Overview

The official movie tie-in edition to the winner of the 2014 Academy Award for Best Picture, starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, and Lupita Nyong’o, and directed by Steve McQueen
 
New York Times bestseller


“I could not believe that I had never heard of this book. It felt as important as Anne Frank’s Diary, only published nearly a hundred years ...
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12 Years a Slave (Movie Tie-In)

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Overview

The official movie tie-in edition to the winner of the 2014 Academy Award for Best Picture, starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, and Lupita Nyong’o, and directed by Steve McQueen
 
New York Times bestseller


“I could not believe that I had never heard of this book. It felt as important as Anne Frank’s Diary, only published nearly a hundred years before. . . . The book blew [my] mind: the epic range, the details, the adventure, the horror, and the humanity. . . . I hope my film can play a part in drawing attention to this important book of courage. Solomon’s bravery and life deserve nothing less.” —Steve McQueen, director of 12 Years a Slave, from the Foreword
 
Perhaps the best written of all the slave narratives, Twelve Years a Slave is a harrowing memoir about one of the darkest periods in American history. It recounts how Solomon Northup, born a free man in New York, was lured to Washington, D.C., in 1841 with the promise of fast money, then drugged and beaten and sold into slavery. He spent the next twelve years of his life in captivity on a Louisiana cotton plantation.
 
After his rescue, Northup published this exceptionally vivid and detailed account of slave life. It became an immediate bestseller and today is recognized for its unusual insight and eloquence as one of the very few portraits of American slavery produced by someone as educated as Solomon Northup, or by someone with the dual perspective of having been both a free man and a slave.
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Editorial Reviews

Various

“I could not believe that I had never heard of this book. It felt as important as Anne Frank’s Diary, only published nearly a hundred years before. . . . The book blew [my] mind: the epic range, the details, the adventure, the horror, and the humanity. . . . I hope my film can play a part in drawing attention to this important book of courage. Solomon’s bravery and life deserve nothing less.” —Steve McQueen, director of 12 Years a Slave, from the Foreword

“If you think the movie offers a terrible-enough portrait of slavery, please, do read the book. . . . The film is stupendous art, but it owes much to a priceless piece of document. Solomon Northup’s memoir is history. . . . His was not simply an extraordinary story, but an account of the life of a great many ordinary people.” The Daily Beast
 

“Northup published a memoir of his 12-year nightmare in 1853, the year after Uncle Tom’s Cabin came out, and it was so successful that he went on to participate in two stage adaptations. The book dropped from sight in the 20th century, but the movie tie-in will certainly reestablish its virtually unique status as a work by an educated free man who managed to return from slavery.” The Hollywood Reporter

From the Publisher
“I could not believe that I had never heard of this book. It felt as important as Anne Frank’s Diary, only published nearly a hundred years before. . . . The book blew [my] mind: the epic range, the details, the adventure, the horror, and the humanity. . . . I hope my film can play a part in drawing attention to this important book of courage. Solomon’s bravery and life deserve nothing less.” —Steve McQueen, director of 12 Years a Slave,from the Foreword

“Frightening, gripping and inspiring . . . Northup’s story seems almost biblical, structured as it is as a descent and resurrection narrative of a protagonist who, like Christ, was 33 at the time of his abduction. . . . Northup reminds us of the fragile nature of freedom in any human society and the harsh reality that whatever legal boundaries existed between so-called free states and slave states in 1841, no black man, woman or child was permanently safe.” —Henry Louis Gates, Jr.,from the Afterword
 
“For sheer drama, few accounts of slavery match Solomon Northup’s tale of abduction from freedom and forcible enslavement.” —Ira Berlin, from the Introduction

“If you think the movie offers a terrible-enough portrait of slavery, please, do read the book. . . . The film is stupendous art, but it owes much to a priceless piece of document. Solomon Northup’s memoir is history. . . . His was not simply an extraordinary story, but an account of the life of a great many ordinary people.” The Daily Beast

“An incredible document, amazingly told and structured. Tough, but riveting. The movie of it by Steve McQueen might be the most successful adaptation of a book ever undertaken; text and film complement each other wildly.” —Rachel Kushner,The New York Times Book Review

