by Kenneth C. Davis
Published 2016 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
304 pages. Hardcover
Genres: Nonfiction, History, Young Adult
Thouroughly and authoritatively researched, Kenneth C. Davis writes of the lives of five enslaved people owned by American presidents: Billy Lee, Ona Judge, Isaac Granger, Paul Jennings, and Alfred Jackson. Davis compares the lives of these enslaved people to the words their owners wrote and spoke about freedom and lays bare the complexities of life during slavery.
What a book! In the Shaow of Liberty is a dense but worthwhile read. The structure allowed me to break it up by chapters. Those take some time to get through, especially if you’re angrily taking notes about the injustices these men and women suffered along the way. It does make the book a rather quick read throughout a week with five or six sittings. The stories are horrifying and frustrating (mostly due to the fact that the accounts are so imcomplete). Davis not only highlights the lives of men and women who have been hidden in the shadows of “great men;” he also asks the difficult questions that come with shedding light on these stories. What does it mean that these great men fought for freedom, yet owned human beings? His own commentary, though mostly confined to the authors notes, is what makes the books so incredibly readable. His own questions about possible motives for various behavior open the floodgates for inquiry. The photos and illustrations throughout enhance the stories by putting faces with most of the names. The citations of the illustrations and the bibliography were enough to make a librarian die happy. Thanks, Mr. Davis, for setting such a great example in that regard!
I can’t recommend this enough. It should be required reading. I’ll be making a strong case for adding it to the Summer Reading list this year.
P.S. Andrew Jackson was the worst.