Read Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass Online


Frederick Douglass was born a slave in 1817, but he never stopped dreaming of his freedom. How did he use education to get his freedom?...

Title : Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
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ISBN : 9781580495769
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 158 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass Reviews

  • Stephen
    2019-05-18 17:44

    Thank you Mr. Douglass…this was a life changer for me. You are a true American hero and the fact that there are not more monuments, government buildings, holidays or other commemorations of your life seems to me an oversight of epic proportions. How often is it that you can honestly say that you’ll never be the same after reading a book? Well, this life story of a singular individual has changed me....irrevocably. I will never be able to sufficiently express my gratitude to Mr. Douglass for that extraordinary gift of insight. I’m just not sure how to properly express how deeply this story impacted me both with its content and its delivery. Impressive seems such a shallow word. I guess I will call it a unique and special experience and simply state that this autobiography has been added to my list of All Time Favorites . Being a fan of history, in general, and American history, in particular, I was somewhat familiar with Frederick Douglass and his reputation for being a great orator and a tireless opponent of slavery. However, this is the first time I’ve actually read any of his writings and I was blown away, utterly, by the intellect, character and strength of this American hero. And make no mistake, this man was a HERO in every sense of the word. I can imagine few people in a generation with the combination of intelligence, strength of character, sense of morality, charity and indomitable will as Frederick Douglass.Here is a man who, as a slave with little or no free time to himself, spent every spare moment he had teaching himself to read and write. Think about that. In a very telling passage, Douglass says that he knew how important it was to educate himself because of how vehemently his master was opposed to it. I’m paraphrasing, but his message was, ‘What my master saw as the greatest evil, I knew to be a perfect good.’ Such determination and clarity of thought boggles the mind. Rarely have a come across a person whose moral fiber I admire more (John Adams being the other historical figure that jumps to mind). On the issue of slavery itself, I am resolved that there could be no better description of the horrendous evil of slavery than this book. I previously read Uncle Tom's Cabin and, while an important novel, that story had nowhere near the effect on me that this one did. Again, thank you Mr. Douglass. While there are many aspects of the narrative that are worthy of note (the quality of prose, the excellent balance between details and pace and the fascinating events described), the most memorably impressive thing to me was the tone used by Frederick Douglass to describe his life and the people he came in contact with during his time both as a slave and after securing his freedom. Despite having seen and personally endured staggering brutality at the hands of white slave owners, Douglass never, NEVER comes across as bitter or hate-filled towards all white people. Had I been in his position, I am not sure I could have been so charitable with my outlook. He speaks frankly and in stark terms about the evil and brutality suffered by himself and his fellow slaves. He sees great wrong and he confronts it boldly with his writing. However, he never generalizes people beyond his indictment of slavery and slave holders. He doesn’t stereotype or extend his anger beyond those whom he rightfully condemns. That is a person of great strength and even greater charity. The dignity of the man is humbling to behold. After finishing this inspirational, never-be-the-same autobiography, Frederick Douglass has joined my pantheon of American heroes right along side George Washington and John Adams. I plan to read further works by Douglass and can not more strenuously urge others to do the same. 6.0 stars. HIGHEST POSSIBLE RECOMMENDATION!!!

  • Kaeleigh Forsyth
    2019-05-17 15:46

    I love the review on here that says, "This book was kind of hard to get into because of the high level words used in this book." In the year 2012 a grown adult/product of the USA's educational system finds the vocabulary of a self-taught 19th century slave beyond their comprehension, ahahahahahahaha God Bless America.

  • Bookdragon Sean
    2019-05-09 18:42

    "Once you learn to read you will forever be free" This is powerful, so, so powerful. This is a remarkable achievement considering it is written in such a straight forward manner by a man who taught himself to read. There is no embellishment or dramatic imagery here; it is simple, straightforward, harrowing, fact. It is such a strong narrative that I’m extremely glad I read. I recommend it to everyone. Moreover, to emphasise the sheer depravity, and brutality, these slaves were subjected to, the forward of the book suggests that Douglas had it easy. It was written by a close friend of his who argues that in comparison with other tales of slavery, Douglas’s subjugation was mild and not too bad. This, in itself, speaks volumes because this narrative relays an awful series of events. It does make you wonder what awfulness the others contained if this is considered a lesser form of evil treatment. Douglass had an awful childhood:I do not recollect of every seeing my mother by the light of day. She was with me in the night. She would lie down with me, and get me to sleep, but long before I waked she was goneFrom a very young age he had no sense of closeness with anyone. He was separated from his mother at the incredibly young age of ten months. When his mother later dies, he simply doesn’t care. He’s not formed a lasting bond with her, so her demise is like the passing of a stranger: she means nothing to him. They didn’t have enough time together for Douglass to have conceptualised who this person was to him. Indeed, he has very little conception of the world outside his slavery. He doesn’t fully conceive the harshness he is enduring until he is into his early teens. To his mind one of the overseers is a “good” man because he takes no pleasure in the whippings he exacts. In his later life he does fully realise how he’s been controlled and forced to think certain things, but at the time he just wasn’t ware of the full extent of his situation. He doesn’t even know his own age. The slavers loved to keep their chattel in ignorance, so they’d work harder and have fewer dreams of freedom. If they don’t have the knowledge, then they cannot question their masters. However, Douglass became wise to his enforced ignorance; he quickly learnt that his path to freedom resided in his education. So, after a few brief lessons with a kind, and temporary, mistress he set about learning how to read in any way he could; he learnt from dockworkers and poor white children, and began to see a route to liberty through his increasing knowledge of the world. In this respect, his friend was right about the mildness of Douglass’s treatment. At this point in his life, he only witnessed barbarity rather than being subjugated to it. In this he was lucky, but that luck was to quickly run out. As he grew older his learning opportunities dwindled, as did his hope. He was contracted out to a brute of an owner who was the very image of a sadist slaver.His new master was terrible and vicious. He almost broke Douglass, but his strength of will bounced back and managed to keep him on his feet. He learnt to strike back with such vigour that his master, who had a reputation for breaking unruly slaves, actually began to fear Douglass. He quickly got rid of him, and fortune sent him into the hands of a former, and gentler, master. Luck was in his favour again. It seems rather ironic to speak of a slave as having such luck, but when considering that very few successfully escaped their bonds it becomes clear that Douglass had a very fortunate opportunity in front of him. In truth, very few were allowed such liberty, and in the process presented with a narrow window of escape, which Douglass quickly leapt through. It took him many years to achieve every slave’s dream, but he got there nonetheless. This is such an interesting narrative; it is frank, clear and powerful. There are no literary embellishments here. Instead, Douglass provides you with the harsh, and straightforward, truth of his life. The quote I placed at the start of the review says it all for me, it’s also one of my favourite quotes altogether in literature, after reading this it made really appreciate the importance of reading in this world.

