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As a young man, Frederick Douglass (1818–1895) escaped from slavery in Baltimore, Maryland. He was fortunate to have been taught to read by his slave owner mistress, and he would go on to become one of the major literary figures of his time. His very existence gave the lie to slave owners: with dignity and great intelligence he bore witness to the brutality of slavery. Init As a young man, Frederick Douglass (1818–1895) escaped from slavery in Baltimore, Maryland. He was fortunate to have been taught to read by his slave owner mistress, and he would go on to become one of the major literary figures of his time. His very existence gave the lie to slave owners: with dignity and great intelligence he bore witness to the brutality of slavery. Initially mentored by William Lloyd Garrison, Douglass spoke widely, using his own story to condemn slavery. By the Civil War, Douglass had become the most famed and widely travelled orator in the nation. In his unique and eloquent voice, written and spoken, Douglass was a fierce critic of the United States as well as a radical patriot. After the war he sometimes argued politically with younger African Americans, but he never forsook either the Republican party or the cause of black civil and political rights. In this biography, David Blight has drawn on new information held in a private collection that few other historian have consulted, as well as recently discovered issues of Douglass’s newspapers.


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As a young man, Frederick Douglass (1818–1895) escaped from slavery in Baltimore, Maryland. He was fortunate to have been taught to read by his slave owner mistress, and he would go on to become one of the major literary figures of his time. His very existence gave the lie to slave owners: with dignity and great intelligence he bore witness to the brutality of slavery. Init As a young man, Frederick Douglass (1818–1895) escaped from slavery in Baltimore, Maryland. He was fortunate to have been taught to read by his slave owner mistress, and he would go on to become one of the major literary figures of his time. His very existence gave the lie to slave owners: with dignity and great intelligence he bore witness to the brutality of slavery. Initially mentored by William Lloyd Garrison, Douglass spoke widely, using his own story to condemn slavery. By the Civil War, Douglass had become the most famed and widely travelled orator in the nation. In his unique and eloquent voice, written and spoken, Douglass was a fierce critic of the United States as well as a radical patriot. After the war he sometimes argued politically with younger African Americans, but he never forsook either the Republican party or the cause of black civil and political rights. In this biography, David Blight has drawn on new information held in a private collection that few other historian have consulted, as well as recently discovered issues of Douglass’s newspapers.

30 review for Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom

  1. 4 out of 5

    Mehrsa

    This book is beautiful. One description called it "cinematic" and I think that's pretty accurate. You feel the sense of Douglass and the beautiful prose really captures his words and the time. It's annoying that people call him an "imperfect man." I mean, who isn't an imperfect person? This book certainly covers the warts and all. What's amazing about Douglass is that he never wavered. He never softened. He was strident until the end. After talking against slavery, he moved on to lynching and th This book is beautiful. One description called it "cinematic" and I think that's pretty accurate. You feel the sense of Douglass and the beautiful prose really captures his words and the time. It's annoying that people call him an "imperfect man." I mean, who isn't an imperfect person? This book certainly covers the warts and all. What's amazing about Douglass is that he never wavered. He never softened. He was strident until the end. After talking against slavery, he moved on to lynching and then Jim Crow. He wasn't soft like Booker T. Washington. He wasn't afraid to call out everybody--Susan B. Anothony, Lincoln, everybody. And he eviscerated the Southern Democrats. He was also incredibly prescient in what would happen in the south (it got worse). He was not predjudiced against immigrants and he fought for womens suffrage (even when the suffragette's showed their racism and their claws). The book is long and not all parts of it are necessary, but it's beautiful!

  2. 5 out of 5

    Raymond

    "Men talk of the Negro problem. There is no Negro problem. The problem is whether the American people have honesty enough, loyalty enough, honor enough, patriotism enough to live up to their Constitution" -Frederick Douglass "There is no man in the country whose opinion I value more than yours." -Abraham Lincoln to Douglass David Blight's biography of Frederick Douglass was great. In it Blight effectively shows that Douglass was a prophet, who used rhetoric couched in the Old Testament, for the ab "Men talk of the Negro problem. There is no Negro problem. The problem is whether the American people have honesty enough, loyalty enough, honor enough, patriotism enough to live up to their Constitution" -Frederick Douglass "There is no man in the country whose opinion I value more than yours." -Abraham Lincoln to Douglass David Blight's biography of Frederick Douglass was great. In it Blight effectively shows that Douglass was a prophet, who used rhetoric couched in the Old Testament, for the abolition of slavery, voting rights for blacks, women's suffrage, and other civil rights issues. But this is not a complete hagiography, Blight gives a balanced look on his subject. He is critical of him when Douglass made racist and misogynistic statements against Native Americans and women, respectively (even though he was highly depended upon women throughout his life). What impressed me the most about his story is that how later on in life he motivated and encouraged a new generation of leaders to become active, leaders such as Ida B. Wells, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois, and Paul Laurence Dunbar. Finally, Blight does a great job of using Douglass's words from his speeches, letters, and other writings to share his thoughts on the issues of the 19th Century. Douglass's words still ring true in the 21st Century. Also on Medium: https://medium.com/ballasts-for-the-m...

  3. 4 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    Yes, I know this won a Pulitzer and I'm only a reader/reviewer, but I struggled with this. Maybe it was a Grant hangover, but that biography from Chernow I rated five stars. This was well researched, numerous sources listed, but there were so many facts, words that evokes no emotion in me. I finished the book knowing who Douglass was and what he accomplished, but never felt I knew the man. I also dislike when a author guesses what a person would do in a given situation. Words like possibly or ma Yes, I know this won a Pulitzer and I'm only a reader/reviewer, but I struggled with this. Maybe it was a Grant hangover, but that biography from Chernow I rated five stars. This was well researched, numerous sources listed, but there were so many facts, words that evokes no emotion in me. I finished the book knowing who Douglass was and what he accomplished, but never felt I knew the man. I also dislike when a author guesses what a person would do in a given situation. Words like possibly or maybe. Anyway, yes again with the comparison but Grant was over a thousand pages and I could have kept reading. This, while I appreciate the work that went into it, was relieved when I finished.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Donna Davis

