Black Spartacus: The Epic Life of Toussaint Louverture

Black Spartacus: The Epic Life of Toussaint Louverture

by Sudhir Hazareesingh

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Overview

Shortlisted for the Baillie Gifford Prize | Finalist for the PEN / Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography
Named a best book of the year by the The Economist | Times Literary Supplement | New Statesman

Black Spartacus is a tour de force: by far the most complete, authoritative and persuasive biography of Toussaint that we are likely to have for a long time . . . An extraordinarily gripping read.” —David A. Bell, The Guardian


A new interpretation of the life of the Haitian revolutionary Toussaint Louverture

Among the defining figures of the Age of Revolution, Toussaint Louverture is the most enigmatic. Though the Haitian revolutionary’s image has multiplied across the globe—appearing on banknotes and in bronze, on T-shirts and in film—the only definitive portrait executed in his lifetime has been lost. Well versed in the work of everyone from Machiavelli to Rousseau, he was nonetheless dismissed by Thomas Jefferson as a “cannibal.” A Caribbean acolyte of the European Enlightenment, Toussaint nurtured a class of black Catholic clergymen who became one of the pillars of his rule, while his supporters also believed he communicated with vodou spirits. And for a leader who once summed up his modus operandi with the phrase “Say little but do as much as possible,” he was a prolific and indefatigable correspondent, famous for exhausting the five secretaries he maintained, simultaneously, at the height of his power in the 1790s.

Employing groundbreaking archival research and a keen interpretive lens, Sudhir Hazareesingh restores Toussaint to his full complexity in Black Spartacus. At a time when his subject has, variously, been reduced to little more than a one-dimensional icon of liberation or criticized for his personal failings—his white mistresses, his early ownership of slaves, his authoritarianism —Hazareesingh proposes a new conception of Toussaint’s understanding of himself and his role in the Atlantic world of the late eighteenth century. Black Spartacus is a work of both biography and intellectual history, rich with insights into Toussaint’s fundamental hybridity—his ability to unite European, African, and Caribbean traditions in the service of his revolutionary aims. Hazareesingh offers a new and resonant interpretation of Toussaint’s racial politics, showing how he used Enlightenment ideas to argue for the equal dignity of all human beings while simultaneously insisting on his own world-historical importance and the universal pertinence of blackness—a message which chimed particularly powerfully among African Americans.

Ultimately, Black Spartacus offers a vigorous argument in favor of “getting back to Toussaint”—a call to take Haiti’s founding father seriously on his own terms, and to honor his role in shaping the postcolonial world to come.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780374112660
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date: 09/01/2020
Pages: 464
Sales rank: 48,604
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.60(d)

About the Author

Sudhir Hazareesingh was born in Mauritius. He is a Fellow of the British Academy and has been a Fellow and Tutor in Politics at Balliol College, Oxford, since 1990. He has written extensively about French intellectual and cultural history, and among his books are The Legend of Napoleon, In the Shadow of the General and How the French Think. He won the Prix du Mémorial d'Ajaccio and the Prix de la Fondation Napoléon for the first of these, a Prix d'Histoire du Sénat for the second, and the Grand Prix du Livre d'Idées for the third.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations ix

Acknowledgements xv

Chronology xix

Glossary xxv

Maps xxvii

Introduction: The Originality of Toussaint Louverture 1

Part 1 A Revolutionary is Born

1 The Soul of a Free Man 19

2 The Gates of Destiny 41

3 Brave Republican Warriors 68

Part 2 The Making of the Louverturian Order

4 A Single Family of Friends and Brothers 99

5 The Agent is Unwell 117

6 Virtuous Citizens 155

Part 3 Toussaint in Power

7 Great Latitude 185

8 No Time to Lose 212

9 In the Region of Eagles 237

Part 4 The Leader and his Myth

10 Rapid and Uncertain Movements 267

11 The Tree of Black Liberty 296

12 A Universal Hero 327

Conclusion: An Inspiration for Our Times 359

Notes 371

Index 413

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