  • Richard
    2019-04-24 10:32

    This book is not an important historical document to be placed in a glass case and venerated during Black History Month. It should be read by all, regardless of race or creed, as a warning against prejudice and oppression.Douglass' description of the cruel conditions of slavery is mind-searing. His analysis of the system which fostered and condoned it shows amazing depth. He shows that slavery made wretched the lives of the victims but that it also warped the perpetrators, and created a regime in which people were afraid to object to injustice. That a man could rise from such abject conditions, get an education, and not only share his knowledge with others but become a guiding star of the abolitionist movement is remarkable. That he could be a good Christian and remain untainted by racial prejudice is a testament to his greatness of soul.

  • Cheryl
    2019-04-29 17:58

    "…My copybook was the board-fence, brick wall, and pavement; my pen and ink was a lump of chalk. With these, I learned mainly how to write."As with Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, I feel as though I should start by reiterating these simple truths about the narrative: Yes, Douglass did write this book himself; No, he was not against Christianity, only a staunch opponent of hypocritical Christians; No, he did not promote hatred of man - his hate was of slavery. The hearth is desolate. The children, the unconscious children, who once sang and danced in her presence, are gone. She gropes her way, in the darkness of age, for a drink of water. Instead of the voices of her children, she hears by day the moans of the dove, and by night the screams of the hideous owl. All is gloom. The grave is at the door.This is Douglass' grandmother he speaks of, the woman who after raising generations of her "master's" family, after increasing her "master's" wealth by training generations of her family, she is sent out into the woods in her old age, to live her remaining years alone, while her family is taken away from her and sold. After all, she is of no use to him now.The more I embrace slave narratives, the more I learn that the good ones always teach new things the big screen hasn't fully capitalized upon. So this one again highlighted the horrific chaining and whipping of slave women who stirred jealousy within their slave owners, but it goes a step further into showing how the wives of slave owners were also brutal murderers and slave beaters. We don't see this highlighted too often, just as we don't see this too often: those black slave women given the separate concubine's houses in the country, where the children were raised. I tried to envision how a slave like Douglass could ever become close to a woman, after viewing the treatment of his mother, aunt, and grandmother (later, his wife and daughter will die before he did). How could generations of black families survive, let alone thrive, in such environments? In that case, why expect this narrative to be anything less than the brutally honest, passionate, indignant pathos that it is? Douglass lived with siblings but didn't even see them as family - always wanting to get away, always seeking freedom, always distrusting of others. He saw education as his ticket out of slavery, but once he became educated, he realized how much of a burden it was: "I would at times feel that learning to read had been a curse rather than a blessing. It had given me a view of my wretched condition, without the remedy…in moments of agony, I envied my fellow slaves for their stupidity. I have often wished myself a beast…anything, no matter what, to get rid of thinking!" After the publication of this book, he feared for this identity so he fled to Europe because of The Fugitive Slave Act; still he spoke against slavery. He didn't believe in revealing too many secrets of his escape (at times even referring to how the underground railway had become the uppergroundrailway), or of the abolitionists and teenage friends who helped educate him. I read this years ago but once I started reading, the language and tone lured me and kept me involved until the end. To read this American classic and historical treasure, I suggest the Barnes and Noble Classics Edition for the great notes and letters from abolitionists, the time outline, and scholarly introduction and notations.

  • Jason Koivu
    2019-05-06 16:58

    Powerful, eloquent and utterly moving, especially considering it was written by a man who taught himself how to read and write while a slave. The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass regrettably does not go into detail regarding the particulars of Douglass' escape to freedom. Having written his memoirs while slavery was still ongoing, he was afraid to reveal his methods for fear of endangering the lives of those who assisted him, as well as potentially shutting down an avenue of escape for other slaves after him. The reader must respect that and be satisfied with his well articulated descriptions of life in the south while serving under white masters.