    2.5 stars, rounded up. Thanks go to Net Galley and Simon and Schuster for the DRC, which I received free in exchange for this honest review. Douglass is a key figure in American history, and Blight has made his career largely through his expertise on Douglass’s life. I expected to be impressed here, and indeed, the endnotes are meticulous and I would be amazed if there was a single error anywhere in this work. But aspects of the biography rub me the wrong way, and ultimately, I realized that the 2.5 stars, rounded up. Thanks go to Net Galley and Simon and Schuster for the DRC, which I received free in exchange for this honest review. Douglass is a key figure in American history, and Blight has made his career largely through his expertise on Douglass’s life. I expected to be impressed here, and indeed, the endnotes are meticulous and I would be amazed if there was a single error anywhere in this work. But aspects of the biography rub me the wrong way, and ultimately, I realized that the best way around this is to go back and read Douglass’s own autobiographies again. Whether we read what Douglass tells us, or what Blight (or any credible biographer) has to say, there are two impediments that stop me short, and because I have never been required to start at the beginning and end at the end to complete a scholastic or professional assignment, I tend to read the beginning; recoil; abandon; and then return in an undisciplined, skipping-around manner that is uncharacteristic of my usual methods. First we have the Christian aspect. Douglass was tremendously devout, and during his time it was much more common to discuss religion publicly and even in daily conversations, sometimes at length. It repels me. So that’s my first problem. It’s not Blight’s problem, but it’s one I have to deal with. The second problem—again, not Blight’s, and it’s inherent in reading about Douglass—is that slavery was horrible. Douglass actually had a slightly better life than most of his peers, gaining an education and living in the master’s house, but it was nevertheless traumatic. It is unavoidable to see what he endured and not reflect on exactly how hellish life was for the four million that endured life in this dehumanizing, degrading system. After I read a certain amount of it, I feel as if I need to take a long shower to wash away the stain. As for Blight’s book, there are some good moments here, and I learned some things. Who helped Douglass on his road to freedom? Free Black people did. Who knew that there were vastly more free Black folks in Baltimore, Maryland than there were slaves? The textbooks and other materials used to teach adolescents about slavery and the American Civil War overemphasize, to a degree amounting to deception, the participation of kindly white people, largely Quakers, and provide only a fleeting glimpse of the occasional African-American. But I find that the eloquent passages that I highlight as I read this are not Blight’s words, but quotations from Douglass himself. Meanwhile, the obstacles to appreciating this book are consistent and irritating. Blight makes much of inconsistencies in Douglass’s three autobiographies, and when he refers to the differences there is a superior, smirking quality to his prose that doesn’t sit well. I wouldn’t like it coming from any writer, but when the writer is a Caucasian, it adds an extra layer of insult. No matter how long Blight publishes, no matter his standing in the Ivy League, he will never be fit to polish Douglass’s boots. If he once knew it, I suspect he has forgotten it. So that’s a problem, and it’s hard to read around it. The other issue, a more common one, is the tendency to guess at what is not known. This makes me crazy. The narrative will flow along in a readable, linear fashion, and then I start seeing the speculation, which is barely visible. Might have. Must have. Likely. It makes me want to scream. If you don’t know, Professor Blight, either don’t put it in, or address the unknown in a separate paragraph explicitly addressing the possibilities. Weed out the unimportant guesses and deal with the more critical ones head on. When these inferences are salted randomly into the text, we come away with tangled notions. Apart from the key events in his life, which of the finer details were fact, and which were surmise? Excuse me. I need to find a nice brick wall so I can slam my forehead against it. So there it is. For all I know, Blight may gain half a dozen prestigious awards from this work; it wouldn’t be the first time a book I’ve complained about went on to garner fame and glory. But I call them like I see them, and what I see is that it’s a better plan to read what Douglass says about himself, even though Blight appears to consider himself a more reliable resource than his subject. If you want this thing, you can have it October 2, 2018.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Darwin8u

    I've put off reviewing this because I feel like I want to find the right quote, the perfect words, the right path to unpacking my thoughts about this piece. It was a lot to digest. My main information about Douglass comes from his popular Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. This book expands on all of Douglass' narratives and serves as both a biography of Douglass and a BLACK history of his time, but also as an analysis of those autobiographies. There are multiple themes Blight is worki I've put off reviewing this because I feel like I want to find the right quote, the perfect words, the right path to unpacking my thoughts about this piece. It was a lot to digest. My main information about Douglass comes from his popular Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. This book expands on all of Douglass' narratives and serves as both a biography of Douglass and a BLACK history of his time, but also as an analysis of those autobiographies. There are multiple themes Blight is working on in this book and he nails almost all of them. I walked away from this biography fed, nourished, and given a better perspective of Douglass the man AND Douglass the myth. I feel like both the REAL man was expanded by the biography (I loved the last years of Douglass' biography just as much as the action-packed first years) as much as his myth and reputation. I especially loved the careful analysis of the Lincoln/Douglass relationship and the chapters that dealt with Douglass' relationship with the early suffragists. Nervous isn't the right word, but I was a bit hesitant to read the chapters about Blight and his wives/women and children. What major figure can be SO BIG and also have all their family shit together? But the frailties of his family and the way Blight paints his relationship with women seems to plant him firmly in the earth and in his time. He wasn't abstract. He was a man. But GOD, imagine living under THAT man's shadow.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Chaikin

    Years ago I read Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave and was kind of blown away, not only because it was such a powerful book, but also because it seemed so beautifully written. Unfortunately I've long forgot any aspect other than my impression and few factual details. But that impression stuck with me. Not everyone was writing beautiful autobiographies in 1845, and no one had his story line. The memory made me quite interested when this book came out. Frederick Douglas Years ago I read Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave and was kind of blown away, not only because it was such a powerful book, but also because it seemed so beautifully written. Unfortunately I've long forgot any aspect other than my impression and few factual details. But that impression stuck with me. Not everyone was writing beautiful autobiographies in 1845, and no one had his story line. The memory made me quite interested when this book came out. Frederick Douglass was a fascinating figure and lived a long constantly interesting life. And in these 900 pages, David Blights walks us, slowly, through the full trajectory of it, from childhood as a house slave, the disciplinary actions he was subjected to, his young adult life as a slave and dock worker with income, when he became a self-taught intellectual, to his escape, emergence within the abolitionist movement as a special and remarkably erudite speaker. And this is just the beginning. Phew. Douglass would go on to defy the peaceable abolitionist movements (led by William Lloyd Garrison), stake out his own name, and migrate towards promoting violence, meeting a few times with John Brown. He would rejoice in the American Civil War, where he recruited heavily for black soldiers to enlist, and pushed his sons to join...but did not sign up himself. His relationship with Abraham Lincoln was one of my main interests and it was way more complicated than I realized...and Lincoln was a bit more racist than I realized. But then the war ended and so did slavery... So, what's an abolitionist to do once his mission seems accomplished...and he makes his living giving speeches. This is one of the odd aspects of Douglass, he was just a normal person trying to enjoy a normal life...kind of. He was human anyway, and flawed. Tightly knit with his family, but also keeping at least one mistress. He was at this point a famous speaker and drew in large crowds wherever he spoke. But, as that was his main source of income, and he had to constantly travel around country and speak, without his core message. With our vision in hindsight, it's easy to track the major issues of the day. Jim Crow laws were expanding, Jim Crow life was north and south. But, worse in the south where the racism was violent, repressive, with newly freed blacks suffering massacres and lynchings. And we know today the cumulative impact of this. But Douglass was full of hope after the Civil War. He expected some trials and so he could only preach for black Americans to go make a living. It was a long time, and years of speeches, before it began to click with Douglass how serious these problems were. Lynchings peaked in the 1890's, after reconstruction efforts faded, and for the elder Douglass the shoe eventually dropped, but the vigor he put into the anti-slavery movement was no longer all there. This is a long book. The opening was fascinating and Blight's style is elegant, but tires after a while, at least on audio. And so the book tends to fade in the less interesting parts, but they don't really last long. There always another surprise around the corner, another chance meeting, new role, or family issue or dramatic changes to what was happening, what he was experiencing and what he was saying about it. Really, a fascinating life that I'm grateful to know it in detail from a solid and impressive effort from Blight. Recommended to those interested. Douglass in his 20's, in the 1840's and at age ~58 in 1876 ----------------------------------------------- 31. Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by David W. Blight reader: Prentice Onayemi published: 2018 format: 36:57 audible audiobook (912 pages in hardcover) acquired: May 3 listened: May 4 – Jul 5 rating: 4

