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The Wheelwright’s Shop Cambridge University Press George Sturt

16th January 2013 History Books 34 Comments

George Sturt’s frank and moving account of his trade as a wheelwright in the late nineteenth century offers a unique glimpse into the working lives of craftsmen in a world since banished by technology. The wheelwright’s shop where he entered business had been operating for two centuries; this chronicle, first published in 1923, is a poignant record of that tradition, written as it was passing into history. E. P. Thompson’s new foreword acclaims the significance of Sturt’s engaging narrative as a vital document in the history of labour at the turn of the century.

‘ … a classic … Mr Sturt’s masterpiece. A delightfully urbane and informing book, full of valuable material for the social historian and a sheer pleasure to read.’ New Statesman

‘It shows in the author a combination of the gifts of a handicraftsman, the actual maker of things, with the powers of a writer, in a way not common in English literature.’ The Times Literary Supplement

George Sturt’s frank and moving account of his trade as a wheelwright in the late nineteenth century offers a unique glimpse into the working lives of craftsmen in a world since banished by technology.

‘ … a classic … Mr Sturt’s masterpiece. A delightfully urbane and informing book, full of valuable material for the social historian and a sheer pleasure to read.’ New Statesman

‘It shows in the author a combination of the gifts of a handicraftsman, the actual maker of things, with the powers of a writer, in a way not common in English literature.’ The Times Literary Supplement

The Wheelwright’s Shop

  • 34 responses to "The Wheelwright’s Shop Cambridge University Press George Sturt"

  • Chadwick
    7:51 on January 16th, 2013
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    This book Tells A lot about life in A small town in England in the late 19th century along with mecanical information about wagons and farm tools…

  • Mike G.
    9:31 on January 16th, 2013
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    This is one of the most inspiring books I have ever read. Hochschild tells an important story very powerfully and with great feeling and humanity. And he has some facinating heroes and villains, because this is a tale of human beings at our very best and at our very worst.

    Hochschild shows us the developing moral insight of abolitionist leaders like Thomas Clarkson, Granville Sharpe and the Quakers, who somehow understood something early on that was unclear to many Britons: that slavery was evil. He also limns the amazing life of Olaudah Equiano, who knew slavery from personal experience, and shows how a small group was able to move millions of people its cause–and even get hundreds of thousands to give up sugar in their tea.

    Also–and very importantly–Hochschild shows how eventual emancipation was not a gift from European and American humanitarians, but at least partially the result of a long struggle in the slave colonies by the slaves themselves, generations of whom proved willing, again and again, to die for their freedom. It is interesting that the slave revolts in the West Indies were often a setback in public opinion for the British abolitionists: apparently it was easier to accept the idea that slavery was evil than it was to get to the idea that slaves have an inherent right of armed resistance.

    Meticulous and detailed research and a passionate yet thoughtful writing style are great strengths of this book. Hard to put down, and hard to stop thinking about even months after finishing it.

  • St Patrick
    10:20 on January 16th, 2013
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    If you wanted to sit down with a wheelwright from a couple hundred years ago and keep your mouth shut and listen to every bit of wisdom he had to impart … that’s what this book is about. Read (listen) to non-rocket science about what makes a wheel work and how to either make or not make dumb mistakes.
    Valuable information about general wood working that applies not only to wheels.
    Or if you’re a history buff, how wooden wheels once fit into everyday life.

  • eeofne
    13:08 on January 16th, 2013
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    The Wheelwright’s Shop
    This book can be read from different perspectives. The description of village life in England; a perspective of the work ethics and practices of turn of the century craftsmen, and the description of blacksmithing and the construction of a simple wagon. Taken together or separately, I think this is a fine book.

  • Jessica Gerald
    17:03 on January 16th, 2013
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    Bury the Chains recounts the story of the struggle for abolition in the British Empire. Author Adam Hochschild, concentrates on the fifty-year period leading up to the eventual emancipation throughout the British possessions in 1838. Hochschild’s recent work King Leopold’s Ghost also covered the topic of indigenous peoples oppressed by imperialist Europeans.

    Starting in 1787 the work covers the efforts of a group of 12 men and those they inspired to work towards the abolition of the Slave Trade. During this time, Parliament was always a step behind popular opinion, which grew increasingly more anti-slavery with each passing year. It was not until Parliament itself was reformed in the 1830s that the necessary legislation could be passed to reflect the sentiment of the nation.

    The book highlights many of the activists whose names have become footnotes to History. Olaudah Equiano was a freed slave who worked all his life to better the plight of Africans. His autobiography was a bestseller in its day and helped to spread the idea that Blacks could succeed as freemen. Granville Sharp, a musician, used his vast family connections to keep the issue in the public eye for decades. James Somerset sought his freedom in a landmark trial in 1772, which declared that all slaves were free once they came to England. An Anglican minister, Thomas Clarkson, worked for decades with politician William Wilberforce to show the evils of the slave trade.

