David Blight (American Oracle) is a historian at Yale University who has studied Frederick Douglass and the Civil War for much of his career. Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom is a thorough, insightful and vivid examination of the man's personal, public and intellectual life.
Those who are familiar with Douglass (1818-1895) may know about his childhood and youth as he described them in his autobiographies. Born and raised a slave, Douglass spent nine years as a fugitive before becoming one of the greatest figures of the 19th century, a brilliant writer, speaker and advocate for abolition and women's rights. Liberals and conservatives have both embraced him, but his complexities made up a whole that was greater than any political category. In clear, energetic prose, Blight shows him with all his great virtues and human flaws, as a radical revolutionary, a genuine prophet and an original thinker who rarely shied away from paradoxes and ambivalences. "From his long experience, personal and public, he came to understand the utterly intertwined nature of light and darkness, love and hatred, life and death."
Blight casts a critical eye on the early autobiographies and does his best to locate the man behind them. He considers Douglass's "deep grounding in the Bible" and the influences of his friends, family and enemies. His access to the Walter O. Evans collection of Douglass material contributes to a better understanding of the final third of Douglass's life. This may be the definitive biography for years to come. --Sara Catterall