“The best firsthand account of slavery.” —James M. McPherson, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Battle Cry of Freedom, in The New York Times Book Review

“Northup published a memoir of his 12-year nightmare in 1853, the year after Uncle Tom’s Cabin came out, and it was so successful that he went on to participate in two stage adaptations. The book dropped from sight in the 20th century, but the movie tie-in will certainly reestablish its virtually unique status as a work by an educated free man who managed to return from slavery.” The Hollywood Reporter

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780698161498
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/4/2013
  • Sold by: Penguin Group
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 124,962
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author


Solomon Northup (1808 c. 1863) was a free man kidnapped and forced into slavery in 1851. The details of his life after the publication of his acclaimed memoir are unknown.



Ira Berlin is Distinguished Professor of History at the University of Maryland, College Park. His many books include The Making of African America and Many Thousands Gone, winner of the Bancroft Prize and finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.



Henry Louis Gates, Jr., is Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and director of the W. E. B Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
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Reading Group Guide

INTRODUCTION

For a free black man who lived in a society in which most black people were politically proscribed, economically impoverished, and socially ostracized, Solomon Northup lived a good life. He, his wife, and children enjoyed a modest prosperity in the upstate New York community of Saratoga Springs where his reputation as a clever jack-of-all-trades and an accomplished fiddler gained him the respect of white and black.

But free status and admirable reputation meant little in a slave society, where the worth of black flesh was measured by labor transformed into dollars. While slavery may have been abolished in the North, kidnappers and their confederates-driven by the swelling demand for men and women to grow cotton, sugar, and other valuable commodities-roamed the land. The lack of respect for black humanity put all black people, no matter what their standing, at risk.

In the spring of 1841, Northup's wife left Saratoga for short-term employment in a nearby town.

In her absence, Northup-eager to earn a few extra dollars, display his talents, and perhaps see a bit of the world-eagerly accepted an invitation to join a traveling circus. His travels went well until Northup reached the nation's capital where his companions drugged and sold him to a local slave trader. Beaten mercilessly when he asserted his claim to freedom, Northup was shipped to Louisiana where he labored as a slave for more than a decade.

In Twelve Years a Slave, Solomon Northup tells the story of his captivity. His account is distinguished from the some 150 slave-authored narratives published before the Civil War, as Northup had been born free. It is a brutal story, which provides an unvarnished view of the inhumanity inherent in the system of chattel bondage. More than any contemporary account of slavery, Northup's provides a full sense of how slavery compounded the most sordid human instincts and twisted even well-meaning acts beyond recognition. But Northup was determined neither to exaggerate slaveholder's inequity nor the slave's virtue. Slave masters were both good and bad; slaves strong and weak. Rather than rehearse the well-known stereotypes, Northup exposed complex ways in which men and women, master and slave reacted to the unspeakable evil of enslavement. It was not a pretty picture.

But if slavery was a hellish nightmare, living death in the words of one scholar, it was also life. Twelve Years a Slave explains how some men and women refused to be dehumanized by dehumanizing circumstances, creating meaningful relationships and maintaining estimable values in the most difficult of circumstances. Others collapsed before the unrelenting brutality that was the essence of slavery. Northup's narrative tells both stories and historians have declared his harsh truths to be one of the best accounts of slavery.

Through his years of enslavement, Northup never surrendered his desire to reclaim his birthright in freedom. Heart-rending betrayals frustrated his several attempts to escape. Eventually, however, a chance encounter with an eccentric Canadian journeyman carpenter-whose antislavery views were so beyond the conventional wisdom that most white Southerners dismissed them as harmless-informed Northup's wife of his whereabouts. She, in turn, mobilized Northup's friends and local officials to secure his liberty.

In 1853, Northup reunited with his family. His escape from bondage made national news, elevating Northup to celebrity status. With the aid of abolitionist friends, he took to the lecture circuit and a local littérateur helped him pen Twelve Years a Slave, which went through several editions during its first years in print. By 1856, it had sold some 30,000 copies. Although the book enabled Northup to restore his family's prosperity, his fame was fleeting. Attempts to bring his kidnappers to justice foundered in the courts and came to nothing. Northup enjoyed his last years with his family in nearly total anonymity. Nothing is known of when or where he died. But with Twelve Years a Slave, he left his mark for posterity.