    Anti-Slavery activists created a public relations campaign that would seem right at home to the modern reader. Buttons, pins, posters, book tour, and other PR techniques were employed to win over the minds of the population. Clarkson developed a display of the shackles used by owners and toured through England and Scotland. The `Middle Passage’ route, which carried slaves to their new homes in the West Indies, was made infamous by diagrams showing the crowded holds and high death rates.

    The struggle had many success and as many, or more, failures. A model colony was set up in Africa to demonstrate the economic advantages to be gained by exploitation of the land and not the people. The climate and soil proved inhospitable to the European crops and the local tribes were hostile to efforts that would damage their trade with the Europeans. In the end, many of the colonists were reduced to working for the slave traders to avoid starvation.

    The French Revolution seemed to offer the promise of freedom to those in bondage in French colonies. Many of the early supporters of the French Revolution felt it to be a decisive turning point in the Abolition movement. Within a few years, however, French Slave ships sailed again with ironic names like “Fraternite”, “Egalite”, and “Liberte”. Napoleon’s forces put down a slave revolt lead by Toussaint L’Ouverture but were forced eventually to withdraw his troops from the Island of St. Domingue. The loss of the island was a factor influencing Napoleon to sell the Louisiana Territory to Thomas Jefferson.

    It was not until 1807 that the slave trade itself was banned by Parliament. It took another thirty years of work by the abolitionist movement, as well as reform of the electorate, before slaves in the West Indies were freed. By the time of emancipation, only one of the original twelve who started the movement was alive.

    Created as a popular history, Bury the Chains is well written and fascinating. The general reader will find it to contain a good narrative filled with interesting events and memorable characters. The academic user will find the lack of footnotes in the text dismaying but all quotes and sources are well documented at the end of the book. The author uses both primary and secondary sources especially recent works such as journal articles and collections of primary documents. This book tells a remarkable story and it tells it remarkably well.

  • Julia
    17:19 on January 16th, 2013
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    Actually, what a small group of good people can accomplish is inconsequential to what a small group of bad people can implement. Yet, a movement began by disenfranchised Friends spawned a movement that in fifty years rendered the obivious system of slavery illegal in the lands controlled by Great Britain. The Friends were not alone, of course in their endeavors. International upheavals,economics and plain hard work on the part of countless individuals accomplished the seemingly impossible going against wealth, power, and organized religion to seemingly win the war against slavery. Yet, when a czar spoke adamantly against slavery, while holding millions of peasants in economic jeopardy and while the rich still hold millions in like bondage, the fight has obviously not been won. Slavery still exists the old fashioned way in some favored countries. It should be pointed out that even most of the freedom campaigners had little intention of sharing their God given wealth with their inferiors…and the trend continues today. Where are the Friends when we really need them? But, anyhow, this is an important book on the history of slavery which deserves to be added to high school, public, and academic libraries. Readers may also be interested in Slavery and the Making of America by Lois E. Hinton, Negro President by Garry Wills, and Slaves in the Family by Edward Ball.

  • takke
    19:14 on January 16th, 2013
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    This is great example of how history can be written and made to seem like a novel at the same time. And not just any novel, a great novel. In many ways this reads like a Dicken’s novel. We have noble people involved in a noble cause; evil people out for themselves and to destroy the noble cause.

    Hochschild, has a way of presenting people from a totally different age and time, as if they were your peers. His detailed discussions of the everyday tribulations that the characters went through, adds a multilayered understanding of not just what they wanted to accomplish but how inventive they were about doing it.

  • Tianyin
    21:57 on January 16th, 2013
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    This book just proves that one is never too old to learn. Who would have thought it — Britian had slaves in the 1780s. Three hundred thousand Britons were encouraged to boycott the sugar produced by Caribbean slaves. Wow, we thought that abomination was an American fallacy. It took a generation for New England to get involved and even longer for Quaker Philadelphia.

    There were Quakers in England. In 1787, Thomas Clarkson held a meeting of Christians in his London shop to protest slavery. Over the next half century, this group termed as ‘rebels’ and others recruited for the causes which alerted the British public to the horrors of slavery’s consequences.

    It was the first successful mass protest in history and contributed support for other revolts around the world. Emphasizing the personal suffering on which the institution of slavery was built, they ignited the “do-gooders” to feel guilt as if the slaves who produced their favorite products were their own. By buying such products, they were accepting and approving the practice of denying freedom to black people who were treated as sub-humans by their masters and their foreman. The slaves used religious services and spirituals to promote revolution against their status in life in 1838 in Britain.