  7. 4 out of 5

    Peter Beck

    Frederick Douglass is the most brilliant and inspiring person I have ever encountered. This sprawling 769-page book was the balm I needed to help get me through what will hopefully be the final days of our Trumpian dystopia. I knew little about Douglass or the African-American experience before reading this book, save for raptly watching “Roots” as a kid. For example, I was unaware of the historical significance of 1619 or the meaning of Juneteenth until recently. “Frederick Douglass” fills a ga Frederick Douglass is the most brilliant and inspiring person I have ever encountered. This sprawling 769-page book was the balm I needed to help get me through what will hopefully be the final days of our Trumpian dystopia. I knew little about Douglass or the African-American experience before reading this book, save for raptly watching “Roots” as a kid. For example, I was unaware of the historical significance of 1619 or the meaning of Juneteenth until recently. “Frederick Douglass” fills a gaping hole in my education. Eminent Yale historian David Blight could never have anticipated just how timely his book would be. That America would still be struggling to realize Douglass’s life-long quest for racial equality 125 years after his death is not surprising, but Blight opens with Douglass’s speech dedicating the Emancipation/Freedmen’s Memorial in Washington, DC. in 1876. President Grant and Washington’s leading lights attended. The statue depicts Lincoln standing and granting freedom to a former slave who is on bended knee. The statue became a focal point for the Black Lives Matter demonstrations in the summer of 2020. Unlike the NYC statue of TR on horseback with a Native American and African-American on foot, the statue has not been taken down. The Black community itself remains divided on the fate of a statue paid for by former slaves. Somehow I never ran across this statue in my ten years of working in DC and walking to appointments. Douglass’s self-education and dramatic escape from slavery to become one of the greatest orators the world has ever known are incredible feats in and of themselves, but what impressed me most about him was his unwavering pursuit of the most effective course for achieving the freedom and rights of his people. Douglass was “discovered” by the most famous white abolitionist of the 19th Century, William Lloyd Garrison and quickly became his protégé, but in time, Douglass came to realize that Garrison’s methods--non-violence and a refusal to participate in elections--would not work. When Douglass went his own way, Garrison went from being his mentor to tormentor, but Douglass did not waiver. Unfortunately, Blight tells us little about Garrison, even though Douglass would revere him for the rest of his life (Garrison’s portrait hung in his parlor). At the same time, Douglass refused to participate in the armed insurrection being planned at Harpers Ferry in 1859 by his friend John Brown (Ethan Hawke is bringing this story to life for Showtime). He knew that trying to overthrow slavery without the backing of the government would be impossible. That did not stop the governor of Virginia from accusing Douglass of being a conspirator, which forced Douglass into exile for six months in his second home, the United Kingdom. Douglass also steadfastly rejected the colonization plans favored by some abolitionists as well as Lincoln (initially) and even many former slaves. Douglass questioned why slaves should leave their own country. Was not most of the world already the colony of a European power? Frederick Douglass is one of the greatest speakers the world has ever known. David Bight is at his best helping us appreciate his speeches. He was more than merely eloquent. He elicited the full range of emotions from his audiences, from anger and sadness at the horrors he vividly recalled to laughter with his impressions of slave owners--an MLK and a Trevor Noah all rolled into one. He made logical, cogent arguments based on scripture, literature and the U.S. Constitution. When his house mysteriously burned down while on a speaking tour, his family knew what to save--his library, including the complete works of Shakespeare and Dickens. He liked nothing better than taking on a formidable debater. Above all else, Douglass always conveyed to his audiences the hope that America was capable of positive change, even though he would have the n-word hurled at him his entire life (the word appears over two dozen times). Douglass also provides a fascinating perspective on Abraham Lincoln. At first Douglass didn’t know what to make of Lincoln’s mixed views on slavery, but over the course of three meetings he would come to deeply admire Lincoln. Douglass had a great take on Lincoln’s trip to Washington for his inauguration in 1861, “Mr. Lincoln entered the Capital as the poor, hunted fugitive slave reaches the North, in disguise, seeking concealment, evading pursuers, by the underground railroad” (p. 336). Douglass was unimpressed by the “weakness, timidity and conciliation” of Lincoln’s inauguration speech (ibid.). Douglass welcomed the outbreak of war but lambasted Lincoln later that year for sacking Gen. John Fremont for unilaterally freeing the slaves of Missouri. Douglass’s view of Lincoln would hit its lowest point in 1862 due to military setbacks and Lincoln telling a Black delegation, “We should be separated” (p. 371). As Lincoln grew into the job and embraced both emancipation and Black troops, Douglass was awed by Lincoln’s willingness to listen during their first meeting in 1863. This did not end his criticism of Lincoln nor did that criticism stop Lincoln from telling another visitor “I want to have a long talk with my friend Frederick Douglass” during their second meeting (p. 436). Lincoln’s assassination would serve as a heartbreaking reminder that America’s “second revolution” would suffer countless setbacks over the next 155 years. Douglass’s personal life was complicated. He married a free woman he met in Baltimore shortly before his escape to freedom in 1838. Though married over 40 years, Douglass never mentioned his wife by name in his three autobiographies. Given that Anna was reserved and illiterate, what little we know about her comes from their daughter Rosetta (lovely name!). Like Thomas Jefferson, we only know that Douglas grieved deeply when his wife passed. Throughout his life in freedom, Douglass forged relationships with a number of abolitionist women, the closest of which was with the fascinating German translator of his second autobiography, Ottilie Assing. Assing helped Douglass publish his newspaper and lived off and on in the Douglass home for 20 years. Given that we do not know if their relationship was ever physical, Blight inappropriately refers to Douglass’s domestic situation as a “ménage a trois” (p. 387). Douglass’s remarriage to white suffragist Helen Pitts in 1884 led to widespread outrage, but Douglass had found his soulmate. Blight includes two pictures of each wife. The difference? Anna appears alone. Helen is with Frederick. Inexplicably, Blight fails to mention that upon Douglass’s death, Helen would spend the final eight years of her life devoted to preserving Douglass’s legacy, including converting their Cedar Hill home in Washington, D.C. into a national memorial. Success would skip a generation in the Douglass family. Douglass’s three sons would never amount to much and his surviving daughter would marry a wretched man. However, during the Civil War, his son Lewis would serve valiantly in the Massachusetts 54th (made famous by the wonderful movie “Colors”). Though many of his 21 grandchildren would die young from disease, Douglass would live long enough to see a grandson become a concert violinist and others become teachers. Blight is a brilliant writer, but “Frederick Douglass” is not without flaws. Blight tries to follow a chronological narrative, but it jarringly skips around at times. The final third of the book also drags a bit. In particular, the chapter on the burdens placed on Douglass by his family (“All the Leeches that Feed on You”) could best be summarized in a few paragraphs. Also, the Epilogue, which covers Douglass’s final days, is not as focused and sharp as I had expected. Moreover, Blight does not sum up Douglass’s life. The final third of the book is also plagued by Blight’s incessant use of nicknames to refer to Douglass, including “the Sage of Anacostia.” I could not imagine reading a book about Lincoln and having him repeatedly referred to as “Honest Abe.” Blight also failed to include a bibliography, forcing readers to wade through nearly 100 pages of footnotes to identify worthwhile additional reads. Douglass never stopped giving eloquent, heart-wrenching speeches, but what impressed me most about his later years was not the positions he held (including ambassador to Haiti), but the role he played as mentor to the next generation of African-American leaders, including Ida Wells and poet Paul Dunbar. Douglass had as good a death as one could hope for (spoiler alert?)--he had just come home from a seminar on women's’ suffrage and was getting ready for a lecture that evening when he collapsed in his study from a heart attack, dying within minutes in the arms of his wife. Sadly, he died amid never-ending lynchings and the long darkness of the Jim Crow era. Are American voters ready to further Frederick Douglass’s dream on November 3rd?