ABOUT SOLOMON NORTHUP

Solomon Northup was a free man kidnapped into slavery in Washington, D.C, in 1841. Shortly after his escape, he published his memoirs to great acclaim and brought legal action against his abductors, though they were never prosecuted. The details of his life thereafter are unknown, but he is believed to have died in Glen Falls, New York, around 1863.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  1. Solomon Northup's Twelve Years a Slave was one of some 150 so-called "Slave Narratives" published before the Civil War. Their purpose was to give the white Northerners a first-hand glimpse of slavery and to enlist them in the antislavery crusade. They were both literature and propaganda. What is the essence of Northup's description of Southern slavery?
  2. One of the distinguishing features of Twelve Years a Slave is its specificity. Unlike most slave narratives, Northup did not employ pseudonyms for persons or places and rarely wrote in generalities. Northup also studiously avoided stereotypes: there are good masters and bad; slaves who resist and those who collapse before white power. Northup hoped that this frank portrayal would convince readers of the authenticity of his story. Does it? How does it achieve that aim?
  3. After witnessing the brutalities not only of white masters against enslaved blacks, but also white brutality against other whites, Northup observed, "It is not the fault of the slaveholder that he is cruel, so much as it is the fault of the system under which he lives" (p. 135). Do you think this observation is accurate? Does it seem accurate to state that both whites and enslaved blacks that lived in the South were mutually affected by the system of slavery?
  4. Although Northup says little directly about the struggle against slavery that is preoccupying the nation in the decade before the Civil War, Twelve Years a Slave is one of the most powerful weapons in the antislavery arsenal. What makes it so?
  5. Another distinguishing mark of Twelve Years a Slave is the author's free status. Most of the slave narratives-like that of Frederick Douglass, for example-were written by an author who had been born into slavery. How does Northup's free status shape his narrative? How might it have influenced the book's reception?
  6. How does Northup depict black life in the North?
  7. In the North, free black people lived in fear of kidnappers, who operated with near impunity in almost all Northern cities. Yet, Northup seems impervious to the possibilities that he might be targeted and that the offer to join a circus might be too good to be true. What might have made Northup miss the seemingly obvious danger?
  8. Solomon Northup was a keen observer of human nature. Did his ability to discern people's character build solidarity with his fellow slaves or did his analytic skills to observe how others dealt with the reality of enslavement distance him from the slave community? With what types of men and women did Northup find commonality or comradeship?
  9. Solomon Northup never gave up hope of regaining his freedom and resisted the dehumanization of enslavement in many ways. How did he and other slaves resist slavery?
  10. The family played a critical role in Northup's life in both freedom and slavery. How does his portrayal of black family life shape his narrative and his critique of slavery?
  11. Related to the emphasis on family life is the role played by women, black and white, in Northup's narrative. In fact, females are among the most important characters in Twelve Years a Slave. How do women serve as a measure for the nature of slavery?
  12. Describe the position of women within the slaveholding world. How would you characterize someone like Eliza or Patsy? What are the differences between the experiences of enslaved women and slaveholding mistresses like Mrs. Epps? Are women more or less vulnerable than men to the brutality of a slave society, or is it a different kind of vulnerability altogether? What advantages or disadvantages might enslaved women have over enslaved men?
  13. Northup has a good deal to say about labor. What is his understanding of the nature of work, the development of a work ethic, the relations between employees and employers (in the North) and slave and masters (in the South), and the quality and productivity of labor in both sections?
  14. Music plays a large role in Northup's life. Northup's omnipresent fiddle was a source of empowerment and a symbol of his subordination. What does the fiddle tell us about Northup and African American life in slavery and freedom?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 468 )
Rating Distribution

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(294)

4 Star

(81)

3 Star

(38)

2 Star

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(41)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 468 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 23, 2010

    Highy Recommended- Buy It!

