor who gained independence a mere dozen years prior.
Seth J. Frantzman
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Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  22 reviews
46 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Right Book for Such an Important Historical Event May 17 2005
By Dennis R. Hidalgo - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
It was about time that a book like this would appear. In this book Dubois masterfully walked a fine line between several traditional approaches to the Haitian Revolution. While avoiding the extremes of old racists' historians that have blamed slaves for bringing chaos to the island of Hispaniola, he also avoids the hero-making excess of CLR James. Dubois also appropriated lots from Carolyn E. Fick's valuable approach of the revolution from below while still on the sobering side of David P. Geggus.

With the exception of James', there is no work on the Haitian Revolution that is more readable and engaging than this book. Dubois' prose is crisp and vivid-the perfect writing for such a colorful story. The book is not short. But each chapter is full with interesting stories that you can hardly notice you are reading a scholarly history book.

However, there are three issues you should be aware of while reading it. Probably due to the large amount of information and the inclusion of many little stories, the reader can easily lose track of the chronology. So, having besides you a chronology of the events can help you follow each one without problems. Also, because of the scholarly practice of the use of evidence, Dubois habit of story-telling, and his efforts to avoid being judgmental, at first impression the reader may feel that the author is siding with evil. But Dubois evaluation is subtle, and yet very powerful and accurate. And finally, a few typos, responsibilities of the publishing house and not of the author, should not affect the reader's enjoyment of a good and important reading.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fine Narrative; 4.5 Stars Dec 26 2009
By R. Albin - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
A very well written narrative of the Haitian Revolution. As Dubois points out, this was the only successful slave revolt in human history, with its success brought about by a unique convergence of turmoil in Haiti and the collapse of the French government associated with French Revolution. While Dubois focuses on events in Haiti, he does very in relating the relevant developments in French politics crucial to understanding events in Haiti. Dubois starts by describing the complex situation in Haiti on the eve of the revolution. The most productive colony of the French empire, the population of Haiti was dominated by slaves, most recently or relatively recently arrived from Africa. In addition to the small white planter class, Haiti also contained small by significant populations of free blacks, mixed raced people of color, some of them affluent plantation owners and merchants, and landless whites. In the second half of the 18th century, increasing hardening of social and racial barriers and efforts of the French government to extend control produced significant strains in Haiti. At the same time, the penetration of Enlightenment ideas of rights provided an intellectual framework for alternative ways to organize society. The collapse of the French government and the French Revolution with its attachment to relatively radical ideas of human rights and equality produced an opportunity for groups within Haiti to take control of the colony. White plantars struggled to impose their own oligarchy on the island, free people of color struggled to achieve social and political equality, and the slaves would seize the opportunity to overturn any form of the existing order. Dubois nicely lays out the complex events in Haiti, the interaction with the developments in France, and the important roles of international rivalries in the Caribbean. The end result would be a Haiti dominated by a native controlled military led by blacks and men of color. The most of important of these figures being the remarkable Toussaint, who became the preeminent figure in Haiti. The success of the revolution, however, resulted in further complex and ironic developments.

The prosperity of Haiti was dependent on continuation of the plantation regime. Toussaint and other inheritors of power in Haiti attempted to reconstruct the plantation economy, to a great extent by using coercive labor laws. Like the white planters he overthrew, Toussaint also wished to maintain a very wide scope of autonomy for Haiti, allowing open trade with Britain and the USA, and maintaining native control of the colony. This resulted in conflict with Napoleon's government, resulting in a French attempt to reconquer the colony and reimpose slavery. Greatly assisted by tropical diseases, the Haitian insurgents were able to beat back the French effort and become an independent nation. Again, Dubois does very well in narrating this complex and often brutal story.

Dubois also does well in describing some of the consequences of the Haitian revolution. Its effects in US history were great. The failure of the Napoleonic effort at reconquest resulted in the Louisiana purchase. The Haitian revolution also had a great effect on Southern slaveholders, greatly increasing their insecurity and generating the anxiety that often led to over-reactions to American abolitionism. A bit more analysis of the background and context of the Haitian Revolution, however, would have improved this book. The efforts of the pre-Revolution French government to extend control over Haiti was typical of efforts was a pan-European phenomenon. Similarly, the increasing social stratification of Haitian society, occurring at the same time as Enlightenment ideals of reason, rights, and equality were spreading, was also typical of metropolitan France. Where does Haiti fit into some of the other revolts against authority that occurred across the Atlantic world in roughly this time frame?
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Review of the Kindle edition Feb. 5 2012
By Bill - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition
Solid scholarship, but don't buy the Kindle Edition. It is a disaster. Several maps are missing. The first page of each chapter is reproduced as a graphic--and a very poor low resolution one at that. Endnotes are not hyper-linked, and there are no page numbers. This is one of those rare occassions when if you prefer ebooks to paper that you would be much better off acquiring the Google ebook. While it doesn't have hyperlinked notes, it does at least contain high resolution graphics and excellent reproduction of some of the maps missing from the Kindle edition.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent read May 22 2009
By John L. Hennessey - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book definitely deserves the prestigious prize it won. It masterfully blends detailed research with a superb writing style that made it a pleasure to read. I would recommend it both to someone who wanted to learn about the Haitian Revolution for the first time and to experts who wanted to compare different historiographical interpretations.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great: Detailed, but goes down easy March 18 2006
By Eric - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book was a true pleasure to read. DuBois is the kind of historian who deserves to be teaching high school students (I mean this as a compliment) because while makes sure to include all relevant details about the Haitain revolution, he makes this book read like a fascinating story. This is a wonderful and well developed book, suitable for both laymen and scholars.

I am pleased that DuBois kept his editorializing to a minimum and described the events of the Haitian revolution in a very much nuanced manner. I recommend this this book to anyone looking for a detailed, but surprisingly easy to read discussion of that famous "first successful slave rebellion."
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