Revealing the intentionally obliterated role of Africa in the creation of modernity, French retells the story of medieval and emerging Africa, demonstrating how the economic ascendancy of Europe, the anchoring of democracy in America, and the fulfillment of so-called Enlightenment ideals all grew out of Europe's dehumanizing engagement with the "darkest" continent.
... while Born in Blackness is a very personal book—written with a steely and elegant indignation—it is also an impressively detailed historical account of the role of Africa and Africans in the development of Europe and the Americas ... If the strength of Mr. French’s book lies in its quiet but adamant righteousness, it rests also in its empirical force.
French’s design is...to fill an Africa-size hole in conventional accounts of the Age of Discovery and the rise of the West ... French cites compelling research but falls back on his (surely correct) intuition that rival powers would scarcely have spilled so much blood and treasure in their interminable battles to control Black labor if the margins at stake were thin ... Born in Blackness is laced with arresting nuggets ... The evidence that Africans made the New World economically viable is overwhelming, but in his zeal to press his point, French sometimes goes for broke ... Born in Blackness is enlivened with personal anecdotes, but readers looking for a gripping narrative will be disappointed. French repeatedly circles back over his material like a picture restorer revealing a lost world as he calmly insists that we rewrite history. I found the book to be searing, humbling and essential reading.
... magnificent, powerful and absorbing ... At times, the dehumanisation that French describes so powerfully is hard to read ... French offers a wider view of how and why Africa and its people’s histories have been ignored, showing how the exploitation of the Americas and the Caribbean brought ecological dividends that then reshaped the world ... French writes with the elegance you would expect from a distinguished foreign correspondent, and with the passion of someone deeply committed to providing a corrective. I wish he had gone beyond the middle of the 20th century to bring us up to date, not least because problems of historical legacy, of race and racism and of inequality are among today’s most important issues – while the future of the people of Africa, which will be magnified by climate change, is the defining topic of tomorrow. This is not a comfortable or comforting read, but it is beautifully done; a masterpiece even.