    Written by a historian who admired the rebels but disliked the religious aspect in the protestors’ convictions which led to the creation of this abolitionist crusade against slavery everywhere. The British led the way after they lost the American Revolution. It took the atrocious Civil War to stir up the attention of the American public. He has written HALF WAY HOME, KING LEOPOLD’S GHOST, and RUSSIANS REMEMBER STALIN.

  • Matunos
    23:05 on January 16th, 2013
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    Early in 2005, Houghton Mifflin published Adam Hochschild’s latest book, Bury the Chains, in which the author documents the amazing accomplishments of a committee of twelve men who decided in 1787 to stop English slave trading. They not only ended slave trading, in 1838 they also abolished human bondage in the British Empire. The title of the book refers to the symbolic burying of chains and whips in Jamaica in 1838, after slavery was eradicated.

    Hochschild believes the British abolitionists he documented in his book can provide inspiration for people today. He wrote, “Their passion and optimism are still contagious and still relevant to our times, when, in so many parts of the world, equal rights for all men and women seem far distant.”

    After reading Bury the Chains, I agree with the author, and I suspect you will also.

    The struggle described in the book reminds me of the biblical story of David and Goliath. “David” represents the twelve men dedicated to stopping slavery during a period when various forms of it were so extensive. In 1787 only one fourth of the world’s population had even limited freedom. “Goliath” represents the leaders of the English government who benefited financially from the slave trade and did not want to give it up. Instead of slingshot and stones, “David” used petition drives, mass propaganda, and lobbying to end British involvement in slave trafficking.

    This book illustrates how a few dedicated individuals can make a dramatic difference in the world. I found it difficult to lay the book down because I kept wondering how so few men could accomplish so much.

    The author explained why abolitionists were more effective in England than in other parts of the world. The following are a few of the characteristics of life in England in the last few years of the 18th century that contributed to their effectiveness:

    · Reading and debating were very popular in England, so it was possible to get people involved in learning about and discussing the topic of slave trading.

    · The well-maintained roads and excellent postal system made it easy to send or take messages quickly to any place in England and facilitated activities such as petition drives.

    · The Quakers throughout England dedicated themselves to ending slavery and contributed money and a countrywide network of committed men and women to the cause.

    The author described some of the ways the twelve members contributed to the committee. Nine of the twelve men were Quakers who believed that all people, regardless of race, had a divine spark inside them and were equal in the eyes of God. At the time most people thought blacks inferior to whites. The Quakers beliefs led them to establish Britain’s first antislavery society.

    The nine Quakers had little success with their antislavery efforts until three Anglican evangelists joined them and they established the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. The three new members contributed unique talents.

    Granville Sharp, a lawyer, had already been involved with trying to stop slavery for twenty years. He provided the group with experience and helped them with legal matters.

    William Wilberforce, an eloquent member of the British Parliament, presented the committee’s case before Parliament every year until it was accepted.

    Thomas Clarkson, an indefatigable Cambridge divinity graduate, devoted himself to the Society for over 50 years. Clarkson, skilled in mass organization, started petition drives, direct mailings, newsletters, boycotts, legal test cases and lobbying in an attempt to pressure the British to stop slave trafficking.

    Within five years of the creation of the Society, more than 300,000 Britons refused to eat the major slave-grown product, which was sugar from sugarcane plantations in the Caribbean. Even London’s society leaders wore antislavery badges.

    In addition to the committee members, other men and women contributed to the cause. John Newton, a former slave ship captain famous for writing the song Amazing Grace, helped to document the brutality of the inhumane trade.

    Olaudah Equiano, a former slave, wrote a book about his experiences as a slave. His book helped the citizens of Britain recognize he was a human, just like them, and not the sub human the slavery industry claimed.

    In 1807 the British Parliament abolished slave trading and the British began forcing other European nations to give up the trade as well.

    Clarkson and his associates assumed that ending the slave trafficking would lead to the freeing of all beings. When this didn’t happen, Clarkson helped form the British Anti-Slavery Society, which at first advocated gradual abolition. When planters in the Caribbean refused to make concessions, abolitionists began demanding immediate emancipation. This pressure and continuing slave unrest led Parliament to pass the Emancipation Act in 1833. By 1838 all slaves in the British Empire were set free.

    This book is instructive and inspiring. Instructive because it documents the holocaust the Caribbean slaves experienced. Inspiring because it shows that small groups of motivated people can be an incredible influence for good. This story of the twelve men who helped to peacefully eradicate slavery in the British Empire, decades before it was ended in the United States, is truly inspiring.

  • Rachel J Hall
    0:37 on January 17th, 2013
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    I found this book very fascinating. It explains how wagon and buggy wheels were made before modern tools were available. It talks about what the wheelwright looked for when buying wood and some of the techniques used to construct the wheels.