  • James
    2019-05-14 10:54

    Book ReviewI first read the biographical introduction about Frederick Douglass and learned many new things. I knew he wrote a few autobiographies, but I never knew that he spanned them over 40 years of writing and that he lived for close to 80 years. I then read both the preface by Garrison and the letter to Douglas. They were excellent introductions to the narrative by Frederick Douglass. They set the mood and get you ready to experience a whole new set of emotions when you read Douglass’ Life of an American Slave, etc. It really prepares you for the glory in the words and language. You realize how much Douglass meant to the enslaved people. It also gives you an overwhelming sense of sullen melancholy. You almost can’t believe that something like “this” happened to Douglass. It is very powerful and emotional. Douglass work definitely is effective. It moves the reader deeply. All I can say about book 1 is that I was utterly repulsed by what I read. How any person could do that to another human being because their skin is a different color is absolutely hideous. I was so angry that I wanted to just scream out profanities to the slaveholders. Douglass’ memory and description is so vivid. I could see the apple red blood drip to the floor almost like it was an IV at times when he whipped her so much there was hardly any blood left. I wonder though if this was an exaggeration. Garrison claims that it isn’t, but it is so vile and disgusting that it can’t be real. Can it? In Book 2, at least we learn that the slaves are treated a little better at times. They go for a walk to the Great Farm House if they are a representative which gives them some time to themselves without the fear of a whipping. They sing songs and have a little bit of fun at least: although Frederick says that they never had any real joy with it, not tears of joy or happiness. I was so upset by this. No joy and forced to go through all that they did. It is horrible. Also, the rations they received were so minute. I wonder how they ever survived. In Book 3... The garden that was near the plantation was nice. It would give the slaves something to look at, except that it also tempted them to steal some fruit and vegetables, which would result in severe punishing. And all of this so far, happened when Frederick was still just a child. I often thought that it was just a game to see how many times they could whip a slave or get him/her to do wrong. It was almost as if they purposely set them up using spies, etc. To try and catch them in the act. I think that is incredibly inhumane and awful. If I have this many feelings about the narrative so far, it just shoes how great an author Douglass is. He is able to capture attention and make you yell out in angst against the evil masters and overseers. By the end of Book 6, we learn that Douglass has learned how to read and write. He has also learned what an abolitionist is. He begins to see more out into real life, rather than the life of a slave. He has been through several new masters, some good and some bad. Also, during this time, he tells the readers that it is better off to be dead than to be a black slave in 19th century America. In later books we learn that it is especially horrible when you have been treated nicely as a slave and then you go to a plantation where they treat you despicably. Douglass is extremely effective at showing his audience this. Douglass also tells how he was shipped all over the place whenever his masters died or got tired of him. I see how it becomes a game again. I also see that maybe the slaves could be compared to the life of a nomad who has no one common place to stay. Not an easy one to read, but important to understand how bad the situation was. Hearing about it or knowing of it is one thing. Reading specifics is entirely another. About MeFor those new to me or my reviews... here's the scoop: I read A LOT. I write A LOT. And now I blog A LOT. First the book review goes on Goodreads, and then I send it on over to my WordPress blog at, where you'll also find TV & Film reviews, the revealing and introspective 365 Daily Challenge and lots of blogging about places I've visited all over the world. And you can find all my social media profiles to get the details on the who/what/when/where and my pictures. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Vote in the poll and ratings. Thanks for stopping by.

  • Petra X
    2019-05-10 15:42

    I am familiar with Frederick Douglass' life, and I'm sure I've read this but can't find it on my booklist *sigh*. Nonetheless he was such a magnificent man that it bears rereading.What I like more about Douglass than anything else at all is his clear thinking on subject peoples.He saw that the discrimination against blacks and women was from an identical stance. That white men were imposing a structure of equality and entitlement that placed them at the top, and everyone else beneath them. This is still the case in the world, but you can change the descriptive'white' to whichever group of men have ensured they are sitting at the top of the economic and social freedom tree.There is a quote I very much like:“I asked them why when they persecute men, for religion or colour it was seen by the world as oppression and when they persecute women, it was dismissed as tradition.” Emer MartinThe real reason I am going to reread this book is this wonderful review,"I love the review on here that says, "This book was kind of hard to get into because of the high level words used in this book." In the year 2012 a grown adult/product of the USA's educational system finds the vocabulary of a self-taught 19th century slave beyond their comprehension, ahahahahahahaha God Bless America." (view spoiler)[That references ,a href=" one (hide spoiler)]

  • Raya راية
    2019-05-02 11:30

    "ليس مُهمٍّا تحت أي اصطلاح مزيّف تتستّر العبودية، فإنها لا تزال بشعة وبها ميل طبيعي حتى للعصف بكل مَلَكة نبيلة عند الإنسان."-دانيال أوكونيللم ولن أفهم أو أستوعب كيف يمكن لإنسان أن يقوم باستعباد وإذلال إنسان آخر، لا لشيء سوى أنه مختلف عنه باللون أو بالعِرق أو بالدين أو باللغة! من الذي قرر بأن الإنسان البيض يمتلك أفضلية عن الإنسان الأسود! لقد جاء الأبيض من آخر العالم، وغزا أفريقيا بحجة نشر الحضارة والتقدّم ونشر تعاليم الدين، لكنه بالحقيقة جاء لينهب ثروات هذه القارة الغنّية ويلسب شعبها حرّيته! نحن أمام وثيقة مهمة تصوّر بدقة فظاعة نظام العبودية الوحشي الذي لا يقرّه أي دين أو عُرف. وثيقه كتبها فريدريك دوغلاس، الذي وُلد وكَبُر تحت مظلة هذا النظام الغاشم، وشاهد وقاسى ألوانًا شتى من العذاب والظلم والاستبداد. ونبتت فكرة التحرر من العبودية في عقله منذ أن كان صغيرًا، وبقي يسقيها بماء العلم والقراءة والتمرّد على سادته، حتى حان وقت قطاف ثمرة هذه النبتة، وبالفعل نجح دوغلاس بالهروب وبتحقيق حلمه بالحرية. وقام بفضح ممارسات نظام العبودية في كتابه هذا. وظل حتى نهاية عمره يدعو لتحرير العبيد وفضح السادة المتوحشين.أكثر ما يثير حيرتي واستغرابي واشمئزاري كذلك، هو وجود الكثير من السادة المُستَعبِدين المتدينين! كيف يستطيع أن يصلي ويركع لله بقلب خاشع ويطلب الرحمة والرزق، وهو يجلد الضعفاء ممن يستعبدهم، يجلد الطفل والمرأة والشيخ المسن! يحرمهم من الطعام والكساء والدفء والنوم! يجلدهم ويعذبهم ويغتصب حريتهم بقلب قاس وروح متجمّدة! أي إنسان هذا! وأي دين يقبل هذا! أَلا إن جميع الأديان لهي براء منه!كتاب مؤثر بلا شك، فلا يمكنك أن تقرأه دون أن تغرورق عيناك بدموع الألم والضيق، وأن ينقبض صدرك، على كل ما عاناه أولئك البؤساء المساكين!...