  8. 4 out of 5

    Dave Tamanini

    Stupendous biography by David Blight. Douglass is among the greatest of Americans and his life work is as relevant today as back then. A long read but worth the time and knowledge gained.

  9. 4 out of 5

    lark benobi

    This is a wonderful biography. David Blight imagines Douglass so deeply. Blight brings Douglass to life with such loving clarity. As I began this book, I was wondering what was left to learn about Douglass, when Douglass himself left us his autobiographies and his speeches. I was wrong. There is so much to learn about him. The way this biography opens, with the scene of the speech Douglass gave at the public dedication of the Emancipation Memorial, electrified me. I had of course read Douglass's This is a wonderful biography. David Blight imagines Douglass so deeply. Blight brings Douglass to life with such loving clarity. As I began this book, I was wondering what was left to learn about Douglass, when Douglass himself left us his autobiographies and his speeches. I was wrong. There is so much to learn about him. The way this biography opens, with the scene of the speech Douglass gave at the public dedication of the Emancipation Memorial, electrified me. I had of course read Douglass's famous 4th of July speech, but if anything, this later speech, given in 1876, was even more excoriating to his audience. As early as 1876 Lincoln had already become the hero-god of the Civil War, and here was Douglass, telling his self-congratulatory audience, wait a minute--let's remember that this man, Lincoln, was perfectly fine with slavery until he had no other choice. Blight made me feel the bravery of Douglass, where I could imagine him standing there before President Grant and all the other white dignitaries and refusing to buy into their feel-good story about the Civil War, and indeed, throwing that story back in their faces. Blight provides a close reading of Douglass's autobiographies, too, and helped me to understand the way Douglass shaped his own story to further his life goals. By the end of this biography Douglass felt far more contemporary in his thinking. His convictions and contradictions and outspokenness and anger reminded me strongly of James Baldwin. This is a wonderful work of history and human connection.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Samantha Zee

    I'm going to be up front and say that this is a very detailed and well done biography of Douglass, to the point where if you are not extremely interested in his life, or writing some sort of extensive paper on Douglass, DO NOT READ THIS. It's long. Like technically 900+ pages long, but with the occasional picture and the notes/sources in the last section, it is closer to just over 700 pages. I would like to say this is written like a narrative, but while it's mostly in chronological order, a lot I'm going to be up front and say that this is a very detailed and well done biography of Douglass, to the point where if you are not extremely interested in his life, or writing some sort of extensive paper on Douglass, DO NOT READ THIS. It's long. Like technically 900+ pages long, but with the occasional picture and the notes/sources in the last section, it is closer to just over 700 pages. I would like to say this is written like a narrative, but while it's mostly in chronological order, a lot of the material directly quotes from Douglass' works/letters/speeches. Almost excessively. Which really took me out of the experience, since the tone and wordage of Blight did not always flow with the quote form Douglass. There are also a few sections during Douglass' life with less information available, so Blight uses what he can to piece together what he thinks happened. Surprisingly, while the book is obviously focused on Douglass, the topic of his marriage and kids are glanced over, at best. There are entire chapters dedicated to women out side of his marriages, but just a couple sentences a chapter (if at all) about his wives and kids. Honestly, I would not recommend this book to a casual reader because it is a lot of work to get through. Unless you are really into biographies or need to write a research paper on Douglass, I would pass on this book.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Brian

    A triumph of historical biography. Blight is very even handed in his treatment of such a venerated figure of American history - he shows Douglass as fully human, warts and all. I savored the reading of this over many months and enjoyed marinating in the story of such an important part of my country's history. The bibliography of this book is so rich; I will be reading from Blight's referenced materials for years to come. A triumph of historical biography. Blight is very even handed in his treatment of such a venerated figure of American history - he shows Douglass as fully human, warts and all. I savored the reading of this over many months and enjoyed marinating in the story of such an important part of my country's history. The bibliography of this book is so rich; I will be reading from Blight's referenced materials for years to come.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Christine

    Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley We like, want, our heroes to be uncompleted, to always be heroic and constant while in the spotlight, and to leave that spotlight before they change politics or ideals. We want to remember Lincoln as the great emancipator not as the man who at one point wanted all freed slaves to return to Africa, a place they had never seen. That ruins the image of martyr Lincoln. We have the same feeling of many of our heroes, including Frederick Douglass. Who despite what some pe Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley We like, want, our heroes to be uncompleted, to always be heroic and constant while in the spotlight, and to leave that spotlight before they change politics or ideals. We want to remember Lincoln as the great emancipator not as the man who at one point wanted all freed slaves to return to Africa, a place they had never seen. That ruins the image of martyr Lincoln. We have the same feeling of many of our heroes, including Frederick Douglass. Who despite what some people think is, in fact, dead. Perhaps the memory of Douglass is doing great things in a symbolical sense, but the actual man is long dust. For most people, Douglass is the man who escaped slavery and publicly spoke out against it. Some people even confuse him with Henry “Box” Brown. Many students read Douglass either his Autobiography, or perhaps more commonly, the selection detailing his learning to read. The drawback to the commonly used selection is that it is many times the student’s only reading of Douglass, who sometimes some students think is a woman who is having sex with her mistress. People today have heard of Douglass, but they don’t know of Frederick Douglass. David W. Blight corrects that in his massive, though it does not read that way, new biography of Douglass. Perhaps the hardest part of any Douglass biography is the reconstruction of his early life. This isn’t because of a lack of memoirs, but a surfeit of them, including subtle but important differences. Did he ask to be taught or did Sophia Auld teach him because of her own idea? A combination of both perhaps? Blight’s reconstructing of Douglass’s early life makes it clear when there is a question about what happened, where Douglass himself differs or where scholars raise questions. He does not choose sides; he deals with facts and context. A refreshing thing. It is also something that he uses when dealing with Douglass’s relationship to his first wife Anna Murray, a free black woman who played a central role in Douglass’s escaping slavery. Murray was illiterate, not stupid, but illiterate as common for many people than. She and Douglass married soon after his escape, and they stayed married until her death. She birthed his children, she gave him a home to return to. Sadly, we do not know what she thought about her husband, about his relationship with the white women who would stay at her house, or about his feelings towards her for she is left out of his writing – much of interior family life seems to be. Blight, it seems, is slightly frustrated by this mystery of Anna Murray, and in the beginning, it almost seems like he is being, not condescending or dismissive, but almost shrugging off, not an accurate description but close. As the biography progress, however, you become grateful and happy that Blight does not presume to know what Anna Murray would think. He does suggest authors that try to channel her, but Blight keeps her presence as a real woman, almost shaking his head at Douglass’s silence. It helps that he keeps Douglass’s second wife, Helen Pitts, off page for much of the time as well. Blight’s depiction of Douglass is within the context of his time and dealing with those who see contradictions and problems in who Douglass was – such as his expansionist tendencies, his view on Native Americans. Blight presents an imperfect human, as all humans are, but presents him with understanding and a feeling of fascination that are easily transmitted to the reader.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Lorna

    Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by David Blight was a beautiful and meticulously researched biography of one of history's giants of the nineteenth century. From his humble beginnings as a slave in the south, he ultimately escaped slavery as a young man in Baltimore, Maryland. Frederick Douglass worked tirelessly for the abolition of slavery and reconstruction after the Civil War. He later fought just as relentlessly for the suffrage movement. As a young child he had been taught to read by Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by David Blight was a beautiful and meticulously researched biography of one of history's giants of the nineteenth century. From his humble beginnings as a slave in the south, he ultimately escaped slavery as a young man in Baltimore, Maryland. Frederick Douglass worked tirelessly for the abolition of slavery and reconstruction after the Civil War. He later fought just as relentlessly for the suffrage movement. As a young child he had been taught to read by one of the slave owners mistresses and quickly learned the power of the spoken and written word as he became, not only one of our greatest orators, but also a very respected and prolific writer. This biography relates the complexities of his two marriages and very large extended family. This stunning book is brimming with beautiful prose throughout as Douglass continues to fight for civil rights and justice at a very critical time in our national history. It was a very uplifting book. "Above all, Douglass is remembered most for telling his personal story--the slave who willed his own freedom, mastered the master's language, saw to the core of the meaning of slavery, both for individuals and for the nation, and then captured the multiple meanings of freedom--as idea and reality, of mind and body--as perhaps no one else ever has in America." "Powerful oratory, he learned, could 'scatter the clouds of ignorance and error from the atmosphere of reason. . . .irradiate the benighted mind with the cheering beams of truth.'" "My joys have far exceeded my sorrows and my friends have brought me far more than my enemies have taken from me." -- Frederick Douglass, 1881

  14. 5 out of 5

    Sam toer

    A monumental book and a powerful portrait of a self-made hero, and one of the most important figures of the nineteenth century, whose voice lives on. As Blight writes, “There is no greater voice of America's transformation from slavery to freedom than Douglass's." A monumental book and a powerful portrait of a self-made hero, and one of the most important figures of the nineteenth century, whose voice lives on. As Blight writes, “There is no greater voice of America's transformation from slavery to freedom than Douglass's."

  15. 5 out of 5

    Christopher Saunders

    Monumental biography of one of 19th Century America’s most remarkable men: Frederick Douglass, who went in a few decades from runaway slave to abolitionist figure and writer to presidential adviser, political rabble-rouser and living legend. Douglass hasn't received a full biography in decades (not since a tiresome psychobiography by William McFeely) so I was thrilled about this, especially knowing Blight's other work. It certainly didn't disappoint, though I'll caution that Blight's approach is Monumental biography of one of 19th Century America’s most remarkable men: Frederick Douglass, who went in a few decades from runaway slave to abolitionist figure and writer to presidential adviser, political rabble-rouser and living legend. Douglass hasn't received a full biography in decades (not since a tiresome psychobiography by William McFeely) so I was thrilled about this, especially knowing Blight's other work. It certainly didn't disappoint, though I'll caution that Blight's approach is a little idiosyncratic. While the book does follow a roughly chronological narrative, he does zero in on specific writings and speeches of Douglass's, using them to frame his personal development, his reaction to specific events and how his inspiring words and human actions either complemented or diverged from each other. I found this particularly interesting the chapter on John Brown, showing how Douglass, the apostle of violent resistance to slavery, refused an opportunity to put words into action (though, in fairness, he may well have been put off by the quioxtic nature of Brown's enterprise). Blight also explores Douglass's fractious relations with abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison, politicians like Lincoln and Grant and younger black leaders who viewed the older Douglass more as a mouthpiece for the Republican Party than a devoted civil rights leader; his efforts to tangle post-emancipation with new issues (racial equality, women's suffrage and lynching), his fame and fractious personal life (from a menage-a-trois with his first wife and a German admirer to a dastardly son-in-law who repeatedly tried blackmailing, then destroying Douglass). At worst, Blight can loose track of the thread in his digressions, or engage in odd speculation (particularly when dealing with Douglass's first wife, who left little record making it hard to reconstruct her thoughts and actions). On the whole though, it's as insightful, thorough and engaging a documentary as a towering figure like Douglass deserves.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Kusaimamekirai

    “In thinking of America, I sometimes find myself admiring her bright blue sky, her grand old woods, her fertile fields, her beautiful rivers . . . her star-crowned mountains. But my rapture is soon checked, my joy is soon turned to mourning. When I remember that all is cursed with the infernal spirit of slaveholding . . . when I remember that with the waters of her noblest rivers, the tears of my brethren are borne to the ocean . . . and that her most fertile fields drink daily of the warm blood “In thinking of America, I sometimes find myself admiring her bright blue sky, her grand old woods, her fertile fields, her beautiful rivers . . . her star-crowned mountains. But my rapture is soon checked, my joy is soon turned to mourning. When I remember that all is cursed with the infernal spirit of slaveholding . . . when I remember that with the waters of her noblest rivers, the tears of my brethren are borne to the ocean . . . and that her most fertile fields drink daily of the warm blood of my outraged sisters, I am filled with unutterable loathing.” -Frederick Douglass I admire David Blight for being able to synthesize the life of Frederick Douglass in only a thousand pages. While reading about this extraordinary man, surely one of the giants of the 19th century, I couldn’t help but feel like two or three thousand more pages would’ve been not only reasonable but essential to even begin to tell his life story. In a sense, there were multiple iterations of Douglass that could (and have) inspire books on their own. Born to a black mother and a white slave owning father, whose identity he suspected but spent his life trying to confirm, Douglass grew up as most slaves did in the early 19th century, poor and under the constant threat of violence. Douglass however even as a child began to chafe at his bondage, and began secretly scouring the surrounding areas around his plantation for people who could provide him with books. With knowledge came ideas of freedom and autonomy until one day his “master” Edward Covey beat him one too many times. Douglass, at great risk to himself retaliated, and in retaliation saw that he had more power than he realized. Douglass would later escape, find odd jobs to survive in North, until he was able to find work in printing, catching the eye of prominent abolitionists. Under the tutelage of men like William Garrison, Douglass would be put on a path to fame as a spokesman for black people everywhere, tirelessly writing and speaking until the day he died (he would have a heart attack minutes before a carriage arrived to take him to another speaking engagement that evening). While most Americans know Douglass the public figure, I was more fascinated by Douglass the man. As with most prominent men and women, a certain kind of mythology builds up around them that smooths the rough edges of their personality and eventually turns them into flawless human beings. Flawless was something Douglass certainly was not. He could be petty and hold grudges for years. He likely had several mistresses who would occasionally stay months at a time under the same roof as his wife and family. He would later in life held government posts which he would use to provide jobs for his large and extended family of sons, daughters, grandchildren and hangers on. While an outspoken proponent of women’s suffrage, he believed voting rights were less critical for women than for blacks and believed the latter needed to take precedence. Douglass could also be patronizing and racist toward Native Americans. As with most racism, there are hierarchies, and in an attempt to show whites that blacks were deserving of their respect he would contrast black behavior with the “uncivilized” behavior of Native Americans. He would write: “The negro likes to be in the midst of civilization, in the city, where he can hear the finest music, and where he can see all that is going on in the world. A black man, wears a coat after the latest European pattern.  If you see him go down town and not see his face, you would think that it was a [white] man going along. They are not going to die out.” It was not Douglass’s finest hour. And yet despite these human frailties and shortcomings, Douglass was also a principled and dedicated voice for black freedom who for 50 plus years kept a grueling schedule of traveling inside and outside the United States. He would speak to almost anyone who invited him, early in his career about emancipation, later reconstruction, and finally later in life against the horrors of lynching. He would throughout his life alternate between believing that blacks and whites could live in peace and believing that violence was an acceptable way for blacks to achieve equality. He would never compromise his firm insistence that colonizing black people outside the United States (a view advocated even by some prominent abolitionists and Abraham Lincoln) was madness. In his view, blacks were born on American soil and have as much right to it (if not more considering the blood and sweat blacks contributed to its prosperity) as any white man. Douglas would also, despite supporting American expansion in principle, as envoy to Haiti and at risk of losing his appointment, be a loud and dissenting voice against his country’s attempt to steal strategic land from this poor country. Outraged by the behavior of his country, Douglass would write: “Is the weakness of a nation a reason for robbing it? Are we to wring from it by dread of our power what we cannot obtain by appeals to its justice and reason?” It is one of many examples of the many facets of Douglass. As Blight writes: “Douglass lived by many of the best elements of ambition and honor. Sometimes it brought out of him a nearly self-destructive hypersensitivity, and sometimes it prompted his best work.” In short, Douglass was a man of sometimes maddening contradictions. However the best of Douglass, his fiery oratory and writings, as well as his being a symbol of uncompromising hope to millions of how far blacks in America could rise, far outweigh some of the more unpleasant parts of Douglass’s life. He was an endlessly fascinating man and one whose words resonate long after his passing. When Douglass wrote that white Americans did not value black lives late in his life that, “The murder of a black man no longer mattered ‘in point of economy’ as it had during slavery.”, it does not require a great leap to feel Douglass describing events in 2020. While life may be materially better for some, the violence toward black bodies in Douglass’s time continues today.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Lulu