  • MccallSidney
    2:53 on January 17th, 2013
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    Beginning in 1555 and lasting for 350 years, the British empire bought, sold, and enslaved about 11 million African people. This required some 35,000 voyages along the so-called triangular trade route: buying slaves from African slave traders along the continent’s west coast, depositing their human cargo mainly in the Caribbean to work on Britain’s sugar plantations but also to ports from Quebec to Chile, and then returning to England with imports for the empire. At the end of the 18th century slavery was hardly unusual; it was the rule for most peoples and places on earth. What was unusual was that in the space of about fifty years Britain outlawed the slave trade, and then a while later slavery itself (abolition was one thing, genuine emancipation another).

    How did the unthinkable happen? How did an economic system that was so deeply embedded, so profitable, and so taken for granted as normal by almost everyone, disappear so swiftly? Hochschild describes the abolition movement as “one of the most ambitious and brilliantly organized citizens’s movements of all time.” Many of the political means that we enjoy today were perfected back then– investigative journalism into the real conditions of slave life, sugar boycotts, 519 petitions to the British parliament with 390,000 signatures, public debates, media campaigns, and every day activism. Progressive women’s groups far ahead of their time, missionaries (despised by the plantation owners), British evangelicals, Methodists, and especially the culturally marginal Quakers all provided principled moral argument. The herculean efforts of Thomas Clarkson, the parliamentary leadership of William Wilberforce, and the legal advocacy of the eccentric Granville Sharp were essential.

    But Hochschild is careful to avoid the paternalism of self-congratulatory, aristocratic benevolence. After all, when all was said and done, it was the slave-owning planters who were reimbursed for their “losses” by the British government and not the slaves. Whenever possible he allows the slaves to speak for themselves, like the remarkable Olaudah Equiano, whose 500-page best-selling autobiography Interesting Narrative provided a first person narrative of what is still considered the best account of slave life (and is still available today); and Quobna Ottobah Cugoano’s Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil and Wicked Traffic of the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species. He describes at great length the numerous slave revolts in which fearless and skilled leaders like Toussaint L’Overture led slaves to free themselves and force the British to face reality, however reluctant they were to do so. In these violent and vicious revolts the most beleaguered people on earth defeated the world’s two greatest military powers, France and Britain, in Haiti and Jamaica.

    Bury the Chains joins Hochschild’s previous book King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa (1999) about Belgium’s plunder of the Congo. The stories are depressing but inspiring, for however dark these histories, however deep our national complicity, the narratives remind us that we are nor fated to accept injustice to our fellow human beings. Whether in Iraq or Darfur, whether with malaria or HIV-AIDS, the abolition of slavery reminds us that effective movements of genuine social justice are possible.

  • Jay Joseph
    4:48 on January 17th, 2013
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    well written and informative, this is a great and factual account of the freedom of slaves. Mr Hochschild’s “King Leopold’s Ghost” was a great preceding novel for this great work.

  • SkeeterVT
    5:00 on January 17th, 2013
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    Was a bit worried that this book would be too academic and dry, but was rewarded with a fantastic historical tour of one of the key turning points in human progress. The determination of the key abolitionists to overcome the maddening spin of the status quo powerbrokers of the day – is a key plot line substantiated by the author. In fact it seems that that were pioneers of many of the core advocacy and and polical tactics still used today. Read this fairly hefty book in less than 12 hours; it was so absorbing.

  • Roger Dodger
    8:08 on January 17th, 2013
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    I enjoyed this book as it gives a look at a 19th century wheel and cart building business. The author writes clearly and I was kept fascinated at how wheels and carts were made fully by hand. The craftsmanship needed was impressive. A good read.

  • Wyatt Junker
    8:43 on January 17th, 2013
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    Hochschild tells the story of how a small group of Quakers, Anglicans and Methodists brought about the end of the slave trade. It is a story of enormous moral courage against an accepted, and economically powerful interest, and also the story of great organizational skill. The product boycotts, public opinion campaigns, demonstrations and political pressure that the campaigners invented at the end of the eighteenth century are still the mainstays of civil society. It is a wonderful irony that Napoleon’s reintroduction of slavery in the French empire was the final, clinching argument for its abolition in the English one.

