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William Wilberforce: The Life of the Great Anti-Slave Trade Campaigner [Hardcover]

William Hague
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)

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Book Description

4 Jun 2007

William Hague has written the life of William Wilberforce who was both a staunch conservative and a tireless campaigner against the slave trade to coincide with the bicentenary of its abolition in 1807.

A formidable orator, campaigner and tactician, Yorkshire-born William Wilberforce spearheaded in Parliament the 20-year-long campaign to abolish one of the great abominations of the eighteenth century: the Atlantic slave trade. Starting with research which led him famously to decide in 1787 that 'so enormous, so dreadful and so irremediable did it appear that I resolved I would not rest until I had effected its abolition', Wilberforce and his small band of allies took on the most powerful vested interests in the land, as well as some formidable political opponents, to secure eventual triumph in the dramatic events of 1807.

This is the extraordinary story of a politician (and good friend of William Pitt the Younger) who shunned all honours, titles and ministerial positions, yet became one of the most influential Britons in history. Born into wealth and idleness, he transformed himself into a man who to a unique degree combined friendship, philanthropy and evangelism with immense social and political achievements.

In this book, published in the bicentenary of the slave trade's abolition, award-winning author William Hague brilliantly illuminates Wilberforce's turbulent life and career, offering a politician's insights into the parliamentary manoeuvres and electoral dramas with which he had to contend. He shows how Wilberforce's conviction and faith allowed him to hold fast to his independence and (generally conservative) beliefs even at a time of war, revolution and social upheaval. And he demonstrates how the eradication of the slave trade was genuinely the work of a lifetime, paving the way for the abolition of slavery itself throughout the British Empire, enacted while Wilberforce lay dying in 1833.

The result is a compelling account of a man who achieved the rare feat of placing principle above politics, mankind above party and results above ambition. A vital part of human history, this is also a timeless story of determination and inspiration.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 592 pages
  • Publisher: HarperPress; First Edition edition (4 Jun 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007228856
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007228850
  • Product Dimensions: 16.5 x 24.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 99,472 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


'The author has produced a splendid read for which he deserves the utmost credit. He tells Wilberforce's story with such enthusiasm and narrative skill that, in this bicentennial year, his book seems assured of bestsellerdom. I put it down liking Hague as much as I was moved by his tale, one of the most remarkable in British political history.' Sunday Times

'Gripping…absorbing…the definitive biography.' Daily Mail

'In William Hague, Wilberforce has found a sympathetic, judicious biographer…Hague has written the best modern study of this remarkable man.' Mail on Sunday

'Informed by a nuanced sense of what was and was not politically possible at that moment…lucid and convincing…gripping.' Daily Telegraph

‘William Hague has assumed from Roy Jenkins the mantle of Britain's foremost politician-biographer. This magnificent biography of William Wilberforce succeeds his good debut life of William Pitt…his achievement goes far beyond an attractive prose style and meticulously accurate historical re-recreation. The insights drawn from a wide parliamentary and political experience bring to life the genius of the great anti-slave trade campaigner in a wholly new and vivid way.’ Evening Standard

Daily Telegraph

'...lucid and convincing...gripping.'

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
76 of 78 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beacon of light 17 Aug 2007
"A beacon of light which the passing of two centuries has scarcely dimmed". This is Hague's concluding assessment of Wilberforce. This fine biography should keep that light blazing. I think it will probably be the definitive biography of the great abolitionist for quite some time to come. Hague writes well and keeps one's attention throughout a long book. He is masterful at setting the historical scene. No doubt his previous biography of Wilberforce's friend Pitt was a great help in researching the period. One is given a real feel for a very different world where only men of means could afford to enter politics for getting elected, except to a rotten borough, could mean huge expense. It was a time when party allegiance was not so well developed and Wilberforce maintained his independence as a member of parliament for Yorkshire. He was a friend of Pitt but opposed him over the war with France as he opposed a later government over Queen Caroline. Hague does not fall into the trap of judging an historic figure by more modern criteria. Contemporary critics of Wilberforce disliked his social conservatism. His radicalism was aimed at stopping an evil trade not promoting cause of the poor close to home.Hague explains it. Wilberforce would give no support to those who would be socially disruptive and those applauding the French Revolution. His detestation of what had happened in France, Hague rightly identifies as Wilberforce's opposition to all things against religion.

One expects Hague to be good on the politics of Wilberforce's life but I was pleasantly surprised by his understanding of his subject's Evangelical faith. Christian faith we know transformed Wilberforce from a pleasure seeking young man into an ardent reformer. It was the motivation in all his subsequent life.
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43 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wilberforce 9 Aug 2007
By Sean
William Hague follows up his debut biography of Pitt the Younger with Pitt's best friend and tireless slave-trade campaigner. It is the perfect sophomore effort. Similar era; one of the closest friendships in politics, yet, some great differences between the two great men. Pitt, the son of the great Chatham; by no means wealthy; eager for ministerial power. Wilberforce: from a very wealthy mercantile background; advocating the abolition of the slave-trade as an `Independent' constituent for Yorkshire.

