... compelling and compassionate ... Mr. Guyatt draws upon meticulous archival research and analysis of prisoners’ letters, diaries and memoirs. Crucial evidence was teased from Dartmoor’s surviving five-volume register of incoming Americans. Transcribing every entry into a searchable spreadsheet, Mr. Guyatt sifted this data to test the veracity of personal narratives compiled from memory ... Of the dozen or so prisoners who left detailed memoirs of Dartmoor, none was black. In an era when U.S. citizenship remained a deeply contentious issue, No. 4 was seen by some writers as a dangerous precedent for black self-determination, and King Dick became caricatured as a swaggering tyrant. Through a vivid and convincing reconstruction of life inside Dartmoor, The Hated Cage provides a valuable corrective to such distortions.
... [a] beguiling new history ... In the slow burn of his early chapters, Guyatt, a historian at the University of Cambridge, traces the origins and draws out the character of these prisoners ... Guyatt recounts [escape plots] in their furtive glory ... no matter the human drama of The Hated Cage, no matter how tense the wait to see which prisoners survive; Guyatt’s real triumph is the reconstruction of Dartmoor Prison itself. In building this claustrophobic world of violence, friendship, hope and horror, he creates a sense of place not far removed from the looming malevolence of Manderley, or the Arctic ice pack that swallowed up the Terror and the Erebus.
Guyatt’s account stretches across fourteen chapters – easily the most comprehensive study to date (and probably for quite a long while). Much of the book is context. American prisoners do not begin arriving at Dartmoor until the fourth chapter. In these initial chapters, Guyatt offers a hasty, though not oversimplified, summary of the Anglo–American tensions that erupted into war in 1812, and a short history of the prison ... The book is at its best once the focus shifts to the prisoners’ experiences, when it becomes a model microhistory. Guyatt does not rely exclusively on the handful of prisoners’ written accounts, which are invariably conflicting and sometimes written decades later. Sailors are, after all, known for tall tales. Along with government and personal correspondence, Guyatt carefully employs prison records to balance the embellished personal narratives. The result is a vivid reconstruction of the experiences of the men who endured Dartmoor, as well as the hundreds who did not survive, dying from disease even before the bloody riot ... Race is an important part of the story of Dartmoor, and Guyatt is right to emphasize it ... The book regularly revisits King Dick and, while the attempt to weave him into the story as a central figure sometimes feels strained, the account is enriched by the story of this once powerful leader who later died homeless in Boston ... Guyatt’s meticulous reconstruction and vivid telling of these conditions make The Hated Cage a compelling story of human indifference, cruelty and endurance.