  • Jim Morrison
    10:50 on January 17th, 2013
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    Hochschild has written a compelling, provocative book that I heartily enjoyed. In addition to good narratives and compelling anecdotes, he shines as he tries to make the social conventions and economic realities of the time period comprehensible today.
    Mr. Hochschild is of the opinion that Wilberforce has received way too much credit for what was in reality a broad-based, complex movement of many decades. I have no problem with this and I respect his research and credentials. But he does seem to have an ax to grind with Christianity. No, I am not someone naive enough to hold that Christians can do/ have not done any wrong. But while Hochschild sometimes go to great lengths to make the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries comprehensible, he does not make this same effort for the Christians of that era.
    Most notably, he singles out John Newton, author of Amazing Grace, for withering commentary. While I am not here to defend John Newton or assert he had no blind spots (like so many people of his day), I do think Mr. Hochschild trashes him unfairly. Christianity is not an instantaneous transformation but a lifelong process. The fact that John Newton left the slave trade, became a pastor but did not become a leader in the abolition movement somehow is incomprehensible to the author who infers that Newton’s religion was a blind and hypocritical sham. This is most glaring sore point in an otherwise wonderful book that I am very glad to have read.

  • Roy Maloney
    14:05 on January 17th, 2013
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    I quite enjoyed this, until, after reading it, I went online and searched for more information … and found the complete book, scanned in … and realized that I had been sold an abridged version, that left out half of the content!

    I don’t mind spending $40 for a book…but I really dislike getting an overly slim volume, and NOWHERE being told ahead of time that it’s had material missing. Shame on Amazon and shame on Obscure Press.

  • twitterror
    16:04 on January 17th, 2013
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    A very enjoyable read that allows the reader a peek into an era when people “made things” from start to finish and took pride in their craft. There’s also a good bit of information on traditional woodworking and artisanship in general. I highly recommend the book.

  • Football Gifts
    16:35 on January 17th, 2013
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    In reading this excellent book, it is important to not read more into it than its narrow subject matter, for example, to not conclude that anti-slavery views and activism did not begin anywhere until the late 18th century, and the small number British abolitionists whose activities Hochschild so well narrates. Many were opposing slavery long before, e.g.,

    (a) Samuel Sewall, Selling of Joseph: A Memorial (Boston: Green and Allen, 1700);

    (b) Ralph Sandiford, A Brief Examination of the Practice of the Times (Philadelphia: Franklin and Meredith, 1729);

    (c) Benjamin Lay, All Slave-Keepers That Keep The Innocent in Bondage, Apostates (Philadelphia: Ben Franklin, 1737).

    Note also abolitionist writings such as by

    (a) Abolitionist Rev. Theodore D. Weld, The Bible Against Slavery (New York: American Anti-Slavery Society, 1837), tracing condemnations of slavery back to the Bible, the Law of Moses, and Ancient Israel;

    (b) Abolitionist Rev. George B. Cheever, God Against Slavery and the Freedom and Duty of the Pulpit To Rebuke It, As a Sin against God (Cincinnati: American Reform Tract and Book Society, 1857), tracing condemnations of slavery back to the Bible, the Law of Moses, Ancient Israel, the prophet Jeremiah, and Ancient Judah;

    (c) Abolitionist Rev. John G. Fee, An Anti-Slavery Manual, or, The Wrongs of American Slavery Exposed By the Light of the Bible and of Facts, with A Remedy for the Evil, 2d ed. (New York: William Harned, 1851), showing slavery condemned back at least to the time of the Biblical Patriarch Joseph, indeed, in principle (the “original grant” concept) back to the time of the Garden of Eden;

    (d) Alvan Stewart, Legal Argument For the Deliverance of 4,000 Persons from Bondage (New York: Finch & Weed, 1845), tracing anti-slavery activism back to the violent divine intervention in direct opposition to slavery via the Exodus, with ten plagues, fugitive slaves fleeing Egypt, reparations of silver, gold and clothing at the “plundering” level, mass deaths of slavers, including the first-born and the drowning of Egypt’s army;

    (e) Abolitionist Edward Coit Rogers, Letters on Slavery Addressed to the Pro-slavery Men of America, Showing Its Illegality in All Ages and Nations: Its Destructive War Upon Society and Government, Morals and Religion (Boston: Bela Marsh, 1855), showed slavery condemnation among Ancient Greece and Rome, the early Christians, Medieval European societies, and so on.

    So it is vital to understanding, to not conclude that anti-slavery views and activism did not begin anywhere until the persons Hochschild cites began their late in history activism. They were in fact following numerous precedents going back thousands of years.

  • John Coryat
    16:53 on January 17th, 2013
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    This is a well-written, readable account of the British movement to end the trade in slaves. Hochschild argues, with justification, that this movement was in some ways the template for all future political movements, complete with newsletters, buttons, and boycotts. The main weakness of the book, in my view, is its failure to appreciate the transatlantic nature of the anti-slavery movement in the late 18th and early 19th century. Hochschild mentions only a few American antislavery advocates (curiously including Jefferson in his list); he fails to mention John Jay (who served as first president of the New York Manumussion Society from 1784 onwards) and Alexander Hamilton (another member of the NY Manumussion Society and proponent during the Revolution of a scheme to enlist blacks in the army and “give them their freedom with their muskets.”) Anthony Benezet, whose antislavery pamphlets preceded and indeed guided the British, is given a brief mention. Those interested in the US side of the story could consult Ron Chernow’s book on Alexander Hamilton or my new biography of John Jay, set to appear in March, as well as more specialized works such as Zilversmit, First Emancipation.