    Frederick Douglass was a gifted orator, brilliant writer, and not a bad strategist when it came to dealing with the politics and politicians of his day, but he was still a very complexed man. This biography comes in at over 900 pages and through it all, Frederick Douglass is still some what of a mystery to me. This was basically a repackaging of his autobiographies with some outsider commentary and opinions (which tend to contradict the man the world adores). The author seems to fill in the blan Frederick Douglass was a gifted orator, brilliant writer, and not a bad strategist when it came to dealing with the politics and politicians of his day, but he was still a very complexed man. This biography comes in at over 900 pages and through it all, Frederick Douglass is still some what of a mystery to me. This was basically a repackaging of his autobiographies with some outsider commentary and opinions (which tend to contradict the man the world adores). The author seems to fill in the blanks for certain parts he couldn’t find the exact answers to and there was a lot of repetition. So while this wasn’t a bad biography, it still wasn’t great. Another thing that greatly annoys me is how, historically, we all but ignore his first wife, Anne Murray Douglass. I think this is largely due to the widely assumed fact that he treated her like crap. I mean after all, she only help him escape slavery, kept a stable home for him for 43 years while raising their 5 kids as he traveled the world, and accept his "intellectual friendships" with “random” white women. Alas, this is not Anna's story (can Bernice McFadden jump on that though?).

  18. 4 out of 5

    kayla goggin

    Exhaustive and exhausting. This is the boiled, unseasoned chicken breast of biographies. I understand why this book won the Pulitzer for history this year because it really is incredibly detailed and well-researched (I would be shocked if there was a single detail of Douglass's life that wasn't included in this book) but Blight's bland, bland, BLAND writing made this a slog for me. 900+ pages but felt like 1500 pages. Exhaustive and exhausting. This is the boiled, unseasoned chicken breast of biographies. I understand why this book won the Pulitzer for history this year because it really is incredibly detailed and well-researched (I would be shocked if there was a single detail of Douglass's life that wasn't included in this book) but Blight's bland, bland, BLAND writing made this a slog for me. 900+ pages but felt like 1500 pages.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Leela

    Brilliant historian, amazing primary sources, and secondary source analysis. This book was a god send while I was researching and writing my history paper on Narrative's importance in comparison to his other abolitionist work. In fact even beyond pure research, it was genuinely interesting. I would strongly recommend this book to anyone doing research on the abolitionist movement or Douglass. I would also recommend it to anyone looking to understand more about the experiences of a slave turned a Brilliant historian, amazing primary sources, and secondary source analysis. This book was a god send while I was researching and writing my history paper on Narrative's importance in comparison to his other abolitionist work. In fact even beyond pure research, it was genuinely interesting. I would strongly recommend this book to anyone doing research on the abolitionist movement or Douglass. I would also recommend it to anyone looking to understand more about the experiences of a slave turned abolitionist hero and statesman.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Scott Hitchcock

    It's amazing how little I knew about Douglass beyond a couple of headline bullets. When thinking of Civil Rights leaders the 1950's and 60's leaders are well documented in our society but not nearly enough attention is given to their predecessors. Douglass was an amazing orator to rival King and going on a tour of the south to do it during the reconstruction era at least as dangerous if not much more so than 80 years later. What was also amazing was his time abroad in Europe after escaping slave It's amazing how little I knew about Douglass beyond a couple of headline bullets. When thinking of Civil Rights leaders the 1950's and 60's leaders are well documented in our society but not nearly enough attention is given to their predecessors. Douglass was an amazing orator to rival King and going on a tour of the south to do it during the reconstruction era at least as dangerous if not much more so than 80 years later. What was also amazing was his time abroad in Europe after escaping slavery. His treatment there much better than in America a lesser man might have washed his hands of the situation or maybe just written on the topic rather than return. Then there's the grief aspect. He lost over ten grandchildren and a few of his children in the course of a few years. So much pain. I'm sure continuing in his struggle helped keep his mind off of is pain. The author does a good job of pointing out Douglass's flaws and humanizing him. No man is perfect. His struggles with other abolitionists and at times with woman's suffrages groups was at times very tenuous. Highly recommended.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Rochelle

    A must-read to gain a nuanced understanding of today's issues surrounding the history, ideology and entrenched attitudes of White supremacy and privilege Frederick Douglass and many others sought to eradicate so that the rebirth of the republic from the ashes of slavery could fulfill its promise. He was prescient, passionate about America fulfilling its own spiritual promise to the world--a promise, judging by the shootings, mass detentions, and destruction of civil rights, remains largely unrea A must-read to gain a nuanced understanding of today's issues surrounding the history, ideology and entrenched attitudes of White supremacy and privilege Frederick Douglass and many others sought to eradicate so that the rebirth of the republic from the ashes of slavery could fulfill its promise. He was prescient, passionate about America fulfilling its own spiritual promise to the world--a promise, judging by the shootings, mass detentions, and destruction of civil rights, remains largely unrealized.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Annie

    Since I just finished a Harriet Tubman biography, it's hard not to contrast these two prominent leaders of the rebellion (whose paths crossed several times). To me, the most salient difference between the two of them is that Frederick Douglass viewed things on a more big-picture scale, whereas Harriet focused on the individuals involved, on the individuals who suffered as slaves. A very detailed, expansive biography of Douglass. The prose was a little dry for my taste, so I docked a star. Since I just finished a Harriet Tubman biography, it's hard not to contrast these two prominent leaders of the rebellion (whose paths crossed several times). To me, the most salient difference between the two of them is that Frederick Douglass viewed things on a more big-picture scale, whereas Harriet focused on the individuals involved, on the individuals who suffered as slaves. A very detailed, expansive biography of Douglass. The prose was a little dry for my taste, so I docked a star.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Chaunceton Bird

    Excellent look into one of the greatest orators of American history. Well and thoroughly told with lots of detail on not only Mr. Douglass, but all with whom he came in contact.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Michael Austin

