Bookmarks Issue: 

Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire’s Slaves

A-BuryChainsIn 1787, a small group of Quakers, Evangelical Anglicans, and an impassioned young man named Thomas Clarkson met in a London shop to discuss how to end slavery. For the next 51 years, these brave rebels and other recruits to the cause faced scorn and violence as they alerted the British public to slavery’s horrors. Using provocative posters, speeches, and other means to fire outrage, they eventually encouraged 300,000 Britons to boycott sugar produced by Caribbean slaves. One of the first mass protests in history, the campaign’s success contributed to support for other revolts and events around the world that led to the formal demise of British slavery in 1838.
Houghton Mifflin. 467 pages. $26.95. ISBN: 0618104690

Chicago Sun-Times 4 of 5 Stars
"There are few books that could serve as a required and much-loved text for a high school history class and also a compelling Sunday afternoon read for anyone. This is one of those books." Debra Bruno

Newsday 4 of 5 Stars
"... great popular history. … Hochschild emphasizes the personal passions and convictions that build a social movement, just as his protagonists emphasized the personal suffering on which the institution of slavery was built." Wendy Smith

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"… a gripping and inspiring account of the abolitionist crusade. … [He] deftly teases out the movement’s significance in terms of the activist techniques that evolved from it, from consumer boycotts and lapel pins to media campaigns." Jason Thompson

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"… what makes Hochschild’s book so readable is the rich cast of characters who created the movement, and the appalling nature of slavery itself." Steven Mufson

Boston Globe 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Hochschild has a knack for vivid portraits, and an eye for arresting detail. Bury the Chains suffers, however, from a major flaw, which I can only call Hochschild’s dislike of Christianity … and since many of figures in this story are devout Christians, even clergymen, he is kept busy." Richard Brookhiser

NY Times Book Review 3 of 5 Stars
"It seems a little odd in a historian to use the improbability of a movement’s success as a grounds for heightened admiration, rather than for heightened attention to other contributing factors. … The primacy of England in these narratives slights the fact that a consensus against slavery had been building for a generation in New England and longer in Quaker Philadelphia." Marilynne Robinson

Critical Summary

Most fellow historians and writers agree that by tracing the international abolitionist cause back to Britain’s small "band of brothers," Hochschild has uncovered a gem of a story with great drama and relevance even to this day. The author of previous award-winning books on colonialism in Africa, Hochschild has again delivered a fact-filled history that, despite its many horrific details, is consistently compelling. Some reviewers thought the author’s bigotry toward his subjects’ Christianity seriously and unnecessarily undermined the book. Others ventured that Hochschild should have given more credit to American abolitionists and the slaves themselves for dismantling slavery. Overall, Bury the Chains is an inspiring account of how a small group of men helped to alter the course of history.

Also by the Author

King Leopold’s Ghost A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa (1999): The Congo’s history of upheaval, massacre, and mass exploitation has at its source the megalomaniacal King Leopold II of Belgium, who seized this territory in the 1880s.