  • apper
    18:55 on January 17th, 2013
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    A wonderful clear writer about a forgotten subject, almost as wonderful as his fascinating account of brutality in King Leopold’s Ghost. Highly recommend.

  • Schumulee
    22:34 on January 17th, 2013
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    I found this book to be a wonderful and informative treatise, both as a student and as an amateur woodworker. Sturt’s narrative is a measured blend of documentary and moral argument, which is of equal or greater importance now, as when it was first published in 1923. In it, he offers a first-hand account of the historic, geographic, and human context concerning the artisan-producer within the tradition of medieval wood and iron work. I found three main themes within Sturt’s work that were particularly pleasing to myself, and which I found relevant to my search for meaning. Firstly, he emphasizes the relationships that arose from the close interactions of a local market, of a close-knit group of workers, and of an artist and his/her medium. Secondly, he rightfully condemns the waste and destruction associated with the Industrial Revolution, while omitting a lament over the changes in the means of production. And lastly, he offers an example of the effectiveness, connectivity, and ingenuity that arises from the intimate interrelationships between workers and their tasks through their tools, between producers and consumers through their products, and between people and their community through a sense of place and a sense of purpose.

  • Jameys
    23:10 on January 17th, 2013
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    The curse of slavery had haunted civilization for thousands of years, even the moderate gains of the medieval period seemingly eroded by the rise of the modern economy in the exploitation of Caribbean sugar capitalism, and yet within a generation the rise of abolitionism triggered the final end of the institution. This account of the birth of the abolitionist advocacy, in mysterious synchrony with the American French Revolutions,tells the tale of twelve men who created one of the first effective grassroots movements in history. It is a tale with many episodes, among them many failures, but an outstanding moral: don’t give up. Well done, from the author of King Leopolds’Ghost. See also, Though the Heavens May Fall, from Stephen Wise.

  • qpsroqb
    1:19 on January 18th, 2013
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    This is a very engaging history about the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire. As author Adam Hochschild retells it, the realization about the evil of slavery came surprisingly quickly in Great Britain in the closing years of the eighteenth century. By the early months of 1787, most inhabitants of Britain (with the exception of the Quakers and very few other people) would have seen the slave trade as something natural, that had occurred in every civilization in human history. By the closing months of that same year, hundred of thousands of Britons had joined a boycott of sugar made in the West Indies plantations. It would take however until 1807 (mainly because of the French revolution and the subsequent Napoleonic wars) to outlaw the slave trade in the British Empire and until the 1830s to outlaw slavery itself (it would take even longer to end slavery in other countries like the Unites States and Brazil, of course) Why this turn of mind happened? Hochschild throws around some hypothesis (the inhabitants of Britain suddenly saw a similarity between slavery and the hated forced enlistments of British subjects into the British navy, he claims) but none of them is entirely convincing. The book is very interesting throughout, focusing on a few characters who become the protagonists of the struggle (like William Wilberforce, a very conservative man in other issues, but a commited if cautious fighter against the slave trade), the radical activist Thomas Clarkson (a man surprisingly modern in some of his beliefs but who could also be very naive), the former slave Olaudah Equiano, the repentant former captain of a slave ship John Newton, the main defender of slavery Banastre Tarleton and prime minister William Pitt (a timid opponent of slavery). And there are also very interesting chapters dealing with the Haitian revolution, the first succesful slave revolt in history.

  • Frank Dervin
    1:48 on January 18th, 2013
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    This is about my favorite book in the world. The author paints a wistfull and heart-felt picture of a world, which is, sadly, almost gone. He was the last of a family of English farm-cart and wagon builders, who’s craft was the high-end of traditional technical woodworking. This book is beautifully written-both on the sentence level, and in it’s loving descriptions of human skill and practical knowledge. I have been a fulltime professional woodworker and student of traditional woodworking for more than thirty years, and this book, more than any other, has helped me understand the connection between what I do, and who I am.

  • WTF!
    6:39 on January 18th, 2013
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    Margaret Mead once wrote, “Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world, indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”

    Adam Hochschild’s gripping book tells the story of how twelve people began the anti-slave trade campaign that succeeded in stopping the British slave trade and eventually abolished slavery in the British Empire.

    For those of us today trying to end the exploitation and slaughter of the world’s most defenseless and abused victims–animals–this book provides many inspiring examples and lessons.

    Another relevant quotation that came to my mind as I was reading this page-turner of a book is from Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin: “It’s a matter of taking the side of the weak against the strong, something the best people have always done.”

