Twelve Years A Slave

Twelve Years A Slave

Paperback - 2012
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"A harrowing memoir about one of the darkest periods in American history. Born a free man in New York, Solomon Northup was abducted in Washington, D.C., in 1841 and spent the next twelve years of his life in captivity as a slave on a Louisiana cotton plantation. After his rescue, he published this exceptionally vivid and detailed account of slave life--perhaps the best written of all the slave narratives. It became an immediate bestseller and today is recognized for its unusual insight and eloquence as one of the very few portraits of American slavery produced by someone as educated as Solomon Northup, or by someone with the dual perspective of having been both a free man and a slave"--
"Born a free man in New York State in 1808, Solomon Northup was kidnapped in Washington, D.C., in 1841. He spent the next twelve harrowing years of his life as a slave on a Louisiana cotton plantation. During this time he was frequently abused and often afraid for his life. After regaining his freedom in 1853, Northup decided to publish this gripping autobiographical account of his captivity. As an educated man, Northup was able to present an exceptionally detailed and accurate description of slave life and plantation society. Indeed, this book is probably the fullest, most realistic picture of the "peculiar institution" during the three decades before the Civil War. Moreover, Northup tells his story both from the viewpoint of an outsider, who had experienced thirty years of freedom and dignity in the United States before his capture, and as a slave, reduced to total bondage and submission. Very few personal accounts of American slavery were written by slaves with a similar history. Published in 1853, Northup's book found a ready audience and almost immediately became a bestseller. Aside from its vivid depiction of the detention, transportation, and sale of slaves, TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE is admired for its classic accounts of cotton and sugar production, its uncannily precise recall of people, times, and places, and the compelling details that recreate the daily routine of slaves in the Gulf South"--
Published: New York : Penguin Books, 2012.
ISBN: 9780143106708
Branch Call Number: 306.362 NOR
Characteristics: xxxvi, 240 p. :,ill., music ;,20 cm.
Additional Contributors: Gates, Henry Louis Jr. Jr.,- Editor
Alternative Title: 12 years a slave


From Library Staff

Solomon Northrup tells of his experience as a black man born free in New York state but kidnapped in 1841 and taken to the slave holding south. He was not rescued until 1853 from a cotton plantation in Louisiana and finally reunited with his family.
“What difference is there in the color of the s... Read More »

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Jun 18, 2019

In 1841 Solomon Northup, despite having been born free in upstate New York, was kidnapped and illegally sold into slavery in Louisiana. This is his personal account of the brutal years he endured, under the whip and separated from his wife and children, before finally being rescued twelve long years later.

I've read a number of slave narratives in the past few years, all of which are heart-rending, but this -- along with that of Harriet Jacobs -- is probably the one that will most strongly stick with me. Should be required high school reading.

Oct 04, 2018

Great story and writing. Beautiful and expressive language reminscent of Pride and Prejudice when the art of conversation was an art.
However, the audio book is read by Lou Gossett Jr and he reads so fast and slurs some words, I found it very hart to listen to. I gave up after a few chapters.

JCLBetM Aug 26, 2018

I was not prepared for the power of Solomon Northrup’s story. Though I've read about Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Nat Turner, and Sojourner Truth, I'd never read an actual slave narrative before. And I'd never heard about Solomon Northup. Nor the fact that slavery had come to such a wretched state that even free African-Americans from the North were being kidnapped and enslaved in the South — so much so that New York passed a law in 1840 “to protect the free citizens of this State from being kidnapped, or reduced to Slavery.”

Not one to typically make “everyone should” statements, I will simply say this: I have never before felt as privileged to be reading a book as I did whilst reading Twelve Years a Slave. It was like with every page I read, I was honouring Solomon Northup. I hope many more read the story of this remarkable man.

One of the things that so captured my attention about Northup’s story is that, unlike Frederick Douglass who was born a slave and began his education while a slave, Solomon Northup was born a free man, educated as a free man, worked as a free man, married and had children as a free man — and then, after living freely for over thirty years, he was kidnapped and thrust into a life of slavery. As Douglass himself wrote regarding Northup’s story: “It is a strange history, its truth is stranger than fiction.”

Just a few months after being rescued, Northup published his personal account in 1853, selling 30,000 copies in just a few years. But then, it fell into obscurity for nearly 100 years until Sue Eakin and Joseph Logsdon published a reedited version in the late 1960s.

