The Interesting Narrative
by Olaudah Equiano
This is a fascinating book, a memoir written in the 18th century by Olaudah Equiano. Born in Africa, he was kidnapped and sold into slavery as a child, eventually managed to buy and retain his freedom, and ultimately settled in the UK where he was very active in the abolitionist movement. Reading what it was like being a slave in the 18th century, written by someone who was one, is a transformative experience, and it’s no surprise this book has been recommended many times on Five Books.
Recommendations from our site
“This is a famous book. It was quite famous when it was first written, in the late 18th century, but it has had a renaissance from the 1960s onwards. The crucial thing about this book—and this is why I’ve listed it first—is that it gives you the lived experience of enslavement and it neatly pieces together pretty much every chapter in the story of the rise and fall of slavery, and it also covers the geography of the slave trade. “ Read more...
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William A. Pettigrew, Historian
“This is a unique and really special book, a full-length autobiography of a man who experienced every aspect of what slavery was. Equiano was born in the 1740s in what is now Nigeria. He was captured and taken to Virginia. Yet by all sorts of cleverness and cunning he managed to buy his own freedom. When working as a sailor in the Caribbean he used the opportunity to engage in trade between the islands using the tiny amount of money he had to buy and sell goods. Through his own entrepreneurship and the help of others he managed to raise the money to buy his own freedom.” Read more...
The best books on Race and Slavery
David Olusoga, Historian
“I chose Olaudah Equiano, firstly, because it was perhaps the major document of the abolitionist campaign in England. It had an enormous impact. It showed how a former slave could be highly sensitive, emotional, articulate, with the right values, and it created a totally different dynamic for the abolitionist movement when it was first published in 1789. But it’s also a very rich document from a human point of view. For me this was very important. I used it in my book on racism to show what the consequences of slavery and racism must be considered at an individual level. We have to integrate emotions into history. “ Read more...
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Francisco Bethencourt, Historian