Born in Blackness

Born in Blackness : Africa, Africans, and the Making of the Modern World, 1471 to the Second World War

4.43 (422 ratings by Goodreads)
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4.43 (422 ratings by Goodreads)
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In a sweeping narrative that traverses 600 years, one that eloquently weaves precise historical detail with poignant personal reportage, Pulitzer Prize finalist Howard W. French retells the story of medieval and emerging Africa, demonstrating how the economic ascendancy of Europe, the anchoring of democracy in America and the fulfillment of so-called Enlightenment ideals all grew out of Europe's dehumanising engagement with the "darkest" continent.

Born in Blackness dramatically retrieves the lives of major African historical figures whose stories have been repeatedly etiolated and erased over centuries, from unimaginably rich medieval African emperors who traded with Asia; to Kongo sovereigns who heroically battled seventeenth-century European powers; to ex-slaves who liberated Haitians from bondage. In doing so, French tells the story of gold, tobacco, sugar and cotton-and the greatest "commodity" of all, the millions of people brought in chains from Africa to the New World, whose reclaimed histories fundamentally help explain our present world.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 512 pages
  • 165 x 244 x 38mm | 841g
  • Liveright Publishing Corporation
  • United States
  • English
  • 20 illustrations; 4 maps
  • 1631495828
  • 9781631495823
  • 19,500

Back cover copy

Amazon - Editor's Choice -- Best Books of the Month (History)

"What happens if we put Africa and Africans into the center of our thinking about the origins of the modern world? In this powerful account of six centuries of global history, Howard W. French takes us on a journey that effectively undermines many of the almost mythical narratives that we have been taught about the sources of Europe's strength, wealth and modernity. Pushing back against a prevailing current of purposeful forgetting, French shows that Europe's 'Great Divergence' would have been unimaginable without Africans; their wealth, capital and labor played an important role in powering the emerging global economy. To understand the world we live in today, this book is a must-read." --Sven Beckert, author of Empire of Cotton

"Born in Blackness charges into the roiling debates about how modernity began, with a powerfully argued case for placing Africa and Africans at the heart of the process, giving voice to a silenced history." --Kwame Anthony Appiah, author of The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity

"Born in Blackness is a brilliant reworking of the conventional wisdom about the rise of the Modern World. This deeply researched and elegantly written book rewinds the tape past Christopher Columbus, and shows how the tragic relationship between Africa and Europe, which began in the 15th century, created modernity as we know it." --Annette Gordon-Reed, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family

Howard French's Born in Blackness is a vitally important re-telling of a story from which Africa and Africans have long been wilfully excluded: it renders visible their role as leading actors in the making of modernity. This is essential reading for anyone with an interest in world history. --Amitav Ghosh, author of Gun Island and the Ibis Trilogy

"Born in Blackness does for traditional Eurocentric history what Copernicus did for the pieties of his time when he showed that the Earth revolved around the Sun and not vice versa. Africa, its peoples, and its wealth, the superbly qualified Howard French shows us, are far more central to the formation of the modern world than we usually think. And, unlike Copernicus, French has been to all the places he writes about." --Adam Hochschild, author of King Leopold's Ghost: A story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa

"Born in Blackness is an urgent, searching and imaginative retelling of the decisive role of Africa and Africans in shaping world history. French covers a huge amount of ground with style, asking vital new questions and foregrounding the role of Africans in creating--and fighting for--the world of democratic freedoms which is now taken for granted." --Toby Green, author of A Fistful of Shells: West Africa from the Rise of the Slave Trade to the Age of Revolution

"With this powerful retelling of global history, Howard W. French challenges us to discard long-accepted mythologies that have obscured to foundations of our contemporary world. Through a riveting account of the centrality of Africa and Africans in shaping economic systems and political thought, he offers a capacious and compelling explanation for how this world came to be. Born in Blackness offers us a new understanding of our common history, and reminds us that confronting that past is precondition for the construction of a different future." --Laurent Dubois, author of Haiti: The Aftershocks of History

"A necessary book. A compelling narrative that systematically dismantles one prop after another in the academy's master narrative of how Europe brought light to 'the Dark Continent' over the past six centuries. Howard W. French has written a worthy successor to Du Bois' The World and Africa." --Mahmood Mamdani, author of Neither Settler nor Native
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Review quote

"Born in Blackness is enlivened with personal anecdotes... I found the book to be searing, humbling and essential reading." -- Nigel Cliff - The New York Times "There are few words that can express the resounding impact of French's breathtaking work on the known historiography of African and African American history . . . Highly recommended for any audience." -- Monique Martinez - Library Journal "The way we think about history is entirely wrong, says Howard W French at the start of this magnificent, powerful and absorbing book... This is not a comfortable or comforting read, but it is beautifully done; a masterpiece even... French writes with the elegance you would expect from a distinguished foreign correspondent, and with the passion of someone deeply committed to providing a corrective." -- Peter Frankopan - The Observer "A recasting of the history of the modern world that places Africa and Africans at the centre of the story. French argues that the rise of the west to global dominance was made possible by the exploration and exploitation of Africa-and, above all, by the slave trade. He recounts the destruction of complex African societies and the scale and brutality of slavery. At the time of Black Lives Matter this is an intensely political message. But French's book is no work of propaganda and has been hailed as a "masterpiece" by Peter Frankopan, professor of global history at Oxford." -- Financial Times "A very personal book-written with a steely and elegant indignation-it is also an impressively detailed historical account of the role of Africa and Africans in the development of Europe and the Americas... If the strength of Mr. French's book lies in its quiet but adamant righteousness, it rests also in its empirical force.... It is his view-with which few would rush to argue after reading Born in Blackness-that the sooner the 'denial' about the role slaves played in creating America's prosperity is put to rest, the better Americans as a people will come to understand 'their country's true place in world history.'" -- Tunku Varadarajan - Wall Street Journal "Born in Blackness is an extraordinary book that draws deep on [French's] decades of experience as he seeks to explain the circumstances of Africa's history with Europeans who were first attracted to the continent in the search of gold and slaves... French's narrative is a bold retelling of what has often been told, but with additional details that might have escaped the attention of many historians... In many surprising ways, [Born in Blackness] provides a brilliantly argued case for recognition of Africa's immense contribution to modernity." -- Stephen Williams - African Business
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About Howard W. French

Howard W. French is a professor of journalism at Columbia University and a former New York Times bureau chief for the Caribbean and Central America, West and Central Africa, Tokyo, and Shanghai. The author of five books, French lives in New York City.
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Rating details

422 ratings
4.43 out of 5 stars
5 58% (246)
4 30% (126)
3 9% (39)
2 2% (9)
1 0% (2)
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