Among the defining figures of the Age of Revolution, Toussaint Louverture is the most enigmatic. Though the Haitian revolutionary’s image has multiplied across the globe―appearing on banknotes and in bronze, on T-shirts and in film―the only definitive portrait executed in his lifetime has been lost. A call to take Haiti’s founding father seriously on his own terms, and to honor his role in shaping the postcolonial world to come.
... a tour de force: by far the most complete, authoritative and persuasive biography of Toussaint that we are likely to have for a long time. It is not without its own very strong point of view, presenting Toussaint above all as a fierce and effective opponent of slavery. But it is at times an extraordinarily gripping read ... The book is grounded in a remarkable job of research. Hazareesingh has scoured archives in France, Britain, the US and Spain (not Haiti itself, where, regrettably, relatively little material has survived). He has not been able to resolve some of the greatest open questions about Toussaint, such as whether the black leader plotted the slave rebellion at the behest of French royalists, who hoped it would undercut moves towards independence by white landowners. Rumours to this effect have circulated since the events themselves. Hazareesingh does not believe them, but has little new evidence. However thanks above all to new soundings in the French colonial archives, including both the correspondence of French officials and records of the colonial administration, he has provided a far richer portrait of Toussaint’s years in power than was previously available. Ten of 12 chapters deal with these later years ... [Hazareesingh's] admiration does lead him to skate lightly over the most troubling aspects of Toussaint’s career.
... expertly crafted ... brings a fresh interpretation to the man himself, while dancing skillfully around the more controversial—and unsavory—aspects of his rule during the years spanning the Haitian Revolution of 1791 and the Haitian War of Independence in 1802 ... While there are gaps in Louverture’s early historical record, Hazareesingh creatively addresses this research obstacle by expanding on the social and cultural history of Saint-Domingue, giving us a glimpse into the world that shaped young Toussaint ... Perhaps the most effective way to deal with the messier aspects of Louverture—his owning of slaves, his later authoritarian acts, and even his white mistresses—is to approach the intellectual interiority of the man, which is exactly what Hazareesingh does in fascinating detail. Using recently uncovered documents in British, French, and Spanish archives, he dives into the deep pool of Louverture’s mind ... a well-written, if slightly hagiographic, addition to Louverture historiography. With a wealth of previously undiscovered documents shedding new light on his beliefs and intellectual passions, we get a bit closer to this intriguing man who helped free a nation.
A difficult task indeed — which makes Sudhir Hazareesingh’s Black Spartacus all the more remarkable. The Oxford academic deftly tells the byzantine and fragmented history to paint perhaps the sharpest portrait yet of Louverture ... While previous attempts have often misinterpreted Louverture’s deep relationships with the Europeans as some kind of racial or revolutionary betrayal, Hazareesingh illuminates his subject’s ability to incorporate political and military strategies from various cultures and recast them in a more powerful form. This insight provides a road map to understanding why the actions for which Louverture has been most criticised are what made him so effective ... provides new and important insights into seminal events such as the initial insurrection of 1791 ... If one were to quibble with Hazareesingh, it might be with the light attention paid to some of the other central characters such as Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the Haitian general and later ruler, as we never fully understand his motivations or the reason behind his ultimate betrayal of Louverture. Ultimately, however, Black Spartacus is a triumph. It takes a nearly impossibly complex history and weaves it into a compelling and accurate narrative that reads like fiction.