Bury the Chains (Magill Book Reviews)
Adam Hochschild’s previous book, King Leopold’s Ghost (1998), won wide acclaim for its account of the horrors of Belgian colonialism in the Congo. In Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire’s Slaves, Hochschild takes up a related, but far more encouraging story of the contact between Europe and Africa. This book tells how the efforts of a small group of men to end the slave trade grew into a political program and a mass movement that led to the abolition of slavery throughout the British Empire.
Hochschild concentrates on the lives and actions of key figures in the movement. He tells the story of John Newton, a slave trader turned evangelist who wrote the hymn “Amazing Grace.” Slavery was so widely accepted in the middle of the eighteenth century that even Newton did not reflect on its evils until late in his life, when his conscience had been awakened by others. Those others included Thomas Clarkson, a young scholar turned organizer who devoted his life to the fight against slavery; Granville Sharp, an eccentric member of the British establishment who became a pioneer crusader against slavery; Olaudah Equiano, a former slave who fought the institution and published a celebrated autobiography; and William Wilberforce, the generally conservative member of Parliament who became the anti-slavery movement’s best-known voice.
Hochschild may occasionally be a little anachronistic in...
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Bury the Chains (Magill's Literary Annual 2006)
Slavery, Adam Hochschild observes at the beginning of Bury the Chains, was a normal and accepted condition around the world at the middle of the eighteenth century. Many civilizations, from the beginning of history, had held slaves. The African slave trade, moreover, had become a huge business for Europeans over the previous three centuries. Profits from the trade built many of the elegant buildings in London and elsewhere in England. Even the Church of England was deeply involved in a business that depended on violently seizing innocent people, imprisoning them in horrific conditions on ships, and condemning them to short lifetimes of forced labor.
Hochschild illustrates just how normal slavery was considered by most people in eighteenth century England by weaving the biography of John Newton through the story of the struggle against the slave trade. As a young man, Newton had been seized by a naval press gang in his era’s version of the military draft. After managing to get out of service with the Royal Navy by being exchanged in a swap of seamen with a slave ship, Newton entered years of involvement with African slavery. Wild and rambunctious as a youth, he later experienced a religious conversion. Christianity did not turn him away from dealing in human beings any more than it did the Church of England, though, and when he became the captain of a slave ship, Newton would gather his crew for prayer daily while delivering slaves to America....
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Bibliography (Magill's Literary Annual 2006)
Booklist 101, no. 1 (September 1, 2004): 2.
The Christian Science Monitor 97 (January 11, 2005): 15-16.
The Economist 374 (February 5, 2005): 76-77.
Kirkus Reviews 72, no. 21 (November 1, 2004): 1038-1039.
Library Journal 129, no. 19 (November 15, 2004): 70-71.
The Nation 280, no. 6 (February 14, 2005): 23-29.
The New York Times Book Review 154 (January 9, 2005): 1-11.
Publishers Weekly 252, no. 1 (January 3, 2005): 48.
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