The Haitian Revolution began in the French Caribbean colony of Saint-Domingue with a slave revolt in August 1791, and culminated a dozen years later in the proclamation of the world's first independent black state. After the abolition of slavery in 1793, Toussaint Louverture, himself a former slave, became the leader of the colony's black population, the commander of its republican army and eventually its governor. During the course of his extraordinary life he confronted some of the dominant forces of his age - slavery, settler colonialism, imperialism and racial hierarchy. Treacherously seized by Napoleon's invading army in 1802, this charismatic figure ended his days, in Wordsworth's phrase, 'the most unhappy man of men', imprisoned in a fortress in France.
Author Sudhir Hazareesingh was born in Mauritius, is a Fellow of the British Academy and has been a Fellow and Tutor in Politics at Balliol College, Oxford, since 1990.
Previous writings include The Legend of Napoleon, In the Shadow of the General and How the French Think. Hazareesingh has also won a multitude of presitigious awards for his work - the Prix du Mémorial d'Ajaccio and the Prix de la Fondation Napoléon , a Prix d'Histoire du Sénatthe Grand Prix du Livre d'Idées. In 2020, he became a Grand Commander of the Order of the Star and Key of the Indian Ocean (G.C.S.K.), the highest honour of the Republic of Mauritius.
I like to think I'm very knowledgeable about history - I read a lot of history books, and insist on traipsing around every available museum when on holiday - and yet I'm more than happy to accept that there are substantial gaps in my knowledge - in part because of my general interests, and in part because of what we were taught at school and University etc.
I had heard the name of Toussaint Louverture before, but knew little of the man - which is a huge shame. I hope that, with the renewed interest in Alexander Hamilton we've seen over the last few years, we may see the same of Toussaint Louverture - a man with just as fascinating a tale, and whose life should be remembered as a brave, bold and publically minded fight for justice and equality.
Author Sudhir Hazareesingh has written a number of history books relating to French figures (or figures associated with France), and as such has clearly found the recipe for a hugely enjoyable history book - blending clear fact with precise prose and a narrative that, due to the true tales many twist, turns, double crosses and betrayals, allows the reader to be fully swept up in this brilliantly recreatd journey.
Whilst Louverture's demise is, ultimately, rather a sad one, his life is such a blazingly brilliant one, it's impossible not to leave this book feeling awe inspired by a man who fought to bring around change almost 250 years ago. From Slave to Statesman - 'Black Spartacus' is a title that suits the brilliant Louverture very well indeed.
I highly recommend this book, and I hope it does very well in the Wolfson History Prize indeed - it's a fascinating portrayal of a hero, a statesman, and a true inspiration.