‘Amistad’ worth the read


Published: Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 2:35 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 2:35 p.m.

History is filled with half-truths, especially about our heroes.

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“The Amistad Rebellion” by Marcus Rediker, c. 2012, Viking, $27.95, 288 pages.

Lincoln, for instance, wasn't the stern, humorless man that old photos lead you to believe. Queen Victoria was very definitely "amused" quite often. Roosevelt made mistakes, Boudica had her fears, even Churchill undoubtedly had his doubts.

Or so we hope, because we want our heroes to be human, too. And for that, author Marcus Rediker dug deep to present a few surprises in his new book, "The Amistad Rebellion."

It should have been a routine trip for Ramon Ferrer, captain of the Amistad. He was hired to accept cargo, sail it from Havana to another port in Cuba and drop it off, where it would be sorted and sold. Routine, but it cost him his life because the cargo, 49 men and four children, had other ideas.

Up until then, the journey for these men and children had been like that of every other slave who came through the Middle Passage: most had been snatched by slave hunters (although some had been taken in exchange for a family member's debt), they were crammed beneath the deck of the ship, stacked on shelves with little-to-no room to move, often with less than three feet of headroom. Food was scarce, water was often denied, the stench of bondage choked them, and many died.

Author Marcus Rediker does an exceptional job in putting individual faces on each of the ship's passengers and those who assisted them on their journey home. We come to see their strength, wisdom and playfulness, which softens this story with personality and turns these men into more than just historical figures. I appreciated that Rediker doesn't stop there, but carefully explains how the Amistad Rebellion affected slavery, and history in general.

Though I must admit that I liked the first two-thirds of this book better than the latter part, I think it's an exciting, horrifying, triumphant tale overall, and definitely worth reading.

If you are in need of a story like that, then "The Amistad Rebellion" is truly what you want.

Terri Schlichenmeyer never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.

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