  • Diane
    2019-05-13 14:40

    What a powerful piece of writing this is. Slavery is such an ugly part of American history, and this narrative tells all of the ordeals that Frederick Douglass had to overcome, including whippings, beatings, hunger, tyrannical masters, backbreaking labor, and horrible living conditions. Douglass was born in Maryland in 1818, but even that year is a guess because slaves were generally not allowed to know their birthdate. He knew little of his mother because the master sent her away, and then she died while Douglass was still a child. It was whispered that his father was the master, but he had no way of knowing for certain.There are some horrifying stories in this narrative. But there is also inspiration, because we know Douglass was able to escape and live freely. My favorite part was when Douglass explained how he learned to read and write after he was shipped off to a master's house in Baltimore. He was very clever and had to learn in secret, because his master had said that slaves shouldn't learn to read because it would make them miserable and unmanageable. But Douglass couldn't stand the thought of being a slave for life, and he knew he had to learn to read if he wanted to run away."The plan which I adopted, and the one by which I was most successful, was that of making friends of all the little white boys whom I met in the street. As many of these as I could, I converted into teachers. With their kindly aid, obtained at different times and in different places, I finally succeeded in learning to read. When I was sent on errands, I always took my book with me, and by going one part of my errand quickly, I found time to get a lesson before my return. I used also to carry bread with me... This bread I used to bestow upon the hungry little urchins, who, in return, would give me that more valuable bread of knowledge."However, when Douglass read newspaper articles about slavery or about the abolitionist movement, he became even more upset:"The more I read, the more I was led to abhor and detest my enslavers. I could regard them in no other light than a band of successful robbers, who had left their homes, and gone to Africa, and stolen us from our homes, and in a strange land reduced us to slavery. I loathed them as the meanest as well as the most wicked of men. As I read and contemplated the subject, behold! that very discontentment which Master Hugh had predicted would follow my learning to read had already come, to torment and sting my soul to unutterable anguish. As I writhed under it, I would at times feel that learning to read had been a curse rather than a blessing. It had given me a view of my wretched condition, without the remedy. It opened my eyes to the horrible pit, but to no ladder upon which to get out. In moments of agony, I envied my fellow slaves for their stupidity. I have often wished myself a beast."Fortunately, Douglass had a plan to escape, and he was able to flee his master's home in Baltimore and make it to New York, which was a free state. He was able to marry and became a passionate advocate for abolition. I highly recommend this narrative.Memorable Quotes:"I have often been utterly astonished, since I came to the north, to find persons who could speak of the singing, among slaves, as evidence of their contentment and happiness. It is impossible to conceive of a greater mistake. Slaves sing most when they are most unhappy. The songs of the slave represent the sorrows of his heart; and he is relieved by them, only as an aching heart is relieved by its tears. At least, such is my experience. I have often sung to drown my sorrow, but seldom to express my happiness. Crying for joy, and singing for joy, were alike uncommon to me while in the jaws of slavery. The singing of a man cast away upon a desolate island might be as appropriately considered as evidence of contentment and happiness, as the singing of a slave; the songs of the one and of the other are prompted by the same emotion."[On masters who profess to be good Christians] "I assert most unhesitatingly, that the religion of the south is a mere covering for the most horrid crimes — a justifier of the most appalling barbarity — a sanctifier of the most hateful frauds — and a dark shelter under, which the darkest, foulest, grossest and most infernal deeds of slaveholders find the strongest protection. Were I to be again reduced to the chains of slavery, next to that enslavement, I should regard being the slave of a religious master the greatest calamity that could befall me. For of all slaveholders with whom I have ever met, religious slaveholders are the worst. I have ever found them the meanest and basest, the most cruel and cowardly, of all others."

  • Aubrey
    2019-05-17 11:47

    4.5/5Unlike many on this site, if one may judge from the reviews and most popular tags of this work, I did not encounter this in school. This is unfortunate, as exposure to this at a younger age may have made my frame of references less solidified, Moby Dick over here and slavery narratives of there and all the usual sorts of aborted cross-reference and false literary linearity. These days, I am not as suspect to being fenced in by required reading in academia, but there are some still some sickening traces of surprise at how a specific author was writing at a certain time that really does need to be gotten over. If there's one thing I learned from my concurrent reading of Dhalgren, it's that I have a very restricted view of how writing of "quality" comes to be that, ultimately, is very harmful indeed.So, what constituted that elitist surprise? On the whole, it was the matter of how this read very much like a psychological bildungsroman with a wonderful sense of prose and a swift and easy manner of outer description and inner self. Frederick Douglass not only had a keen interest in presenting his own life, but also in how slavery continues to work itself into the framework of society and its social animals. The result is a piece which, if any white person at the time had wanted to write in a similar vein, would be comparable to a memoir that continually focused on the effects of US conceptual "freedom" on the memoirist's growth to maturity. While there's probably a few out there that come close to the mark (you can't step into the surface knowledge of the 1800's without squashing a few dozen names of physiognomic worth and solipsistic character), it's doubtful any achieve a comparable moral imperative. Being the person I am, that manner of thematic engagement matters a lot, so deal.That does it for the general level. On the more specific level, passages of note include Douglass' analyses of holidays in lands of legalized slavery, his imbibed assumption that a society could not be well-off without the (overt) systematic owning of human beings, and his scorn for, in his words, the "upperground" railroad; or, Liberal White People Fucking Over Others With "Help" Since 1845. He remains as eloquent throughout this face-palm as he does in his fervent condemnation of the machine that controlled his upbringing, which reads well so long as once doesn't prescribe it in a fit of respectability politics to those who continue his efforts today. Things have changed since Douglass' day, and protests of a different nature are required for making this modern day public squirm.

  • Paul
    2019-05-05 10:38

    This is a very brief first volume of a three volume autobiography. It is moving, powerful and horrific portrait of slavery in one of the so-called more humane slave states in the 1820s and 1830s. It is an important historical document, but is also much more than that; published in 1845 it opened a window for the general public in the north who knew little about the inner workings of slavery. Douglass does not know his birthday, who his father was and was separated from his mother very early in life (this was usual). He describes the brutality, whippings, the deaths of other slaves and the attitudes of various owners. Some are crueller than others; in general the most pious and religious were the worst, especially when it came to whipping. Douglass does not describe how he escaped as this was written before slavery was abolished and he did not want to give slave holders information which might prejudice the escape of others. This is a book that demands to be read; it is passionate and eloquent. It really should be better known here in the UK and ought to be mandatory reading in any serious study of slavery and racism. It is interesting to look at the history of the time and the reactions of slave-owners to Douglass’s book. The rest of Douglass’s life is fascinating as is his political career; he was also a noteworthy supporter of women’s rights;“In this denial of the right to participate in government, not merely the degradation of woman and the perpetuation of a great injustice happens, but the maiming and repudiation of one-half of the moral and intellectual power of the government of the world”Highly recommended.