    This book provides hope and encouragement to anybody who wants to make this a more just and humane world. I recommend it highly.

    –Reviewed by Charles Patterson, Ph.D., author of Eternal Treblinka: Our Treatment of Animals and the Holocaust

  • fred#
    8:47 on January 18th, 2013
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    The story of the Abolition of the Slave trade in Great Britain is unfortunately not widely recognized. It has wonderful lessons about what can be accomplished by a group of organized passionate people. It was particularly interesting in the discussion of the tactics of these social activists in the Eighteenth Century. I did think the author did not do William Wilberforce justice in describing his lifelong efforts to reform England, motivated by his Christian faith.

  • british lady
    9:16 on January 18th, 2013
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    This is a good book with a big flaw: Hochschild, a man who founded Mother Jones and loathes the Christian right, just cannot accept that the anti-slavery movement was an evangelical christian movement through and through. His obtuseness is occasionally breath-taking. About Wilberforce, arguably the key man in the abolition of slavery in the empire, Hochschild writes that his anti-slavery views seem a ‘paradox’ compared to his (religiously mandated) social conservatism. He cites as evidence Wilberforce’s statement that Wilberforce was most proud of bringing christian missionaries to India, not abolishing slavery. But this is all of a cloth: Wilberforce was in all things trying to do what he thought his religion required. Wilberfoce’s own words make plain. Hochschild stubbornly refuses to acknowledge this, lest Jerry Falwell score a point.

  • identityman
    13:55 on January 18th, 2013
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    George Sturt’s original work provided an unparalleled glimpse into the work, lives, and social environment of craftsmen at the end of the transition from the English craft to the modern industrial economy. The edition offered here is an abridged version of the original; retaining most of the how-to elements, but excluding the insights into the lives and characters of the craftsmen working in the Wheelwright’s Shop. If all that interests you are how wagon wheels where constructed, the abridged version will suffice. If you want to understand the revolutionary transition from the craft tradition to the era of unskilled industrial mass production, then continue searching for Sturt’s complete text.

  • darkcove
    15:29 on January 18th, 2013
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    The British Empire, so praised by our current rulers, was at root a slave empire, held together by slave-trading between slave colonies. Between 1660 and 1807, British-owned ships carried 3.5 million Africans, 40,000 a year, across the Atlantic, more than any other country carried. British property owners were the world’s chief slavers.

    The British ruling class, not the nation, owned the slave ships, the slaves and the plantations. British workers did not control their own labour power, never mind own other people. William Cobbett noted that in 1832, “white men are sold, by the week and the month all over England. Do you call such men free, on account of the colour of their skin?” Black chattel slavery and white wage slavery were parts of the same system.

    The abolitionists ignored the eighteen-hour-days worked by children in Bradford’s mills. They backed the laws that attacked trade unions and suspended Habeas Corpus. They funded their foreign philanthropy by increasing the exploitation of their white slaves at home. The trade unionist Oates said, “The great emancipators of negro slaves were the great drivers of white slaves. The reason was obvious. The labour of the black slaves was the property of others. The labour of the white slaves they considered their own.” As the Derbyshire Courier noted, “We make laws to provide protection to the Negro: let us not be less just to the children of England.”

    Bronterre O’Brien wrote, “What are called the working classes are the slave populations of the civilized countries.” From birth, they were mortgaged to the owners of capital and land, only nominally owning their own labour power, forced into wage slavery. Britain’s property owners extracted far more profit from their 16 million wage slaves than from their million chattel slaves. O’Brien again, “We pronounce there to be more slavery in England than in the West Indies … because there is more unrequited labour in England.”

    The empire was based on exploiting wage slaves and used the free movement of goods, capital and labour to extend its exploitation. The wars of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries were fought to keep, or add to, Britain’s imperial and slave-trading conquests. For example, in the 1790s, British slave owners united with French slave owners to try to eat Haiti’s revolution. The government sent more soldiers to the West Indies, and lost more, than it had when trying to crush America’s independence. Of the 89,000 sent, 45,000 died, as did 19,000 sailors. France lost 50,000 dead. Haiti’s freed slaves defeated the armies of the two greatest slaver powers, but the British forces laid waste to the island, destroying almost all its sugar plantations.

    Slavery lost its former importance to the metropolitan economy. The slave colonies took an ever smaller share of Britain’s exports. From 1820 the slump in the West Indies grew worse and worse. In 1832, an official wrote that the West Indies system “is becoming so unprofitable when compared with the expense that for this reason only it must at no distant time be nearly abandoned.”

