A tale skillfully teased out of the vaults and made vivid by an artful narrative.

THE BLACK JOKE

THE TRUE STORY OF ONE SHIP'S BATTLE AGAINST THE SLAVE TRADE

An archival deep dive into the last days of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

Polymath Rooks, a two-time Jeopardy! champion who has degrees in theater, law, and library science, turns her prodigious research skills to what amounts to a historical footnote to hundreds of years of human misery—though this footnote is well worth a close look. Toward the end of Britain’s involvement in the slave trade, during which the nation “shipped approximately 3.1 million enslaved Africans to ports scattered throughout the Americas,” the Admiralty allowed British seafarers to seize slave ships and return their human cargo to Freetown, in Sierra Leone. If the captain of the slave ship were convicted, the ships became booty, and the enslaved people aboard would be freed. Rooks looks closely at one ship, the Henriqueta, which had brought thousands of enslaved people to Brazil. Seized in midjourney, the fast-running ship became the Black Joke, with a taunt in its very name, which went on to seize another dozen slave ships in its time. This was perilous work, as Rooks shows, involving dangerous weapons and disease, and freedom in Sierra Leone wasn’t really freedom at all. “The newly liberated Africans became British,” she writes, “whether they wanted to or not, and the adults were given three options—they could become ‘free apprentices in the West Indies,’ join a segregated regiment of troops, or settle on one of the estates bordering Freetown.” In any instance, the people were still in servitude, whether fighting Britain’s wars or harvesting sugar cane in the Caribbean. Rooks lauds the anti-slavery sentiments of the British sailors, albeit driven by self-interest, for exhibiting the “political will to do the right, hard thing,” though it took decades for Britain to take full account and make restitution.

A tale skillfully teased out of the vaults and made vivid by an artful narrative.

Pub Date: Jan. 18, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-982128-26-5

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2022

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A concise personal and scholarly history that avoids academic jargon as it illuminates emotional truths.

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ON JUNETEENTH

The Harvard historian and Texas native demonstrates what the holiday means to her and to the rest of the nation.

Initially celebrated primarily by Black Texans, Juneteenth refers to June 19, 1865, when a Union general arrived in Galveston to proclaim the end of slavery with the defeat of the Confederacy. If only history were that simple. In her latest, Gordon-Reed, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, and numerous other honors, describes how Whites raged and committed violence against celebratory Blacks as racism in Texas and across the country continued to spread through segregation, Jim Crow laws, and separate-but-equal rationalizations. As Gordon-Reed amply shows in this smooth combination of memoir, essay, and history, such racism is by no means a thing of the past, even as Juneteenth has come to be celebrated by all of Texas and throughout the U.S. The Galveston announcement, notes the author, came well after the Emancipation Proclamation but before the ratification of the 13th Amendment. Though Gordon-Reed writes fondly of her native state, especially the strong familial ties and sense of community, she acknowledges her challenges as a woman of color in a state where “the image of Texas has a gender and a race: “Texas is a White man.” The author astutely explores “what that means for everyone who lives in Texas and is not a White man.” With all of its diversity and geographic expanse, Texas also has a singular history—as part of Mexico, as its own republic from 1836 to 1846, and as a place that “has connections to people of African descent that go back centuries.” All of this provides context for the uniqueness of this historical moment, which Gordon-Reed explores with her characteristic rigor and insight.

A concise personal and scholarly history that avoids academic jargon as it illuminates emotional truths.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-63149-883-1

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: Feb. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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A rousing, suspenseful adventure tale.

MADHOUSE AT THE END OF THE EARTH

THE BELGICA'S JOURNEY INTO THE DARK ANTARCTIC NIGHT

A harrowing expedition to Antarctica, recounted by Departures senior features editor Sancton, who has reported from every continent on the planet.

On Aug. 16, 1897, the steam whaler Belgica set off from Belgium with young  Adrien de Gerlache as commandant. Thus begins Sancton’s riveting history of exploration, ingenuity, and survival. The commandant’s inexperienced, often unruly crew, half non-Belgian, included scientists, a rookie engineer, and first mate Roald Amundsen, who would later become a celebrated polar explorer. After loading a half ton of explosive tonite, the ship set sail with 23 crew members and two cats. In Rio de Janeiro, they were joined by Dr. Frederick Cook, a young, shameless huckster who had accompanied Robert Peary as a surgeon and ethnologist on an expedition to northern Greenland. In Punta Arenas, four seamen were removed for insubordination, and rats snuck onboard. In Tierra del Fuego, the ship ran aground for a while. Sancton evokes a calm anxiety as he chronicles the ship’s journey south. On Jan. 19, 1898, near the South Shetland Islands, the crew spotted the first icebergs. Rough waves swept someone overboard. Days later, they saw Antarctica in the distance. Glory was “finally within reach.” The author describes the discovery and naming of new lands and the work of the scientists gathering specimens. The ship continued through a perilous, ice-littered sea, as the commandant was anxious to reach a record-setting latitude. On March 6, the Belgica became icebound. The crew did everything they could to prepare for a dark, below-freezing winter, but they were wracked with despair, suffering headaches, insomnia, dizziness, and later, madness—all vividly capture by Sancton. The sun returned on July 22, and by March 1899, they were able to escape the ice. With a cast of intriguing characters and drama galore, this history reads like fiction and will thrill fans of Endurance and In the Kingdom of Ice.

A rousing, suspenseful adventure tale.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-984824-33-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 30, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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