  • Zanna
    2019-04-27 11:38

    Houston A Baker Jr introduces Douglass' narrative by positioning it within a rich tradition in two senses. Firstly, many former slaves published accounts of their experiences - a fact that I was not aware of and that Baker says has been poorly acknowledged, while the work of white abolitionists has been much-celebrated. Secondly, the literary interests of the period, absorbed by Douglass in his forbidden, covert, voracious reading, are expressed through the lyrical and dramatic qualities of his prose.I suppose I expected a very spare memoir, but the writing is very beautiful, in a style that feels of the period: elegantly formal, never deploying a pronoun when a nice synonym is at hand, yet always quick-footed and clear.Douglass, born a slave, experienced hunger, cold, whippings, beatings and other abuses, from childhood. Brutal overseers and slaveholders are often presented as exceptionally evil people, but Douglass shows through examples that slave-holding brutalises folks who would otherwise be kind and generous by disposition, watching the sweet-hearted woman who began to teach him to read (he had to finish the process unaided after her husband forbade it) become as bitterly cruel as any whip-cracking overseer. Slavery dehumanises both owned and owner.As Douglass gained more autonomy and better conditions (his experience was fortunate relative to the circumstances of the vast majority of slaves) he became ever more determined to gain his freedom. He trained in caulking, and began contracting, completing and collecting money for his own work, and at the end of the week had to give up his entire earnings - a situation identical to plantation slavery in terms of exploitation, but all the more galling in that he received the money directly before it was stolen from him!I liked reading about Douglass' arrival in wealthy New Bedford, where he says he was astonished by the quality of life enjoyed there, and the sight of free black people living in houses finer than those of Southern slave-holders. He had been led to believe that prosperity could not exist without slavery and that the people of the North must be in the miserable condition of 'poor whites' ie non slave-holders in the South. (However, I think this revelation should not be used to obscure that Northern prosperity was built on the backs of slaves.)Special ire is reserved for very religious slaveholders, who Douglass adamantly declares to be the worst kind in every way. A devout Christian himself, he writes passionately against 'the boldest of all frauds and the grossest of all libels' manifest in calling the USA a Christian country.

  • Alan
    2019-05-02 12:53

    This is one of the most amazing pieces of writing I have ever read. Unfortunately, I grew up in Texas--a fact for which I have only recently forgiven my parents, with difficulty--and therefore was never forced to read anything more incendiary than To Kill a Mocking Bird or Uncle Tom's Cabin. Digression: Also, I had a creationist biology teacher. But yes. We didn't read any firsthand slave narratives. I don't even remember learning about the civil rights movements. Maybe we did. All of this jibbajabba is a way of stuffing unrelated sentences into the hole: how possibly could I have anything legitimate to say about this book? It is that kind of book. There is simply nothing a person like me can say about a book like this except, Thank you.

  • Craig Johnson
    2019-05-16 16:00

    Not bad for a guy who taught himself to write while his masters weren't looking. Even the smallest knowledge of Douglass' post-slave life makes you wonder at the title: Who would have the gall to chain him up, of all men? The facts of slavery are still frightening after all this time. What makes it scarier is that Douglass was in Maryland, the Northernmost of southern states. Evidentally, the farther south you were the worse it was, so if this happened in Maryland, I don't like to think about Louisiana. Also, FD exposes the fact that the worst sins can be done if you're hiding behind a cross.

  • Douglas Wilson
    2019-05-13 11:40

    Well written & moving.

  • Jim
    2019-05-03 14:55

    Very short & to the point, Douglass paints the picture of being a slave better than any other book I've read on the subject. His first hand account blows away 'Roots' or even the 'Confessions of Nat Turner' with its simple, understated prose. Huge thanks to Nancy, a friend here on GR, that recommended & gave me the book.Why would a man remain in slavery when there was any chance of escape? This is a question I've always wondered about. He tells us. The courage & determination that it took him to make that leap was incredible. His simple account of what people can endure is heart wrenching.The only reason this book didn't get 5 stars was the editor. I can't recall his name, but he is a professor at Columbia University & must think his audience is a bunch of idiots. His long winded introduction basically tells Douglass' entire story. It was a spoiler & redundant. The original publication had another introduction that is also included. This was doubly redundant due to the first, but would have been far better if just it was included.The editor's constant footnotes, defining well known words that are well used in context, were distracting & occasionally incorrect. The end notes were better, but should have been footnotes instead. I was left with the impression that the editor was trying to impress me rather than help me understand Douglass' story. Blech!Douglass has written his autobiography in several versions. This was his first. I'd be interested in finding a later one, especially with a different editor. In any case, for all the faults of the editor, the basic story is something that I recommend everyone read.

  • Shaun
    2019-05-16 12:53

    I've read this book several times but especially enjoyed re-reading it with my son as we study this era in American history. It's a great narrative for anyone who wants to get a sense of the history and injustice of slavery from a slave's perspective.