    "It is easy to call Douglass a prophet; this book attempts to show how he merits that lofty title. “The prophet is human,” wrote the great Jewish theologian Abraham Heschel, “yet he employs notes one octave too high for our ears. He experiences moments that defy our understanding. He is neither ‘a singing saint’ nor ‘a moralizing poet,’ but an assaulter of the mind. Often his words begin to burn where conscience ends."--Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom, p. xviii Very early on in his magnifi "It is easy to call Douglass a prophet; this book attempts to show how he merits that lofty title. “The prophet is human,” wrote the great Jewish theologian Abraham Heschel, “yet he employs notes one octave too high for our ears. He experiences moments that defy our understanding. He is neither ‘a singing saint’ nor ‘a moralizing poet,’ but an assaulter of the mind. Often his words begin to burn where conscience ends."--Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom, p. xviii Very early on in his magnificent biography of Frederick Douglass, David Blight lets the reader know that his use of the term "prophet" in the subtitle is something more than a marketing ploy. Frederick Douglas: Prophet of Freedom takes the idea of prophecy seriously (as anyone citing Abraham Heschel must) and applies both its negative and its positive connotations to his subject. The negative connotations are legion. Prophets are difficult to deal with, absolutely convinced of their own rightness, unwilling to compromise or even consider practicalities, harsh, demanding, vain, difficult to care for, and not particularly well suited for human relations. On the plus side, they speak a compelling moral truth with absolute clarity, they demand that people live up to that truth, and they speak the mind of God. Douglass was all of these things, and the truths he spoke mattered; they helped to move the crucial generation of Americans to do the hardest thing that Americans had ever done: to rid the nation of the scourge of slavery, in a war that almost destroyed the Union. Blight acknowledges right up front that, like all of Douglass's biographers, he has the blessing and the curse of three autobiographies written at the beginning, the middle, and the end of Douglass's public career. Both the blessing and the curse are really only evident in the first hundred pages of the book, which discuss Douglass's life as a slave. His autobiographies are really the only substantial documents of Douglass's early life that a historian can work with, but they give much more information about the young Douglass (Fred Bailey until he escaped) than we have about all but a handful of antebellum slaves, so the biographer is reduced to stating the facts as Douglass stated them and then trying to evaluate the reliability of his memory. But beginning in about 1840, Blight has an enormous number of documents to work with, so Douglass's own opinions about his life become crucial background to the historical record. This is such a studied period that I was surprised how much I learned by seeing it from Douglass's perspective. But, even though I have read dozens of books and biographies about this period of American history, I found myself being constantly surprised by the information that Blight provides. Here are two examples, meant to be illustrative rather than exhaustive. First, I did not really understand the diversity of thought within American Abolitionism in the 1840s and 1850s. William Lloyd Garrison, whom Douglass became connected with within weeks of escaping to the North, represented only one of three major and mutually exclusive factions within the most radical abolitionists of the 19th century. Garrison believed in moral suasion and political non-participation, and he considered it a grave heresy to believe in voting for candidates who wanted to end slavery. Or in voting period. Garrison believed that evil had to be confronted by pure religion and non-cooperation. When Douglass began supporting political candidates, he and Garrison had a falling out, and Douglass became a political abolitionist--someone who believed that the Constitution was inherently anti-slavery and that political action could bring an end to slavery. But this second group of abolitionists were, like the first, pacifists. When Douglass met John Brown and other advocates of violence, he moved to the third school of abolition, which believed that slaves and people of conscience had a right and an obligation to use violence to end slavery. It was interesting, and a little bit depressing, to see how much these groups fought with each other. And it was equally disturbing to see how often the tried to stage-manage Frederick Douglass and make sure that he publicly represented their version of abolition. But he was also very successful at going along with his allies as far as he could and then striking out on his own. Like most prophets, he had to ultimately control his own message. A second eye-opener for me was the postbellum conflict between Douglass and other advocates for the 14th and 15 Amendments and advocates for women's suffrage, such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. Douglass always favored, and spoke for, women's suffrage. But when push came to shove, there was a lot of pushing and a lot of shoving. Stanton and Anthony opposed the 15th Amendment that guaranteed voting rights to African-American males if it did not also enfranchise women. Douglass believed that the vote was immediately necessary to save the lives of freed slaves in the South. Stanton and Anthony were, apparently, not above using racist rhetoric to complain that uneducated black men should not be able to tell highly educated and cultivated white women what to do. And so it went. Again, these are examples drawn from a huge field of information that I sort of knew but had never really understood from a perspective like Douglass's. The narrative arc of Douglass's life and the moral arc of the United States join together about half way through the book. Blight does a very good job of creating this arc, which includes the great hope of the election of Abraham Lincoln, the disappointment with Lincoln's early attempts to preserve the Union without ending slavery, the dawning realization that such a thing cannot be done, the thrill of Emancipation, and tragedy of Lincoln's assassination, and the crushing disappointment of reconstruction, when Americans chose peace over justice and allowed slavery to be re-instituted under a different name. A significant strength of the book is that, in addition to arguing correctly that Douglass was a prophet, it also gets his day job right. Douglass did a lot of things in his life. He was a newspaper editor, a writer, an army recruiter, a federal marshal, a civil servant, a foreign diplomat, and, very briefly, a bank director. But what he WAS was an orator. A maker of speeches, whose primary source of income came from speaker fees. We have people like that today of course, but the logic has been reversed. Today, somebody has to become a celebrity before someone will pay them a huge fee to come and speak. But Douglass was a speaker who was so good at his job--so good at writing and delivering speeches--that he became a celebrity. The difference is that Douglass lived in an oratorical culture in which speakers could become famous. We live in a celebrity culture in which famous people can become speakers. One would have a hard time thinking of a better career for a prophet than "orator." Blight does an excellent job of showing both the urgency and the rhetorical power that animated Douglass during his long life as a public figure. He had one very clear message: slavery is wrong, and America must do everything it can to eliminate it and to give people of all races the same rights, the same justice, and the same playing field. He never wavered, and he left the details to people like Lincoln and Grant, who had to figure out out to fight a war and win a peace. And he still keeps shouting at us, because we have still not caught the very simple vision that Douglass articulated. And his message is often jarring and hard to listen to, because Frederick Douglass really was a prophet, and prophets aren't supposed to be cuddly and nice. I suppose I could find things wrong with the book: It needn't be quite so long, it relies a bit too much on speculation, and it often tries too hard to explain some of Douglass's less savory views in ways that make 21st century liberals more comfortable with his 19th century opinions. There are things wrong with any book, and this is one of them. But there is really no point in quibbling. I can't think of anyone older than 15 or 16 who shouldn't read it, or who would not be a better person by understanding the remarkable life and urgent prophecies of Frederick Douglass.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Scott Pomfret

