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.
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.
Hazareesingh’s engrossing new life tells the story of how the enigmatic, deeply religious boy from Bréda came to be one of the most celebrated, feared and consequential political leaders of his generation ... the story of an island as well as a man ... aims to make sense of these divergent stances by 'painting a coherent picture of [Louverture’s] political values.' Mr. Hazareesingh is not the first to try...Mr. Hazareesingh brings to the task a voracious appetite for original sources and a discerning ear for those which have the ring of truth. He also has a gift for tracing those threads that reveal a previously unrecognized pattern in the fabric of a life ... The contribution of Black Spartacus is to show how Louverture’s political creed emerged from a compound of the Catholic, Enlightenment and African influences that surrounded the young Toussaint ... The tightly focused camerawork in Black Spartacus, which allows us to see Louverture so clearly, nonetheless has the disadvantage of leaving other important figures out of the frame. The book gives fairly cursory treatment to André Rigaud, Louverture’s archrival in the south, and to Jean-Jacques Dessalines and Henri Christophe, Louverture’s onetime lieutenants and the first leaders of independent Haiti. There is also a paucity of perspectives 'from below': We learn little about the ordinary former slaves who powered Louverture’s rise—and, at times, opposed it.