The best books about Haitian history and Haiti today

Madison Smartt Bell Author Of Master of the Crossroads
By Madison Smartt Bell

Who am I?

I was drawn to Haiti for two reasons; the Haitian Revolution is the only one of the three 18th century upheavals to fulfill the declared ideology of the French and American Revolutions by extending basic human rights to all people, not just white people. Secondly, or maybe I should put it first, the practice of Vodou makes Haiti one of the few places where one can meet divinity in the flesh, an experience I coveted, although (as it is written) it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God.

I wrote...

Master of the Crossroads

By Madison Smartt Bell,

Book cover of Master of the Crossroads

What is my book about?

Continuing his epic trilogy of the Haitian slave uprising, Madison Smartt Bell's Master of the Crossroads delivers a stunning portrayal of Toussaint Louverture, former slave, military genius, and liberator of Haiti, and his struggle against the great European powers to free his people in the only successful slave revolution in history. At the outset, Toussaint is a second-tier general in the Spanish army, which is supporting the rebel slaves' fight against the French. But when Toussaint is betrayed by his former allies and the commanders of the Spanish army, he reunites his army with the French, wresting vital territories and manpower from Spanish control. With his army one among several factions, Toussaint eventually rises as the ultimate victor as he wards off his enemies to take control of the French colony and establish a new constitution. Bell's grand, multifaceted novel shows a nation, splintered by actions and in the throes of chaos, carried to liberation and justice through the undaunted tenacity of one incredible visionary.

The books I picked & why

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Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution

By Laurent Dubois,

Book cover of Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution

Why this book?

This history is the best and most up-to-date narrative account of the Haitian Revolution, its causes, and its consequences, available in English. The fact that Dubois trained as a fiction writer with Russell Banks makes the book unusually reader-friendly. Though it is much shorter, I would not hesitate to compare it to Shelby Foote’s magisterial three-volume Civil War narrative.

The Big Truck That Went by: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster

By Jonathan M Katz,

Book cover of The Big Truck That Went by: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster

Why this book?

Katz was in Haiti as an AP stringer at the time of the 2010 earthquake that devastated Port au Prince and was the only non-Haitian reporter to experience that event directly. He went on to do investigative reporting in the aftermath of the quake and was the one to discover that one of the UN deployments had introduced cholera into Haiti by building latrines that drained into the Artibonite River. Katz’s book is sharp and thorough on the damage done to Haiti by both well- and ill-intentioned foreign interference, and also includes a short, clear, efficient, and accurate history of the country from its eighteenth-century founding to the present.

Les Enfants des Héros

By Lyonel Trouillot,

Book cover of Les Enfants des Héros

Why this book?

Lyonel Trouillot is one of the most powerful novelists of our time, extremely well known in the Francophone world, though less so in the US, in part because of the difficulty of translating his intensely lyrical prose. He has a rare ability to make artistically sound texts based on very immediate reportage on the various Haitian crises. This particular novel is especially valuable in the way it relates the desperation of Haitian life today to the country’s heroic past.

Dance on the Volcano

By Marie Vieux-Chauvet,

Book cover of Dance on the Volcano

Why this book?

Chauvet is another of the all-time great Haitian novelist, best known for her Amour, Colère, Folie, which depicted the horrors of the Duvalier regime--- obliquely and somewhat allegorically, but sharply enough that the book was banned and most copies destroyed—it did not become generally available until after the author’s death. La Danse sur le Volcan, a historical novel, is equally powerful and gives a wonderfully complete and complex view of all the complications of race, class, and culture that existed in Haiti while still a French sugar colony, on the eve of Revolution.

Nan Domi: An Initiate's Journey Into Haitian Vodou

By Mimerose Beaubrun,

Book cover of Nan Domi: An Initiate's Journey Into Haitian Vodou

Why this book?

Nan Domi is the only book I know of that reports on the interior, private, mystical practices of Vodou—one of the world’s great religions, though much misunderstood and despised outside of Haiti. A preface I wrote for the book gives an efficient introduction to the basic history, beliefs, and practices of Vodou, providing the necessary context for Beaubrun’s more esoteric text.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Haiti, the Haitian Revolution, and colonies?

5,888 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Haiti, the Haitian Revolution, and colonies.

Haiti Explore 27 books about Haiti
The Haitian Revolution Explore 8 books about the Haitian Revolution
Colonies Explore 41 books about colonies

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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