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This long overdue, vivid and wide-ranging examination of the significance of the resistance of the enslaved themselves – from sabotage and running away to outright violent rebellion – shines fresh light on the end of slavery in the Atlantic World.

It is high time that this resistance, in addition to abolitionism and other factors, was given its due weight in seeking to understand the overthrow of slavery. Fundamentally, as Walvin shows so clearly, it was the implacable hatred of the enslaved for slavery and their strategies of resistance that made the whole system unsustainable and, ultimately, brought about its downfall.

Walvin’s approach is original, too, in looking at the Atlantic world as a whole, including the French and Spanish Empires and Brazil, as well as Britain’s colonies. In doing so, he casts new light on one of the major shifts in Western history: in the three-hundred years following Columbus’s landfall in the Americas, slavery had become a widespread and critical institution. It had seen twelve million Africans forced onto slave ships; a forced migration that had had seismic consequences for Africa. It had transformed the Americas and materially enriched the Western world.

It had also been largely unquestioned – in Europe at least, and among slave owners, traders and those who profited from the system.

Yet, within a mere seventy-five years during the nineteenth century, slavery had vanished from the Americas: it had declined, collapsed and been destroyed by a complexity of forces that, to this day, remains disputed. As Walvin shows so clearly here, though, it was in large part overthrown by those it had enslaved.


A wide-ranging history of resistance during the Atlantic slave trade that reminds us how captives fought their miserable fates every step of the way.
David Olusoga, BBC History Magazine
Over the years, probably no one has done as much as James Walvin to popularise the history of slavery and abolition. His work is consistently innovative . . . Rather than tackling this story through organised anti-slavery, or what might be thought of as a white narrative, Walvin sets out to 'explore how slaves were the critical element in securing their own freedom', a very different emphasis that reflects growing interest on both sides of the Atlantic in notions of black resistance . . . Walvin synthesises this complex global history with skill and ingenuity. Freedom is beautifully written and clearly organised . . . thought-provoking, rich in detail and imbued with an emotional intelligence that pushes us to imagine what slave life meant, especially during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
J. R. Oldfield, University of Hull, Family & Community History, Vol. 22/3, October 2019