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Bury the Chains: The British Struggle to Abolish Slavery Paperback – Unabridged, 20 Jan 2006

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Product details

  • Paperback: 456 pages
  • Publisher: Pan; 1 edition (20 Jan. 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0330485814
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330485814
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 3.1 x 19.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 734,875 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"'Hochschild's marvellous book is a timely reminder of what a small group of determined people, with right on their side, can achieve. Carefully researched and elegantly written, with a pacy narrative that ranges from the coffee houses of London to the back-breaking sugar plantations of the West Indies, it charts the unlikely success of the first internatinal human rights movement' Saul David, Literary Review 'Hochschild is such a gifted researcher and story-teller that he never fails to hold the reader's attention...For all its terrible theme, Hochschild's book is not in the least depressing, because it is suffused with admiration for the courage and enlightenment of the men and women who crusaded against this evil, and finally prevailed' Max Hastings, Sunday Telegraph 'Thought-provoking, absorbing and well-written' Brendan Simms, Sunday Times 'Stirring and unforgettable' Economist"

Book Description

From the award-winning author of King Leopold's Ghost, the dramatic story of the men who ignited the first great human rights movement --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Nick Skinner on 17 Mar. 2006
Format: Paperback
This is history as it should be written. Meticulously researched and written like a novel. The book not only sketches the British campaign to abolish slavery but also gives a great insight into the slave trade in the British empire at its peak. It offers a re-assessment of the role of Wilberforce - traditionally the hero of the anti slavery campaign - who the author sees as a conservative religious zealot. I would have liked to know more about the slave trade in other countries - France, Spain and Portugal - but there is more than enough here to entertain, inform and inspire.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Ross on 18 Oct. 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The abolitionist movement was, Hochschild says, "first sustained mass campaign anywhere on behalf of someone else's rights." in history, as such he considers it to be the ancestor of all modern mass campaigns. The story of the abolition campaign takes in the leading lights of the movement whose personalities and eccentricities are brought to life vividly, as well as the supporters throughout the country who individually had little influence ( most of them could not vote ) but whose mass boycotts of slave produced sugar sent a powerful signal as did the petitions on a scale that parliament had never witnessed before. The role of women was remarkable for the era.

The other side of the debate, the pro slavery forces, are also heard although thankfully not caricatured although some of the propaganda they put forward were so preposterous that it is hard for a 21st century man not to laugh out loud, such as the idea of rebranding slaves as 'assistant planters'.

Before any of this though 'Bury the Chains' begins by discussing the conditions of slaves themselves so as to avoid the danger of viewing the horrors involved in the abstract as well as to put in context the importance of slavery in late 18th century Britain's economy and how readily it was taken for granted. It was unthinkable to outlaw the practice. Towards then end of the book the major slave revolts are also covered.

The key abolitionists were William Wilberforce, James Stephen, Granville Sharp, Olaudah Equiano and John Newton all of whom merit longer treatment than I can provide here, however if one man is seen in this book as indispensible to the cause it was Thomas Clarkson.

Clarkson was recruited to the cause when as a young man he entered and won an essay competition set up by Sharp.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Womble on 28 Jun. 2006
Format: Paperback
Bury the Chains is great history, colourful, passionate and informative. But in its efforts to rehabilitate Clarkson at the expense of Wilberforce, it's actually rather unfair to Wilberforce.

For example, for 12 years of the 20-year abolition campaign, Clarkson had nothing to do with it, having had a breakdown, while Wilberforce carried on relentlessly. Hochschild brushes past that whole period in five pages (of a 467-page book), sidelining Wilberforce's essential contribution to the campaign.

If you take that bias into account, however, its a great read, and absolutely inspiring.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By C. Ball TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 29 Nov. 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Margaret Mead once said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." This book is the story of those thoughtful, committed citizens, beginning with twelve men who met in a bookshop in London in 1787 to form a society committed to abolishing the slave trade.

The story of that campaign is really quite astonishing. The slave trade's demise was helped by the incredible organisation of those original twelve men, who effectively invented almost every aspect of campaigning that we know today - petitions, lectures, boycotts, public pressure, advertising, puff pieces in newspapers, fliers, posters, books. In less than a single lifetime slavery went from an institution that no-one questioned, the economic bedrock of the British Empire, a system in which fortunes were made and increased, to being abolished. When you think about it, that's incredibly fast. Think about the issues that excite us today - sweatshops, poverty, sex trafficking. Can you imagine any of those being solved within our own lifetimes?

I couldn't put this book down. It moved me to tears on more than one occasion, particularly Hochschild's final conclusion: "...one of the first great flowerings of a very modern belief: that the way to stir men and women to action is not by biblical argument, but through the vivid, unforgettable description of acts of great injustice done to their fellow human beings. The abolitionists placed their hope not in sacred texts, but in human empathy. We live with that hope still."
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Andres C. Salama on 13 Oct. 2008
Format: Paperback
This is a very engaging history about the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire. As author Adam Hochschild retells it, the realization about the evil of slavery came surprisingly quickly in Great Britain in the closing years of the eighteenth century. By the early months of 1787, most inhabitants of Britain (with the exception of the Quakers and very few other people) would have seen the slave trade as something natural, that had occurred in every civilization in human history. By the closing months of that same year, hundred of thousands of Britons had joined a boycott of sugar made in the West Indies plantations. It would take however until 1807 (mainly because of the French revolution and the subsequent Napoleonic wars) to outlaw the slave trade in the British Empire and until the 1830s to outlaw slavery itself (it would take even longer to end slavery in other countries like the Unites States and Brazil, of course) Why this turn of mind happened? Hochschild throws around some hypothesis (the inhabitants of Britain suddenly saw a similarity between slavery and the hated forced enlistments of British subjects into the British navy, he claims) but none of them is entirely convincing. The book is very interesting throughout, focusing on a few characters who become the protagonists of the struggle (like William Wilberforce, a very conservative man in other issues, but a commited if cautious fighter against the slave trade), the radical activist Thomas Clarkson (a man surprisingly modern in some of his beliefs but who could also be very naive), the former slave Olaudah Equiano, the repentant former captain of a slave ship John Newton, the defender of slavery Banastre Tarleton and prime minister William Pitt (a timid opponent of slavery). And there are also very interesting chapters dealing with the Haitian revolution, the first succesful slave revolt in history.
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