  • Ken Moten
    2019-05-10 14:30

    "Reader! are you with the man-stealers in sympathy and purpose, or on the side of their down-trodden victims? If with the former, then are you the foe of God and man. If with the latter, what are you prepared to do and dare in their behalf? Be faithful, be vigilant, be untiring in your efforts to break every yoke, and let the oppressed go free." - from the Preface by William Lloyd Garrison. This autobiography is easily the most well-known and taught of any slave narrative in the United States. It is preceded by two introductions written by abolitionists William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips, respectively and has an epilogue in the form of an appendix containing Douglass' polemic against American Christianity in the South. The narrative itself was written in response to growing skepticism by Whites that a slave could be as articulate and knowledgeable as Frederick Douglass. Douglass (whose birth surname was Bailey) obviously did not want to blow his cover and give away his identity (he was able to avoid suspicion so far because he was biracial--his initial owner was also his biological father) for fear of having to be restored to his "owner," but he relented anyway and wrote this autobiography--though it would not be published until Douglass was safely out of the laws reach in Great Britain where he would remain until British abolitionists had raised enough money to purchase his freedom. The story of his life is one that was not too much out of the ordinary for a typical slave except for the whole learning to read and write part, as well as, Douglass' unusually bold exertion of his humanity which would cost him dearly again and again. The names for most of the people in this book are censored (which was the rule in slave narratives in order to not easily identify himself) and the details of his escape are also partially concealed to protect the people who helped him.Now I mentioned that this narrative features a section called "Appendix." which contains an epilogue and a poem in the form of a parody. Both are essentially strong critiques of American Christianity, especially in the South. Now I have read polemics by the best of them, Baldwin in The Fire Next Time, Nietzsche, Hume, Marx, and etc., but nobody has made such a vicious and precise attack on the instution as Douglass in my opinion. Now he was, himself, an ordained minister of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, but that did not stop him from remembering the suffering he went through and witnessed, especially at the hands of slave-owning clergy men. He notes with particular disdain that the most unhinged and immoral slave owners were always ministers or deacons. It is something that the American South for all its feeble progress, has never truly reconciled. Here is a sample of the Appendix/epilogue: "I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land. Indeed, I can see no reason, but the most deceitful one, for calling the religion of this land Christianity. I look upon it as the climax of all misnomers, the boldest of all frauds, and the grossest of all libels. Never was there a clearer case of "stealing the livery of the court of heaven to serve the devil in." I am filled with unutterable loathing when I contemplate the religious pomp and show, together with the horrible inconsistencies, which every where surround me. We have men-stealers for ministers, women-whippers for missionaries, and cradle-plunderers for church members. The man who wields the blood-clotted cowskin during the week fills the pulpit on Sunday, and claims to be a minister of the meek and lowly Jesus. The man who robs me of my earnings at the end of each week meets me as a class-leader on Sunday morning, to show me the way of life, and the path of salvation. He who sells my sister, for purposes of prostitution, stands forth as the pious advocate of purity. He who proclaims it a religious duty to read the Bible denies me the right of learning to read the name of the God who made me. He who is the religious advocate of marriage robs whole millions of its sacred influence, and leaves them to the ravages of wholesale pollution. The warm defender of the sacredness of the family relation is the same that scatters whole families, -- sundering husbands and wives, parents and children, sisters and brothers, -- leaving the hut vacant, and the hearth desolate. We see the thief preaching against theft, and the adulterer against adultery." You see, unlike your Dawkins and Hitchens, Nietzsche and Sartre, Douglass had a lifetime's worth of experience in which to criticize the unholy alliance of slavery and religion. One finds that the most militant critics of slavery at that time were Black preachers (with the exception of John Brown, a White militant anti-slavery minister--even more than Douglass). All in all, I believe that if you want to learn about the experience of American slavery (assuming you know nothing) Twelve Years a Slave first and then immediately afterwards read this book. The former gives you an outsiders introduction and the latter gives you an insiders view. Personally, though this maybe the most well written slave narrative, my personal favorite remains Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Though the experiences of Slavery were many, no two people suffered the same way and the variety of people who wrote their stories in different centuries and different tongues bring us an original perspective on persevering through human suffering."Sincerely and earnestly hoping that this little book may do something toward throwing light on the American slave system, and hastening the glad day of deliverance to the millions of my brethren in bonds -- faithfully relying upon the power of truth, love, and justice, for success in my humble efforts -- and solemnly pledging my self anew to the sacred cause, -- I subscribe myself, FREDERICK DOUGLASS LYNN, Mass., April 28, 1845." I read this as a part of The Classic Slave Narratives.

  • Erika
    2019-05-05 16:39

    My history professor assigned 4 books to read over the semester. I found the first 2 to be really boring, I did not enjoy them at all. Probably it had to do with the fact that my subconscious tends to hate everything that I'm forced to do. Like for example, if I'm not allowed to be absent from a class more than 3 times during the semester without failing it, I hate going, and feel the pressure everyday of having to drag myself to go to that particular class. On the contrary, if the teacher didn't impose any rules about the absent times allowed, I would go happily and would seldom be absent. I disliked so much those books, the professor even said that these books were like a bitter pill to swallow, but were necessary, to have more insight into some historical matters. He compared them to broccoli because he hates broccoli.When the time came to read this book, I was expecting the same... Utter hatred.I said, thank God this book is short, let's get it over with!Started it, and Whoa! Surprise! I was not hating it... I even was enjoying it!This book is, as the title suggests, the autobiography of an American slave, Frederick Douglass. This book was written to support the causes of the slavery abolitionists, and show the people, the terrible deals slaves have to suffer. He relates with raw detail all the cruelties he had to endure, as a slave, with his masters, and gave a variety of examples of the punishments the slave population was subjected to for doing even the more insignificant things.When Douglass was around 10 years old, he was sent with a different Master, and here the Mistress started teaching him how to read. The Master opposed to it saying that reading would only corrupt him as a slave, and it wouldn't do him any good. Douglass heard this conversation, and his desire for learning how to read just increased.It was very interesting to read how he created his plans to get his objectives, like learn to read now that the Mistress was not teaching him, and then to write, until he escaped from slavery, and became a freeman.This is not a happy read. It is tough and cruel. Douglass expressed here all of his thoughts, and his desperation shows through. I remember particularly, all of the sorrow learning to read brought him. Before reading, he was ignorant, and had no idea about many things, but after reading he was aware of his situation, and suffered greatly with the knowledge that he was a slave, born, and for life.“The more I read, the more I was led to abhor and detest my enslavers. I could regard them in no other light than a band of successful robbers, who had left their homes, and gone to Africa, and stolen us from our homes, and in a strange land reduced us to slavery". " learning to read had already come, to torment and sting my soul to unutterable anguish. As I writhed under it, I would at times feel that learning to read had been a curse rather than a blessing”.It is a powerful read.I also read Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, and this one is from the point of view of a female slave. Out of the two, I liked Douglass' one more, I thought it was really insightful, and didn't have as many everyday anecdotes as the other one.

