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."