    This book was about the life and Journey of Solomon Northup, who unfortunately was stolen from freedom and made a slave. Born in New York State in 1808 as a free man, he was well educated, learned how to swim (which is very rare to find in an African American at the time) and an exceptional worker. But in 1841 he was kidnapped in Washington D.C. where he was forced to work as a slave for the next twelve years on a Louisiana cotton plantation.

    This book is definitely going on my list of favorite books. It has such a detailed and vivid description of his experience that I almost felt like I was there with him. He incorporates sadness, depression,and death with happiness, excitement, and love. This is sometimes very hard to achieve when writing about slavery but somehow he brought it all together in the best of ways. One of my major "likes" about this book was that he showed a side of slavery that doesn't get recognized all too often; compassion. Solomon made friends with other slaves that stood by him and showed him sympathy whenever he needed it. But the major shocker is that one of his many masters, a man named Ford, treated Solomon with respect and even said that he was better than a white man (Tibeat), right to his face. Thats when I started to adore this book and wanted to keep on reading. My only real "dislike" was that after a while, not much was happening besides him being a slave and going through what they normal experienced, but that did not stop the fact that is was a great book.

    This book gives detailed descriptions of the fear, brutality, and hardships that slaves went through which makes it a must read book because people should know the history of our country and recognize the ones who were there.

    154 out of 166 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 19, 2009

    Refreshing approach

    This book simply tells the story from the perspective of Solomon Northup. He successfully left out any preconceptions, assumptions and told the story from what he actually witnessed, heard, felt and thought. I could not put the book down reading about his feelings and thoughts on this horrific time in his life. A compelling story.

    64 out of 71 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 21, 2000

    The Painful Truth

    I grew up in the 60's and 70's near the area in which Northup was enslaved. I am amazed that such brutality once was accepted, even condoned, so near the peaceful places where I experienced childhood and young adulthood. We have much to learn from his story. I wish that this book had been required reading in our mandatory Junior High Lousiana History class, which typically presented only superficial discussions of slavery in our state.

    57 out of 68 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 29, 2003

    EXTREMELY COMPELLING AND HEART GRABING

    THOUGH I DIDN'T READ THE BOOK......I SAW THE MOVIE ON T.V. FOUR TIMES AND EACH TIME I SAW IT, I'M REMINDED OF THE PAIN AND SUFFERING MY PEOPLE ENDURED JUST SO I CAN FREELY DO THIS ........WRITE A COMMENTARY WITHOUT FEAR. I THANK 'G-D' FOR YOU SALOMAN NORTHUP. YOU HELPED TO KICK DOORS OPEN WITH BARE FEET SO THAT I MAY WALK THROUGH WITH SHOES ON.

    48 out of 124 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 19, 2011

    A fascinating personal history

    I really knew nothing about live as a slave, or even life during that time period. I found the book fascinating and informative. The author is very detailed in his descriptions, so you can easily picture what he is describing. He was a great observer, and even adds some wry humor here and there. Hearing his thoughts as he goes through the different situations really helps you understand what it must have been like. Knowing that it is a true story makes it all the more compelling. It gave insight into lots of questions I had about life as a slave- how aware of their situation were they, why didn't they just escape, what kinds of freedoms did they really have, were all owners cruel, how could otherwise good people own slaves, what happened when slaves were smarter than their masters, how did they cope with families being separated? I really enjoyed the book and would highly recommend it. One thing I would like to know - did any of the author's former owners eve read the book, and what did they think?

    40 out of 44 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 7, 2013

    Remarkable, moving, painful

    The story was presented in a moving way.
    I had no idea that free men were kidnapped and taken as slaves
    Everyone should read this book

    28 out of 33 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 28, 2008

    A reviewer

    The story of Solomon Northup's life, as a free man, a slave and then his struggle for justice against his kidnapper's, is a horrifying and detailed narrative. Unfortunately, his story is similar to other African Americans during this period of history. His strong will to fight, literally against a particular master, at any cost demonstrates his desire to take a stand against wrong doers. An attempt to make more money for his family cost him twelve years of freedom, pain and enslavement. I could not stop reading this book after I started. His words are realistically descriptive and brings the reader into the pages of the book.