I too disagree with a previous reviewer who seems to criticise Hague's book on his own personal dislike of Wilberforce, not on the merits of the book itself. I have to say that Hague paints a very fair and unbiased account of Wilberforce. Wilberforce considered himself an `Independent', not a Tory. He could be rightly called one of `Pitt's friends' but famously turned against Pitt in opposition to the Revolutionary War; he managed to remain on friendly terms with Fox and Grenville as a matter of fact. Hague does point to certain faults: his licentious youth, his frequent inability to commit to one side of an argument; his complete naivety on military affairs. The biography as a whole however is favourable to what emerges as a brilliant man; Hague quite rightly makes great use of contemporary descriptions of Wilberforce and offers a succinct argument for his policies.

For anyone who believes politics are boring, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Hague's description of the various machinations building up to the 1807 act is about as dramatic and exiting as it gets. Those were certainly exiting times in politics: two Revolution and two subsequent wars; Irish Union; reform; the trial of Warren Hastings; Catholic emancipation; the slave-trade etc..
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A detailed account of a remarkable life 27 Dec 2008
By mattghg
Relased to mark the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire in 1807, this detailed and engaging biography really makes clear the moral conviction, determination and no small degree of political skill that enabled Wilberforce (1759 - 1833) to lead the campaign against first the slave trade, and then slavery itself, for so many years. In so doing, it provides well-reasoned answers to questions like: Why did Wilberforce first campaign against the slave trade, and not slavery itself? Was abolition inevitable for purely economic factors? How strong was his influence in advancing the cause of abolition outside of the British Empire?

This book also shows how the aforementioned qualities combined to make Wilberforce perhaps the last and greatest truly independent British politician, from his election to the House of Commons in 1780 to his retirement in 1826. A close friend of William Pitt (the younger) from a young age, and often instinctively socially conservative, Wilberforce nevertheless was not afraid to oppose Pitt and his Tory government on issues as serious as war with France. When there was a constitutional crisis over the divorce of Prince George (the future George IV) and Caroline of Brunswick, Wilberforce's political independence made him the ideal mediator in many people's eyes at the time.

Hague makes no attempt to play down the importance of a profound (Evangelical) Christian faith to Wilberforce's work. After a time spent with a Methodist aunt and uncle as a teenager, and conversations with Isaac Milner later, Wilberforce gave his life to Christ in 1785. Pitt was surprised, but convinced his friend that his Christian convictions would be best served by continuing in public life.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Nice job if being Foreign Secretary doesn't work out
With the Hallelujah Chorus playing and replaying in his head, or so I imagine, Tony Blair was liberating Iraq from an era of death and mayhem and at great cost ushering in a new... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Glenn Myers
5.0 out of 5 stars Great writer
Have never warmed to Mr Hague's delivery vocally but his writing is superb. As I said his writing is superb (is that enough words now Amazon.....!)
Published 3 months ago by dtb200
4.0 out of 5 stars unfinished novel
As I haven't finished this book - have a long way to go, I can't give it 5 starts BUT this is so beautifully written and it does grab your
attention, plus my coming from... Read more
Published 4 months ago by jenny Cee
4.0 out of 5 stars William Wiberforce
Another excellent book by William Hague. He brings this period of history to life and gives a clear portrayal of the the intrigues of the time and the uphill battle Wilberforce and... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Nicholas Collyer
5.0 out of 5 stars An amazing book
The book is well written and gives great insight to the life and times of William Wilberforce. Lots of interesting facts about Hull when it was a great British port. Read more
Published 6 months ago by suzie houghton
4.0 out of 5 stars very good
This should be a very good read I have just started it; it is a good historical subject to maybe learn more about the man and his thoughts
Published 8 months ago by TREMBO
5.0 out of 5 stars a fabulous biography of a great man
Well done William Hague on this excellent piece of work. A good read, and some great research into a man who deservedly can be said to have changed history by dogged determination.
Published 11 months ago by Mr. Stephen Redman
5.0 out of 5 stars Inspirational and uplifting.
I cannot praise this book enough. The inspiration and dedication of William Wilberforce to the campaign against slavery, the abolition of the trade in human flesh and the inhuman... Read more
Published 12 months ago by Janie S
5.0 out of 5 stars After Amazing Grace ...
Having been fascinated by the film and curious to learn more, I was led to this beautifully written and thoroughly engaging life of William Wilberforce. Read more
Published 21 months ago by Kathryn
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant biography - brings Wilberforce to life
The author's rather stuffy political image is quickly obscured as one begins this brilliant biography. Read more
Published on 16 Oct 2011 by Chris J. Newman
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