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Equiano, the African: Biography of a Self-Made Man

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A controversial look at the most renowned person of African descent in the eighteenth century In this widely aclaimed biography, historian Vincent Carretta gives us the authoritative portrait of Olaudah Equiano (c.1745–1797), the former slave whose 1789 autobiography quickly became a popular polemic against the slave trade and a literary classic. Sailor, entrepreneur, and A controversial look at the most renowned person of African descent in the eighteenth century In this widely aclaimed biography, historian Vincent Carretta gives us the authoritative portrait of Olaudah Equiano (c.1745–1797), the former slave whose 1789 autobiography quickly became a popular polemic against the slave trade and a literary classic. Sailor, entrepreneur, and adventurer, Equiano is revealed here as never before, thanks to archival research on an unprecedented scale—some of which even indicates that Equiano may have lied about his origins to advance the antibondage struggle with which he became famously identified. A masterpiece of scholarship and writerly poise, this book redefines an extraordinary man and the turbulent age that shaped him.


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A controversial look at the most renowned person of African descent in the eighteenth century In this widely aclaimed biography, historian Vincent Carretta gives us the authoritative portrait of Olaudah Equiano (c.1745–1797), the former slave whose 1789 autobiography quickly became a popular polemic against the slave trade and a literary classic. Sailor, entrepreneur, and A controversial look at the most renowned person of African descent in the eighteenth century In this widely aclaimed biography, historian Vincent Carretta gives us the authoritative portrait of Olaudah Equiano (c.1745–1797), the former slave whose 1789 autobiography quickly became a popular polemic against the slave trade and a literary classic. Sailor, entrepreneur, and adventurer, Equiano is revealed here as never before, thanks to archival research on an unprecedented scale—some of which even indicates that Equiano may have lied about his origins to advance the antibondage struggle with which he became famously identified. A masterpiece of scholarship and writerly poise, this book redefines an extraordinary man and the turbulent age that shaped him.

30 review for Equiano, the African: Biography of a Self-Made Man

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jackson Cyril

    A brilliant, fascinating and necessary account of one of the most remarkable figures of the 18th century Atlantic world, Equiano (or Gustavus Vassa); a former slave who purchased his freedom, sailed around the world, wrote an abolitionist classic and campaigned for the abolition of slavery. Carretta carefully reads Equiano's rich autobiography and unveils a subtle rhetorician who knew exactly how to elicit sympathy for his cause. A brilliant, fascinating and necessary account of one of the most remarkable figures of the 18th century Atlantic world, Equiano (or Gustavus Vassa); a former slave who purchased his freedom, sailed around the world, wrote an abolitionist classic and campaigned for the abolition of slavery. Carretta carefully reads Equiano's rich autobiography and unveils a subtle rhetorician who knew exactly how to elicit sympathy for his cause.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Ricardo