  • Angela Blount
    2019-05-02 16:35

    Candid, brutal, and entrancingly descriptive. This book is an absolute must for anyone seeking a better understanding of the “institution” of slavery in America.Douglass' prose is the literary equivalent of a velvet-sheathed hammer—smoothly elegant, yet incredibly powerful. He had a real gift for drawing analogies and eliciting deeper comprehension. This very personal account is difficult to ingest, but even more difficult to put down.It’s somewhat tempting to compare Douglass’ narrative to Booker T. Washington’s autobiography, but their experiences and timeframes are as individual as the men themselves. Both were sired by white men who they never knew as any form of father. But aside from that similar point of origin, their paths diverge for obvious reasons. -Fredrick Douglass became a runaway slave when he was 19 years old—slavery was abolished while Booker T. was still in his elementary years. Fredrick was separated from his mother at a year old (as a part of the most abject cruelty devised by some slaveholders of the time) and hardly knew her before she died—Booker was raised by his mother, and his desire to care for her became part of his academic drive early on. Douglass saw literacy and education as the key to freeing the soul and breaking the cycle of slavery—Washington saw education as an imperative for the survival and ultimate thriving of newly-freed slaves.Interestingly enough, both Douglass and Washington were imbued with an enduring sense of Christian faith—which came through strong in their perspectives and writing. And both adamantly agreed on the soul-deep corruption slavery had on the white slaveholders--as though it were nearly as toxic to them as to those they enslaved, but on a more insidious level.Note: They died 20 years apart; the reconstruction era striking them at different stages in their lives. (Their historical influence is immense, and so it’s well worth taking the time to consider the context of their motives and experiences.) It's funny… I was a little critical of Booker T. Washington for not going into much emotions-wise regarding his domestic life, but the same turned out to be true of Frederick Douglass. Perhaps it's an avoidance that is more true to the era and gender than I first supposed. (Or, perhaps my hopes are just unreasonably sentimental.)

  • Dale
    2019-05-16 12:50

    An American Classic4.5 hoursNarrated by Jonathan ReesePublished by Tantor MediaFrederick Douglass wrote three autobiographies during his life. Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglas, an American Slave, written in 1845, is, perhaps, the most famous. The others were My Bondage and My Freedom (1855) and Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1881, revised 1892).Written as a response to those that doubted that such an intelligent and well-spoken man could have ever been a slave, Narrative tells about the early life of Frederick Douglass (b. 1818 - d.1895), how he learned to read and write and how he acquired the skills necessary to escape and prosper in the North after he escaped.Douglass was a young man when this book was published (aged 27) so there is not a lot of detail about his life as a free man (with the caveat of being an escaped slave living the constant fear of being kidnapped and returned to slavery)...Read more at:

  • Erica
    2019-05-15 14:54

    I became interested in Frederick Douglass in high school, for the most shallow of reasons: I saw his picture in my history book and thought he was awfully cute.Since then, he's popped up here and there throughout my life and whatever I learn about him is fascinating. His narrative is no different, he seems to be an inspiring, strong, amazing person! I wish I could have met him.

  • Billy McCoy
    2019-04-24 10:50

    This book is an excellent and inspiring book, one cannot praise it too much; however as an objective and unbiased reader one wonders how much of this story is exaggerated to make Douglass' point about the horrors of slavery.

  • Amber
    2019-05-20 13:54

    “…my long crushed spirit rose, cowardice departed, bold defiance took its place; and I now resolved that, however long I might remain a slave in form, the day had passed forever when I could be a slave in fact. I did not hesitate to let it be known of me, that the white man who expected to succeed in whipping, must also succeed in killing me…” -- Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglass, An American SlaveI went into the B&N bookstore to escape the hot Atlanta sun, and while browsing I saw this book on one of their displays. It was cheap ($4.95) and I've decided to dedicate my summer to reading, so I bought it. I didn't have high hopes (I never do when I venture out of my comfort zone), but Frederick Douglass put me at ease by the end of the first chapter. He write so eloquently with so much imagery that I couldn't put the book down for longer than to eat or sleep. He elicits emotions from the reader (or at least from me) of anger, saddness, and joy. Some parts of the book were extremely difficult for me to read--due to the level of cruelty and the detailed description he gave--but I'm glad I read it. Reading his narrative makes me appreciate so many things I take for granted in life. It's so easy to forget that only 150 years ago (hell...50 years ago) I would never have had all the opportunities in life I have now. I knew he was brillant by what other people had told me about him, but now I know of my own accord that Frederick Douglass is brilliant.

  • Jesse
    2019-05-15 15:51

    I know that most Goodreads members probably have their minds made up about slavery by now, but I had forgotten until recently what a remarkable piece of literature this is:"On the one hand, there stood slavery, a stern reality,glaring frightfully upon us,- its robes already crimsonedwith the blood of millions, and even now feasting itselfgreedily upon our own flesh. On the other hand,away back in the dim distance, under the flickering light of the north star, behind some craggy hill or snow-covered mountain, stood a doubtful freedom - half frozen - beckoning us to come and share its hospitality." (123)It's worth a second look and you haven't read it before, you really ought to. There's a lot more here than "slavery is bad". Douglass' interpretation of religious identification among slave-holders will be of special interest to students of Southern literature.

  • Dan
    2019-05-19 16:43

    This summer while talking among friends I had the realization that I have read almost no african american literature. I knew I had deficiencies in female authors and have been trying to balance things out better this year. How is it that I can think of myself as well read with these two (and who knows how many more) weak spots?So I decided to start near the beginning with Frederick Douglass and I am glad I did as it was a fairly eye opening look into the life of a slave. I think we all get the gist of what slavery is and how bad it can be but many of the details were entirely new to me (like getting a few days off at the end of the year, and at times being able to visit family members). I am thinking I will move on to Du Bois from here, then venture into Ellison. Who else would you recommend?