If you’re not used to reading books written in the 19th century, it can take a little time to accustom yourself. But trust me, it is time well spent. And, if you’re concerned that it will be “too hard” to read because it relates harsh details of slavery, know that Northup has an amazing ability to speak honestly while still being reserved.

Good for: readers who like stories with complex plots and worthy protagonists; readers who "hold these truths to be self-evident;" readers who want to be better informed about slavery and American history; history and lit teachers looking for a "new" book to share with students.

Best read with others, so you can discuss it.

Sep 04, 2017

First time I've written about a book. This one read like fiction; unfortunately it was all too true. Mr. Northrup has woven the details of his slavery into such wonderful, well-paced account it reads BETTER than most fiction. I reveled in his descriptive vocabulary; there are many college graduates today who are not any where near as well-spoken as this man. What an amazing man he must have been. It is hard to believe that this book is not required reading in every school nationwide. It is also surprising that this didn't have more impact on the defeat of slavery. I don't know how widely published it was when written, but I felt it told the truth about the "peculiar institution" as some called it during that era. When something is so morally reprehensible that it has to be referenced by an alternate name, you know it needs to be stopped. I'm thankful that I live in the US, and am ashamed of this and other racially related instances in our past; thank goodness that he was convinced to share his personal history in order to enlighten future generations.

FindingJane May 01, 2016

Literate, articulate and excruciating in detail, Mr. Northup’s saga of enforced bondage to various white masters stands as a shining gem in the crown of black literature about this era. He outlines just how terrible his days were and how dreadful his nights, when slaves dared not oversleep no matter how fatigued they were from the day’s toils. Rarely did a day pass without a whipping, unless the slaves were under the yoke of a kind master.

Unlike Frederick Douglass’s similar account, Mr. Northup goes into painstaking detail, naming names and places, all the while showing a shrewd view of human nature. There are no good blacks and evil whites; there are decent and indecent people among them both. Whereas Mr. Douglass maintained that a white master who was religious was a particularly terrible nemesis of the slave, Mr. Northup stresses that even among the pious there were those who were gentle towards their property, who knew how to win the loves of those underneath their yoke.

If anything, Mr. Northup is quick to blame slavery—the sin rather than the sinner—under which both white and black men suffer, one that teaches young white children to practice and delight in cruelty and makes it impossible even for church-going, compassionate men to see anything other than moral rectitude in an immoral system.

It is a sobering and harrowing account of a bygone age and one that continues to leave its stain upon the current age. (If you think racism doesn’t exist in America, try listening to a white person complain that white privilege means travelling in a limo instead of on a train.)

Sep 28, 2015

I was amazed at the memory of names, places, dates and events in the life of this man. Not only that, he was able to weave these snapshots into a captivating story that was hard to put down. Not many writers have this ability when using factual information. It's hard to believe that it was written well over 100 years ago. Also, it's hard to believe that many of the attitudes of human beings haven't changed in that time. There are still those that strongly believe in slavery, since it still exists in many nations of the world.

Sep 08, 2015

What an incredible, profound, truly moving account of the real-life tragic events! The book had been published in 1853(!) and yet, when I started reading it I couldn't put it down. The author's incredible intelligence, attention to detail, his philosophical stance - all this contributed to truly remarkable book. I watched the movie - it's good as an illustration to the book. However, the movie skipped on the last part, the escape back to freedom - how the author was helped by so many good people, and what was involved, including the court proceedings and other documents appended to the book. Actually, as I was reading the Chapter 21 and on, my heart was racing! Highly, highly recommended.

Jun 27, 2015

This is an absolutely amazing story of a NY-born freeman who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in the deep South and after 12 years managed to regain his freedom. It was published in 1853. It not only tells of the indignities that he went through but of the suffering of so many others that were treated so horrifically.

There is no way that I could have seen the movie as the horrors described in the book would have overwhelmed me. Also, the verbal written descriptions are truly worth reading.

Jun 20, 2015

I finally stopped reading it because the brutality was pretty distasteful. I didn't need it on EVERY page.

Mar 25, 2015

A very interesting book. A look into the life of a slave from a first hand account.

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Jan 04, 2015

An amazing account of a "free" black man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery. Solomon was educated and after his eventual rescue, was able to write about his twelve years in captivity. Excellent narrative and true to the language and events of the time period.


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