    This was a masterpiece of historical writing. Not only does it examine the life of its’ subject, it fully illuminates the sights and emotions of the late eighteenth century Western world. Meticulous research went into every aspect of Equiano’s life. Given the name Gustavus Vassa, he traveled the seas in the Royal Navy during the Seven Years’ War, worked on merchant ships in the Caribbean, oversaw the transportation of slaves from Africa, paid for his freedom and joined expeditions to the North P This was a masterpiece of historical writing. Not only does it examine the life of its’ subject, it fully illuminates the sights and emotions of the late eighteenth century Western world. Meticulous research went into every aspect of Equiano’s life. Given the name Gustavus Vassa, he traveled the seas in the Royal Navy during the Seven Years’ War, worked on merchant ships in the Caribbean, oversaw the transportation of slaves from Africa, paid for his freedom and joined expeditions to the North Pole, Central America and West Africa. He would later make a name for himself (renaming himself Equiano) writing opinion pieces calling for the end of the slave trade within the British Empire. The author breaks down this memoir and attempts to corroborate the facts with documentary evidence. Carretta unearths letters from colleagues and enemies alike, including some pamphlets that the author believes to be by Equiano. One doesn’t need to be versed in any aspect of the time, since everything from merchant shipping to depictions of non-white people in popular culture is expertly explained. An especially illuminating section was describing the back-and-forth between writers of pamphlets and opinion pieces. Equiano began writing his condemnation of the slave trade after reading so many defenders of the institution. Reading these defenders of slavery today reminds one of the current struggle with reporting false equivalency and the topic of civility in political debate. The book received some blowback when addressing the early part of Equiano’s biography. Equiano claimed to be born in west Africa and described his abduction and sale to slave traders. There is no evidence of this and, in fact, it seems he was born a slave in South Carolina. But the author stresses that this memoir was written as an attack against slavery, and after working on ships that moved Africans in the trade, Equiano did have first-hand knowledge of what these Africans endured. Equiano himself may have not experienced these specific traumas, but he was well versed in other Africans’ miseries. This should not take away the power of these experiences or the life that Equiano led. The second half of his life was a spiritual awakening that he described as nourishing as from a “soul-feast.” Reading this volume felt just as satisfying.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    I'm speaking on an upcoming Equiano panel that in part responds to this book, so when I saw it on sale at MLA, I decided to get it. What is fabulous about Carretta's book is that he showcases Equiano's talents as a writer. It's been disturbing me how _The Narrative_ will be included in U.S. and U.K. Lit. anthologies, but only the chapters on Africa and the Middle Passage. For me, the best part of these chapters is the way Equiano artfully shapes the readers' perspectives and inverts conventional I'm speaking on an upcoming Equiano panel that in part responds to this book, so when I saw it on sale at MLA, I decided to get it. What is fabulous about Carretta's book is that he showcases Equiano's talents as a writer. It's been disturbing me how _The Narrative_ will be included in U.S. and U.K. Lit. anthologies, but only the chapters on Africa and the Middle Passage. For me, the best part of these chapters is the way Equiano artfully shapes the readers' perspectives and inverts conventional takes on Self/Other relations. The "controversial" part of Carretta's argument is carefully presented: he humbly offers it for readers to consider rather than insisting they comply with his point of view. This is a great book for anyone interested learning more about the historical context of _The Narrative_.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Craig Bolton

    "Equiano, the African: Biography of a Self-Made Man by Vincent Carretta (2007)" "Equiano, the African: Biography of a Self-Made Man by Vincent Carretta (2007)"

  5. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl

    This is a very interesting book.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Kgwhitehurst

    Strong, if controversial thesis. Many excellent points, but interminable in style.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Paulina Sanchez

    This book was incredible! I learned so much about the culture, history, and life during the 1700s-1800s. I appreciate how much time and effort went into the research for this book, from the little details to the greater patterns analyzed that surrounded Equiano's biography. In essence, this book analyzes Equiano's autobiography, the context around which it was written, the knowledge and experience that Equiano had at the time, and all the events that influenced the content of his autobiography. This book was incredible! I learned so much about the culture, history, and life during the 1700s-1800s. I appreciate how much time and effort went into the research for this book, from the little details to the greater patterns analyzed that surrounded Equiano's biography. In essence, this book analyzes Equiano's autobiography, the context around which it was written, the knowledge and experience that Equiano had at the time, and all the events that influenced the content of his autobiography. This book doesn't try to convince you of anything, it presents the historical data, the records that have been found, and draws hypotheses about what probably happened to Equiano when there's not enough evidence to support a claim. Equiano lived a life full of so many different perspectives, that of a slave, sailor, explorer, writer, advocate, and so many more, that his life story is fascinating. If you like nonfiction books that are incredibly well written and well researched, this is the book for you. If you want to read about a fascinating man who overcame prejudice and injustice after injustice then read this. I'll be looking for more of Carretta's works because I'm definitely a fan.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Mills College Library

    Biog E648c 2006

  9. 5 out of 5

    Nick Woodall

    Brilliant research, but it is a tedious book to get through. I actually started reading this book 2 years ago in Africa, and it has taken me that long to plod through it.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Randy Morrison

  11. 5 out of 5

    Joshua Hutchison

  12. 4 out of 5

    Carol

  13. 5 out of 5

    Mahdi

  14. 5 out of 5

    Ruth Adams

  15. 5 out of 5

    Megan

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

  17. 4 out of 5

    Mlong225

  18. 4 out of 5

    Doug Brower

  19. 4 out of 5

    William

  20. 4 out of 5

    Chelsea Lewis

  21. 4 out of 5

    Benjamin King

  22. 5 out of 5

    Lecturesdophechups

  23. 5 out of 5

    Waqas

  24. 5 out of 5

    Alex

  25. 4 out of 5

    OsRavan

  26. 4 out of 5

    David Bird

  27. 5 out of 5

    Garrett Glaeser

  28. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

  29. 4 out of 5

    Carrie

  30. 5 out of 5

    Nichelle

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