  • Eugenie
    2019-05-14 13:38

    This was a fascinating true story that kept me enthralled from start to finish. I could go right back to the beginning and read it all through over again with superlative ease.6 stars

  • Amy
    2019-05-22 11:34

    Do yourself a favor and read this book. It’s only 128 pages, and it’s one of the most powerful and important works of American literature that you’ve probably never read. It was very instrumental in the abolitionist movement that eventually led to the US Civil War and the eradication of slavery. It should be required high school reading even though it’s harsh, violent, and contains coarse language--really BECAUSE it’s harsh, violent, and contains coarse language. Sometimes history needs to be experienced through the eyes of those who lived through it in order to truly understand it. The slavery that existed in the United States was brutal and demeaning. Slavery brought out the very worst and base of human instincts in slave owners. Slaves were regularly physically abused, starved, made to endure extreme temperatures with inadequate clothing, made to work long hours without enough rest or food (even when they were sick), sexually exploited, raped, and even murdered by their masters. Murder usually went unpunished if it were committed against a slave. You hear rumors of kind slave owners, but after reading this, I have my doubts as to the existence of such a group of people. Perhaps this rumor exists because a slave would always reply that they were treated well by their master if asked because replying in the negative would be cause for a beating.When Frederick Douglass was a child, he was sold to become the first slave of a young couple. At first, the wife was very kind to him and even began to teach him to read. “But, alas! this kind heart had but a short time to remain such.” When her husband found out she was teaching her slave to read, he chided her, “"if you teach that [slave] how to read, there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master. As to himself, it could do him no good, but a great deal of harm. It would make him discontented and unhappy." Upon taking this conversation to heart and experiencing “[t]he fatal poison of irresponsible power” as a slave owner, Douglass says that her “cheerful eye, under the influence of slavery, soon became red with rage; that voice, made all of sweet accord, changed to one of harsh and horrid discord; and that angelic face gave place to that of a demon.” It’s the results of the Standford Prison Experiment seen in action. This conversation was the turning point not only to turn a kind mistress into a cruel one, but it also sparked Douglass’ desire for freedom. He says that “These words sank deep into my heart, stirred up sentiments within that lay slumbering, and called into existence an entirely new train of thought. It was a new and special revelation, explaining dark and mysterious things, with which my youthful understanding had struggled, but struggled in vain. I now understood what had been to me a most perplexing difficulty—to wit, the white man's power to enslave the black man.” Thereafter, he was convinced that he needed to learn to read more than anything else. He would borrow his owners’ child’s copy books and convince or trick neighborhood boys into teaching him to read and write until he could. True to his master’s prediction, he became considerably discontented and unhappy within the confines of slavery. Douglass says that he found the worst slave owner to be a religious slave owner. When one of his masters returned from a religious revival, Douglass expected him to be kinder and perhaps even free him. However, instead, his master found more Biblical justification for being a cruel taskmaster within Christianity than without. Douglass found the “Christianity of this land” and the “Christianity of Christ” to be very different religions. He says, “I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land. Indeed, I can see no reason, but the most deceitful one, for calling the religion of this land Christianity.” The Appendix to Douglass’ narrative is a powerful condemnation of “the Christianity of this land” in respect to their justifications for and support of slavery: We have men-stealers for ministers, women-whippers for missionaries, and cradle-plunderers for church members. The man who wields the blood-clotted cowskin during the week fills the pulpit on Sunday, and claims to be a minister of the meek and lowly Jesus. The man who robs me of my earnings at the end of each week meets me as a class-leader on Sunday morning, to show me the way of life, and the path of salvation. He who sells my sister, for purposes of prostitution, stands forth as the pious advocate of purity. He who proclaims it a religious duty to read the Bible denies me the right of learning to read the name of the God who made me. He who is the religious advocate of marriage robs whole millions of its sacred influence, and leaves them to the ravages of wholesale pollution. The warm defender of the sacredness of the family relation is the same that scatters whole families,—sundering husbands and wives, parents and children, sisters and brothers,—leaving the hut vacant, and the hearth desolate. We see the thief preaching against theft, and the adulterer against adultery. We have men sold to build churches, women sold to support the gospel, and babes sold to purchase Bibles for the Poor Heathen! All For The Glory Of God And The Good Of Souls! The slave auctioneer's bell and the church-going bell chime in with each other, and the bitter cries of the heart-broken slave are drowned in the religious shouts of his pious master. Revivals of religion and revivals in the slave-trade go hand in hand together. The slave prison and the church stand near each other. The clanking of fetters and the rattling of chains in the prison, and the pious psalm and solemn prayer in the church, may be heard at the same time. The dealers in the bodies and souls of men erect their stand in the presence of the pulpit, and they mutually help each other. The dealer gives his blood-stained gold to support the pulpit, and the pulpit, in return, covers his infernal business with the garb of Christianity.We’ve come a long way in this nation. Slavery is eradicated, but the post-slave generations still experience discrimination for the color of their skin and their cultural heritage. And I can say the same thing of the difference today between the “pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ” and the Christianity that doesn’t feed the poor (anti-homeless, anti-welfare, anti-taxes), help the sick (anti-healthcare, anti-medicaid, anti-medicare), or love their neighbor as themselves (anti-immigrant, anti-refugee, anti-other-sexual, prejudicial). It’s different, but it’s the same. Hate, mistreating your fellow human beings, and not treating them as human is the same no matter how you label it or institute it. Prisons and detention centers in the USA are currently full of African Americans and immigrants in the millions. America’s hands are far from clean even now.

  • Marcus Chatman
    2019-05-13 10:48

    I found this book, though historic, to be a modern marvel. I find not only the man himself but even more so the writings of Frederick Douglass to be totally FASCINATING! This man's ability to describe the various monstrosities encountered throughout his journey in such a beautiful, articulate, and eloquent way is utterly GENIUS! In reading this timeless masterpiece I discovered that this man bears the unmatched, undisputed spirit of a champion; the undying essence of a true warrior; that I'm sure would resonate to any and every reader who would be so bold as to take a glance at the greatness that lies between the pages of this work of genius. This man's profound desire to acquire knowledge and educate himself by whatever means necessary exudes a ground shaking, bone rattling determination as I have scarcely, if at all, ever heard of. Frederick Douglass is to me the epitome of class and integrity and can serve as a role model and an inspiration to anyone in search of an incentive to better themselves, even or ESPECIALLY in the face of adversity. In this BRILLIANT account of his heroic journey from slavery to freedom he bestows a wisdom; a very keen insight, and he embodies an honor, the likes of which I have never seen in ANY other writer. I HIGHLY recommend this book to ANYBODY who is in search of inspiration or just a GREAT read!