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Saturday, May 17, 2014

Twelve Years A Slave: A Book Review

Twelve Years a SlaveTwelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you have watched the movie, Twelve Years a Slave, then you should read this book. If you have not watched the movie, Twelve Years a Slave, then you definitely need to read this book. The book is an as-told-to story by Solomon Northup, a man who was born, raised and living in New York state. As Northup tells the story, he was conned into traveling to Washington D.C. where he was drugged, kidnapped and sold into slavery in the deep South in 1840. He spent 12 years as a slave before he was able to send information of his whereabouts to friends who traveled south and freed him. .

The book shares the experience of one man as a slave and all the horrors that he faced. Married with children before the kidnapping, Northup suffered as no person should be made to suffer. He was whipped, beaten and almost hung. His skills as violin player and his intelligence kept him alive through these difficult, almost unbearable times. He was also forced to whip other slaves.

The book was written by David Wilson who served as Northup's ghost writer. It followed in the footsteps of the publishing success of Uncle Tom's Cabin and was used by the abolition forces to further their cause. After Northup's release from slavery, he traveled around the north giving anti-slavery speeches and may have been involved in the Underground Railroad, though, there is no evidence to support this. Published in 1853, the book was an instant success with 8,000 copies being sold in the first month. The book went out of print in 1856 and remained out of print until 1968.

Along side the amazing story of Solomon Northup is the fascinating story of Sue Lyles Eakin and the work she did to bring the book to the attention of American readers in the 20th and 21st centuries. Sue Eakin discovered an original copy of the book in a plantation home near where Northup was a slave when she was 12 years old. Northup's story became her life's passion. Dr. Eakin wrote her master's thesis about Northup's story and after decades of research produced the first authenticated edition in 1968. She continued to spend her life verifying, validating and substantiating the story through thousands of hours of research. In 2007, at the age of 88, she completed her final definitive edition with over 100 pages of new information, images and maps. In her spare time, she authored over a dozen other history books and was a history professor.

One of the fascinating facts that I learned in this book was that in 1840 New York state passed a law authorizing the governor the authority to seek the release of free people who were sold into slavery. This law is what the friends of Solomon Northup used to travel to Louisiana and secure his release.

Amazon lists more than 30 different editions of this book. I would recommend you purchase this edition by Dr. Sue Eakin which contains all her documentation and verification of the facts in the story.

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