Black Spartacus The epic life of Toussaint Louverture

Sudhir Hazareesingh

Book - 2020

"A biography of the Haitian revolutionary leader Toussaint Louverture."--

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BIOGRAPHY/Toussaint Louverture
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New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2020.
First American edition
Physical Description
xxvi, 427 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, maps ; 24 cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
Main Author
Sudhir Hazareesingh (author)
  • The Soul of a Free Man
  • The Gates of Destiny
  • Brave Republican Warriors
  • A Single Family of Friends and Brothers
  • The Agent is Unwell
  • Virtuous Citizens
  • Great Latitude
  • No Time to Lose
  • In the Region of Eagles
  • Rapid and Uncertain Movements
  • The Tree of Black Liberty
  • A Universal Hero
  • Conclusion: An Inspiration for our Times.
Review by Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* Mauritian British historian Hazareesingh presents a deeply researched, energetic, and comprehensively reenvisioned study of the extraordinary life and still-growing influence of Haiti's liberator and founding father. Placing Toussaint's remarkable rise from his beginnings as an enslaved African child on a plantation in the French Caribbean colony of Saint-Domingue within the context of the age of revolution and the Enlightenment, Hazareesingh traces the ever-shifting conflicts on the island among whites, Blacks, and people of mixed race, and Spain, France, and England, each seeking control of this profitable holding. Toussaint played a key role in the 1791 slave insurrection, and progressed steadily as a military, then civic, leader of the slowly coalescing, severely besieged from without and within, independent, Black-ruled nation. As conversant as Hazareesingh is in the dramatic and snarled political and military history at play in this treacherous and righteous war for liberty, it is Toussaint's character and abilities, gleaned from overlooked archival sources, including Toussaint's own writings, that shine here: Toussaint's "prodigious stamina and will power"; "erudition, swagger, and wit"; religious faith, discipline, secrecy, strategic genius, impatience, and absolute dedication to freedom. From daring military maneuvers to innovations in governing, dignity in his tragic fall, and galvanizing impact as "the first Black superhero of the modern age," here, vividly and invaluably, is Toussaint Louverture in full. Copyright 2020 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Choice Reviews

Toussaint Louverture is already well known as St. Domingue's Black revolutionary, a cunning multilingual strategist, and superb horseman. In this book, Hazareesingh (Univ. of Oxford, UK) presents him as an intellectual and a man of faith with his own charismatic brand of republicanism, which was more racially inclusive and egalitarian than the French version. Readers see why Louverture was admired by Americans, Britons, and Spaniards, as well as the French. He is also presented from the loving eyes of St. Domingue's ex-slaves, for example, when he was greeted with soft sponge cake by villagers so that he could easily chew despite having lost his front teeth in battle. Although Louverture was tricked and kidnapped, he left St. Domingue's revolutionaries with the weapons, plans, vision, and leaders that sustained the revolution and led to an independent Haiti. The Louverturian vision of an interracial republican nation created a permanent and aspiring legacy for other colonized people, as well as for novelists, filmmakers, and songwriters across the world. Summing Up: Recommended. Advanced undergraduates through faculty.--R. Chopra, San Jose State UniversityRuma ChopraSan Jose State University Ruma Chopra Choice Reviews 58:11 July 2021 Copyright 2021 American Library Association.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

The Haitian Revolution (1791–1804) epitomized much of the sweeping series of late 18th-century transformations that radically changed the Atlantic world, explains Hazareesingh (politics, Balliol Coll., Oxford; From Subject to Citizen). His flowing narrative of momentous social and political upheaval centers on emancipated Black slave Toussaint Louverture (1743–1803), who embodied the massive revolt that led to the abolition of slavery in the French Caribbean colony of San Domingue. Even more, Louverture represented the growing challenges to monarchical and imperial rule and the emergence of the principle of popular sovereignty that put Haiti alongside France and the United States in the forefront of republics born in that Age of Revolution. Louverture was an expositor of natural rights and enlightenment culture. With unbending will, he confronted the dominant forces of his age: European cultural supremacy, imperial domination, racial hierarchy, settler colonialism, and slavery. Louverture stands in Hazareesingh's view as a continuing inspiration for hope as well as equality of human dignity in the struggle against global injustices. VERDICT Tracing the growth of Louverture from revolutionary leader to mythic figure, this engrossing read reveals and recovers the historic place both he and the country of Haiti deserve to occupy in the story of the Atlantic world's creation and re-creation. A must-read.—Thomas J. Davis, Arizona State Univ., Tempe Copyright 2020 Library Journal.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

Drawing on groundbreaking archival research and a keen interpretive lens, this brilliant work of both biography and intellectual history is a new interpretation of the life of the Haitian revolutionary Toussaint Louverture. 15,000 first printing. Illustrations.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

"A biography of the Haitian revolutionary leader Toussaint Louverture."--

Review by Publisher Summary 3

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 GuardianA new interpretation of the life of the Haitian revolutionary Toussaint LouvertureAmong 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 BiographyNamed a best book of the year by the The Economist | Times Literary Supplement | New Statesman