Black Spartacus: The Epic Life of Toussaint Louverture

Sudhir Hazareesingh, author of In the Shadow of the General, acknowledges early on in his balanced biography of Toussaint Louverture that there have been many competing interpretations of Louverture's life and career since his death in 1803. As ideologies shifted and new historical approaches came into style, the revolutionary leader and founding father of Haiti has been criticized from the left and the right for his authoritarianism, racial politics and much more. Black Spartacus seeks to resurrect Louverture as a complicated, three-dimensional person, as well as one of the most remarkable figures of the Age of Revolution.

In the 1790s, Louverture, formerly enslaved, became a key leader of a slave insurrection in the French colony of Saint-Domingue. Hazareesingh shows that Louverture combined the ideals of the French Revolution with African and Caribbean traditions to form an ideological argument for racial equality. Black Spartacus does not shy away from Louverture's flaws, especially his increasing authoritarianism, but it also spotlights his admirable qualities: Louverture's political acumen, his incredible work ethic and attention to detail, and his largely self-taught military brilliance.

Black Spartacus also excels in explaining some of Louverture's most controversial policies as the product of limited options and the betrayals that made him more suspicious and isolated over time. For all Louverture's mistakes, the book never loses track of the outsized impact he made on the world, defeating multiple European colonial powers and leaving behind a revolutionary legacy that persists to this day. Black Spartacus is a fair-minded account of how a man became a legend. --Hank Stephenson, the Sun magazine, manuscript reader

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