    This account of the life of Frederick Douglass convinced me that in a hundred years we will view anti-immigrant sentiment as we now look at those who opposed abolition. Not because "Prophet of Freedom" made any such case, but because all the bones of the current strife are within Douglass's life, writing, and oratory. Douglass was an incredibly prescient and forward-thinking man. To be sure, "Prophet of Freedom" is no hagiography. There's plenty to disturb modern ears. Douglass was virulently ant This account of the life of Frederick Douglass convinced me that in a hundred years we will view anti-immigrant sentiment as we now look at those who opposed abolition. Not because "Prophet of Freedom" made any such case, but because all the bones of the current strife are within Douglass's life, writing, and oratory. Douglass was an incredibly prescient and forward-thinking man. To be sure, "Prophet of Freedom" is no hagiography. There's plenty to disturb modern ears. Douglass was virulently anti-Catholic and anti-Irish, and his emphasis on self reliance can come across as blaming the oppressed and his thirst for civil war as almost unprincipled. Moreover, his slavish adherence to the Republican party after it largely abandoned the project of Reconstruction disappoints. These flaws, however, do not detract from the powerful figure and autodidact who made his own life emblematic of the not-quite-endless possibilities of a determined and gifted black man even in an often unapologetic white slave-holding America. Blight's is a brisk, well-written, well-organized account that attempts mostly successfully not to rely too much on Douglass's prodigious auto-biographical output. Blight situates Douglass in his era, paints masterful portraits of Douglass's wives, children, and fellow travelers (and in particular of a trio of American presidents--Lincoln, Johnson and Grant--from the perspective of a contemporary person of color). Blight pulls no punches when addressing the flaws referenced above, but he does effectively contextualize them. In any event, Douglass's accomplishments were awesome and for all his pride his moral force remains resonant. I heartily recommend this biography.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Calzean

    This is a big book that held my interest for most pages. The book traces the life of Frederick Douglass in a linear progression. The early chapters on his years in slavery depend mostly on his autobiographies which is not surprising given the lack of other written sources. The best chapters related to the civil war and its aftermath. Again this is not surprising given this is the author's chosen field. At times the book sunk into a lot of detail which would be only for the determined fan. The autho This is a big book that held my interest for most pages. The book traces the life of Frederick Douglass in a linear progression. The early chapters on his years in slavery depend mostly on his autobiographies which is not surprising given the lack of other written sources. The best chapters related to the civil war and its aftermath. Again this is not surprising given this is the author's chosen field. At times the book sunk into a lot of detail which would be only for the determined fan. The author has an easy style which has produced a five star effort that provides an honest, and extremely well referenced, biography of a much needed man of his time.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Irene

    This was a thorough, informative, well-written biography of a man who dedicated his life to abolition and to fighting for the rights and full dignity of blacks in the U.S. At 765 pages plus 150 pages of end notes and bibliography, there were moments when I wondered if it were too thorough. But, even if I might have been satisfied with fewer details, it was still a great

  28. 5 out of 5

    Bob

    Summary: Perhaps the definitive biography of this escaped slave who became one of the most distinguished orators and writers in nineteenth century America as he for abolition and Reconstruction and civil rights for Blacks. There is no simple way to summarize this magnificent biography of Frederick Douglass. Douglass lived an amazingly full life captured admirably in these 764 pages from his birth, likely conceived by a white plantation owner, to the attempts to break him on Covey's plantation, hi Summary: Perhaps the definitive biography of this escaped slave who became one of the most distinguished orators and writers in nineteenth century America as he for abolition and Reconstruction and civil rights for Blacks. There is no simple way to summarize this magnificent biography of Frederick Douglass. Douglass lived an amazingly full life captured admirably in these 764 pages from his birth, likely conceived by a white plantation owner, to the attempts to break him on Covey's plantation, his quest to learn to read, and discovery of the power of words, his escape, and rise as an orator and writer, advocating first for abolition using the narrative of his own slavery, and later for full rights of blacks, even after the failed promise of Reconstruction and the rise of Jim Crow. He traveled relentlessly on speaking tours throughout his life, and was walking out the door of his home to speak when he collapsed and died of a heart attack. He wrote prodigiously, editing two newspapers and authoring his autobiography in three successive versions. We could explore his oratorical greatness. Blight liberally quotes excerpts of his most famous speeches giving us a sense of the power of his rhetoric. We could trace the growing fault line between William Lloyd Garrison and Douglass, who differed on whether abolition would come through moral suasion or violence. We could explore his efforts to launch his own newspaper, struggling along for many years until closure. Blight uncovered editions of previously lost copies that enabled him to render a fuller account of the paper than previous biographers. His later career reflected the tensions of trying to support Republican efforts at Reconstruction, only to condemn the eventual compromises and erosion of protections under the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments that exposed Blacks to lynching, suppression of voting rights. It exposed him to criticism from younger activists. At one point late in his life, he serves as an honorary representative of Haiti, a country in which Africans had thrown off the yoke of their white French oppressors. Blight also traces the familial struggles Douglass faced. Wanting a family when he had been stripped of one in childhood, he married Anna, a free woman, who did not share his love of words and the public limelight. She made a household in Rochester that sheltered fugitive slaves, radicals like John Brown, and eventually, her children's families, as well as Frederick's sophisticated white women friends Julia Griffiths Crofts, and later Ottilie Assing, who may have been something more to than that to Douglass. Assing even stayed for months at a time. Awkward? Perhaps, but we hear nothing of it from Anna, Awkward and distressing as well were the failures of their children, including his daughter's husband. Part of the reason for Frederick Douglass's unremitting lecture tours was the necessity to support this growing brood unable to be self supporting. This was an irony for one who prided himself on his self-sufficiency. Frederick Douglass was a fighter, from the plantation to the Baltimore docks to the lecture and convention circuit. No one fought more passionately for Black civil rights. He fought until the day he died. The fact that the fight has had to be picked up by Ida B. Wells, W.E.B. Dubois, Howard Thurman, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Barack Obama, and still endures makes the case that it is not for lack of fighting and arduous effort that we still seek King's dream. Rather we need to pay attention to a larger American story of a country that has continued to struggle and fail to live up to its ideal of "liberty and justice for all." To read this biography of Douglass is both to marvel at the vision and drive and relentless fight for freedom of this man, and to grieve for the generations of compromises and lost opportunities that are the story of this country. It suggests that progress can only occur when Black prophets of freedom like Douglass are joined, generation after generation, by Whites who advocate for the nation's ideals with the relentlessness of Douglass. Douglass never gave up on the possibility of liberty and justice for all, including his own people. And neither should we.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Ash

    I received this title from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. TITLE - Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom AUTHOR - David W. Blight GENRE - Biography THESIS - Marvelous example of inspirational writing that gives a new perspective to be explored, of the complexity and prowess that was Frederick Douglass RATING - 3/5 SUMMARY - Blight's reconstruction of Frederick Douglass' early life is portrayed quite differently in comparison to other Douglass biographies. I found it to be most original I received this title from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. TITLE - Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom AUTHOR - David W. Blight GENRE - Biography THESIS - Marvelous example of inspirational writing that gives a new perspective to be explored, of the complexity and prowess that was Frederick Douglass RATING - 3/5 SUMMARY - Blight's reconstruction of Frederick Douglass' early life is portrayed quite differently in comparison to other Douglass biographies. I found it to be most original, due to the directness of the facts presented, opposed to the authors interpretation of the events that unfolded. When retelling the story of how Douglass learned to read, Blight was unambiguous in the description. This seeming commitment to relaying the story in an authentic way left me underwhelmed with the portrayal of Douglass' wives. It is widely written that Douglass was unfaithful, and had affairs with white women. In a time of post slavery, this is a scandalous act that I feel it was a disservice not to include, along with more information about how this affected his marriage to Anna Murray & Helen Pitts. This is a story of the views, actions and opinions of a deeply complex man who was flawed, but also a hero to those who value equality. This book is an insightful humanization of a widely known and written about figure. "If there is no struggle, there is no progress." - Frederick Douglass

  30. 4 out of 5

    Rachel Rooney

    I was over 90% done with this 36 hour audiobook when it was cruelly ripped out of my ears by the library, so I am going to call it done for now and hope to finish it later this year when my hold comes in again. This was a great biography of Douglass. I appreciate that it was honest about his flaws even as it demonstrated his importance to history.

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