    25 out of 29 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 18, 2011

    Fiction disguised

    This is the worst fiction disguised as history I have ever seen. Many of the atrocities as described did happen and leave their scars on the souls of decent men. BUT, in spite of an apparent skill at writing, there is just too much exaggeration to be credible. Some "whippings", described as "500 lashes" or even more, are too much a stretch of imagination. (Even for today's politicians) The poor man's back would, long ago, be stripped to the bone, and the hours of whipping would have to been done by a machine!

    24 out of 158 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 2, 2014

    I've known of this story for many years. Not only bc it's depict

    I've known of this story for many years. Not only bc it's depicting our history, but it's depicting my family's history. I'm Solomon Northup's 4x's great granddaughter, and I can't tell how completely proud and honored I am that my grandfather's story is getting so much recognition. The movie brought light to the book, which I'm so thrilled to see. The book is now being distributed to many schools. My family's history is making history. And I am so absolutely honored to be of the blood of this strong and intelligent man. The book is well written and the story is well detailed. If you've seen the movie, please read the book!

    23 out of 23 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 20, 2011

    A Must Read! I couldn't put it down!

    This is an amaedzing true story of Solomon Northup who was born in the free state of New York. People befriended him and he is taken to Washington, DC under false prentences. He is kidnapped and sent to Louisiana to the cotton plantations. How Solomon kept the faith and endured one can only believe he was made up of a fabric of his fore fathers. He knew how to make the most of interacting with the other slaves and the plantation owners. Solomon Northup wasn't freed until after 12 years. This book should be manaditory reading for every school.

    21 out of 26 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 17, 2008

    A Must Read Book

    I have read about 6 books dealing with slavery such as Booker T. Washington, H. Tubman, and F. Douglas,and I must say that I have enjoyed this title the best. Solomen gives an inside experience of slavery that I never knew existed.

    14 out of 17 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 16, 2013

    I'm not much of a reader. I haven't read a book since elementary

    I'm not much of a reader. I haven't read a book since elementary school; I'm 25 now. Believe me when I tell you I couldn't put this book down. I created a Barnes and Noble account solely to post this review. I highly recommend this book!!! It is a must read!!!

    13 out of 14 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 27, 2013

    OMG

    THE SAMPLE IS ONLY THE TABLE OF CONTENTS

    12 out of 34 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 3, 2011

    Recommend

    Powerful auto-biography! Was very well-written.

    10 out of 15 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 19, 2013

    I Also Recommend:

    This book is an amazing account of Solomon Northup¿s 12 years as

    This book is an amazing account of Solomon Northup’s 12 years as a slave. Solomon was born a free man but was kidnapped and tricked into slavery and spent the next 12 years as a slave on a Louisiana plantation. Solomon was well educated and it shows in his writing. I give this book my highest praise.

    8 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 1, 2013

    Highly Recommended - Must Read for all Americans

    This artfully written masterpiece is raw in its honesty and disturbingly revealing about America's tragic history.

    8 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 27, 2012

    Terrible

    You get so lost in the begginging . It uses weird words tht you cant find the definintion to.

    8 out of 80 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 13, 2001

    A painful, enraging read in American and Louisiana history...

    This is the story of Solomon Northup, in his own words, a citizen of New York kidnapped in 1841 and taken to Louisiana as a slave, where he was found twelve years later on a cotton plantation near the Red River. It is a story that will break your heart as Solomon was torn away from his family for over a decade. According to a quote from 1853, when Solomon first published his memoirs, 'Think of it: For thirty years a man, with all a man's hopes, fears and aspirations--with a wife and children to call him by the endearing names of husband and father--with a home, humble it may be, but still a home...then for twelve years a thing, a chattel personal, classed with mules and horses. ...Oh! it is horrible. It chills the blood to think that such are.' And indeed, this story will both chill--and boil--your blood.

    8 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 3, 2014

    Reviews

    Why do people need to use this site as social media and nothing to do with book reviews.... does not help in reviewing the book.

    7 out of 17 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 4, 2000

    Twelve years a slave

    I thought the story was compelling and it was not hard for me to believe considering my parents are both from Louisanna. Have heard so many of these stories.

    5 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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