    The years 1830-32 also saw the Swing Rising in Britain, revolution in France, a major slave revolt in Jamaica and the parliamentary Reform Act. All led to the 1833 Slave Emancipation Act, which freed the 540,000 slaves in the British West Indies. Parliament gave the planters £20 million (a billion pounds in today’s money) as compensation for the loss of their slaves. The working class paid the money in tax, though they pointed out that the Church should have paid, as it owned so many slaves itself and as its priests justified the slavery of both black and white, at home and abroad. The Empire then imposed another form of servitude on the `freed’ slaves of the West Indies – compulsory six-year `apprenticeships’. Later in the century, it used indentured labour, workers forcibly imported from India.

    Slavery had been profitable in the 18th century; abolition was even more profitable in the 19th. The effort `to stop the foreign slave trade’ was designed to damage rival empires and to protect the West Indies planters, now denied annual slave imports, from competition by sugar producers Cuba and Brazil, still reliant on buying slaves. The suppression of the slave trade on Africa’s West and East coasts necessitated ever closer control of West and East Africa, at first by private companies like the British East Africa Company, later by the Empire itself. Abolition was a weapon to expand the empire.

    Throughout the century, the Empire continued to steal people, land and resources from Africa, reinforcing slavery there and killing millions of African people. The Empire continued to contribute to and profit from the slave trade well into the twentieth century. As Marx wrote, we see in slavery “what the bourgeoisie makes of itself and of the labourer, wherever it can, without restraint, model the world after its own image.”

    Abolitionism was an early form of the fake internationalism we see today – LiveAid, Live Earth, Blairite calls to intervene everywhere, Oxfam’s delusions about Britain being `a force for good on the world stage’. We should be satisfied if Britain was a force for good in Britain.

    15:55 on January 18th, 2013
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    “Bury the Chains” has little new data, but is still a superbly written synthesis of a wide range of material on British antislavery. The subject is larger and more diffuse than the author’s earlier “King Leopold’s Ghost,” but the outlook is similar, and appropriately so. (Thomas’s Clarkson’s epiphany here is eerily familiar to ED Morel’s road-to-Damascus moment recounted in “KLG.”) Hochschild represents the neo-abolitionist perspective on slavery: it assumes the centrality of moral issues and the necessity for reforms, and reconstructs the world of antislavery advocates and slaves while also trying to understand the institution’s supporters. The author balances several factors culminating in the end of the Old Slavery: humanitarian activism, structural economic changes, and not least slave revolts and revolution. Ultimately he gives primacy to the influence of humanitarianism. The book is rather conventional, even old-fashioned in asserting individual agency in history, though there is due attention given to more impersonal economic developments. A strong chapter on British women consumers as abolitionists adds a refreshingly different dimension to the story. Tragically, there is now a burgeoning bondage fostered by globalization. This New Slavery sadly returns abolitionism to the realm of current events, and enables future historians to shed more light on earlier antislavery movements. L. Sanneh, “Abolitionists Abroad” breaks new ground on African antislavery efforts; K. Bales, “Disposable People” is most enlightening on the New Slavery.

  • Matt Whensit
    18:43 on January 18th, 2013
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    Two things brought me to read this excellent book by Adam Hochschild. First, his previous book is a favorite. King Leopold’s Ghost about the Belgium King Leopold II’s plunder of the Belgium Congo, which helped set the stage for the tragedy of present central Africa. Second, I enjoyed meeting Mr. Hochschild at the recent Los Angeles Times Book Festival held at UCLA. He discussed his new book, Bury the Chains in a fascinating and interesting way. What I was afraid might be a cold over reaching history lesson, instead offers riveting portraits into the several main characters who over some 51 years fought to bring down the institution of slavery in Britain. All accomplished without civil war. The narrative drives with unique details and a main character, Thomas Clarkson who as a young man enters a Latin essay contest and wins first price for his essay on ending the slave trade. He then joins up with a group of Quakers and as an evangelical Anglican Clarkson begins to build a “band of brother” that develops and first implements many of modern day political techniques, such as posters, boycotts, and a modern sense of how to use the media of the day. But this narrative is more than Clarkson’s story as Hochschild weaves stores of many interesting participants, both for and against the end of slavery. This book can easily lead to more research and readings as it is meant to be only an overview, told with a journalistic eye. For example, the chapters of the slave rebellions are interesting, but as you are reading your well aware that there must be whole books written on just one revolt. I would recommend this book be used in any high school and college classes on World or British History, it might become the best textbook any student might read. (Also, I read that some reviewers found Hochshild to have a bigotry against Christianity, which they say undermined the book. I am at a complete loss to understand where one would derive such a conclusion. Perhaps it’s in the fact that Hochschild clearly states that it was each person’s human empathy, which in the end won the victory over slavery, not some blind hope in sacred texts. I don’t see that as bigotry, but clearly true as nothing in the history in the progress of human rights has happened unless there is recognition via human empathy that change is needed.) Read and decide for yourself.

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