The best books on the Haitian Revolution from a historian of eighteenth-century France and the French empire

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a Professor of History at Johns Hopkins University who studies the history of France and the French empire. My research stretches from the age of Louis XIV through the French Revolution, exploring questions of political economy, capitalism, empire, the Enlightenment, and popular culture. At a moment when historical research is becoming increasingly specialized, my work builds bridges between political, economic, and cultural history. 


I wrote...

Contraband: Louis Mandrin and the Making of a Global Underground

By Michael Kwass,

Book cover of Contraband: Louis Mandrin and the Making of a Global Underground

What is my book about?

Louis Mandrin led a gang of bandits who brazenly smuggled contraband into eighteenth-century France. Michael Kwass brings new life to the legend of this Gallic Robin Hood and the thriving underworld he helped to create. Decades before the storming of the Bastille, surging world trade excited a revolution in consumption that transformed the French kingdom. Contraband exposes the dark side of this early phase of globalization, revealing hidden connections between illicit commerce, Enlightenment political economy, and popular revolt.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Haiti: The Aftershocks of History

Michael Kwass Why did I love this book?

I find this book as enlightening as it is useful. In a single volume, Dubois provides a sweeping history of the Haitian Revolution and its legacy. He recounts not only how Haitians rose up against slavery to establish their own independent nation, but how that nation struggled internally to define itself while contending externally with a racist and hostile world order.

By Laurent Dubois,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Haiti as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Even before the recent earthquake destroyed much of the country, Haiti was known as a benighted place of poverty and corruption. Maligned and misunderstood, the nation has long been blamed by many for its own wretchedness. But as acclaimed historian Laurent Dubois demonstrates, Haiti's troubles owe more to a legacy of international punishment for the original sin of staging the only successful slave revolt in the world. Dubois vividly depicts the isolation and impoverishment that followed the 1804 rebellion: the crushing indemnities imposed by the former French rulers, which initiated a cycle of debt; the multiple interventions by the U.S.…


Book cover of The Haitians: A Decolonial History

Michael Kwass Why did I love this book?

When you think about Columbus arriving in Haiti, Casimir asks, do you imagine yourself on the boat or on the shore? With deep insight, Casimir writes from the perspective of those on the shore, producing a decolonial history that emphasizes how rural Haitians drew on African traditions to resist the brutal system of plantation slavery imposed by French colonists. Further, he shows how patterns of popular resistance persisted during and after the Haitian Revolution, when Haitian elites attempted to revive parts of the plantation system. This is one of the most insightful and compelling books I read this year.

By Jean Casimir, Laurent Dubois (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Haitians as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this sweeping history, leading Haitian intellectual Jean Casimir argues that the story of Haiti should not begin with the usual image of Saint-Domingue as the richest colony of the eighteenth century. Rather, it begins with a reconstruction of how individuals from Africa, in the midst of the golden age of imperialism, created a sovereign society based on political imagination and a radical rejection of the colonial order, persisting even through the U.S. occupation in 1915.

The Haitians also critically retheorizes the very nature of slavery, colonialism, and sovereignty. Here, Casimir centers the perspectives of Haiti's moun andeyo - the…


Book cover of Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History

Michael Kwass Why did I love this book?

How is it that the American and French Revolutions are discussed endlessly, but few people learn anything about the Haitian Revolution? This classic volume of essays by an anthropologist explores the many ways by which the story of the Haitian Revolution has been silenced. Trouillot explains how power shapes the recording and the telling of history, determining what is put in and, importantly, what is left out. Few books have made me think so hard about how history is produced.

By Michel-Rolph Trouillot,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Silencing the Past as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Now part of the HBO docuseries Exterminate All the Brutes, written and directed by Raoul Peck

The 20th anniversary edition of a pioneering classic that explores the contexts in which history is produced—now with a new foreword by renowned scholar Hazel Carby
 
Placing the West’s failure to acknowledge the Haitian Revolution—the most successful slave revolt in history—alongside denials of the Holocaust and the debate over the Alamo, Michel-Rolph Trouillot offers a stunning meditation on how power operates in the making and recording of history.

This modern classic resides at the intersection of history, anthropology, Caribbean, African-American, and post-colonial studies, and…


Book cover of Entrepôt of Revolutions: Saint-Domingue, Commercial Sovereignty, and the French-American Alliance

Michael Kwass Why did I love this book?

Covo investigates long-neglected economic aspects of the Haitian Revolution. Beginning in the pre-revolutionary period, when the French called the colony of Saint-Domingue (present-day Haiti) the “Pearl of the Caribbean,” this deeply researched book spotlights the role Haiti played as a commodities hub during the American, French, and Haitian Revolutions. I find this book particularly important because it shows how imperial trade and racial capitalism defined the age of commercial republicanism.

By Manuel Covo,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Entrepôt of Revolutions as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Age of Revolutions has been celebrated for the momentous transition from absolute monarchies to representative governments and the creation of nation-states in the Atlantic world. Much less recognized than the spread of democratic ideals was the period's growing traffic of goods, capital, and people across imperial borders and reforming states' attempts to control this mobility.

Analyzing the American, French, and Haitian revolutions in an interconnected narrative, Manuel Covo centers imperial trade as a driving force, arguing that commercial factors preceded and conditioned political change across the revolutionary Atlantic. At the heart of these transformations was the "entrepot," the island…


Book cover of Haiti's Paper War: Post-Independence Writing, Civil War, and the Making of the Republic, 1804–1954

Michael Kwass Why did I love this book?

A Professor of French and Francophone studies, Stieber describes the development of Haitian literature and print culture in the immediate aftermath of that nation’s revolution, when Haiti was divided between a southern Francocenteric republic and a northern anti-colonial monarchy. I’m impressed by all the ways in which this book illuminates the literary dimension of Haiti’s civil war, underscoring how writers on different sides of the conflict offered competing visions of Haiti’s past, present, and future. The book further explores how this cultural divide played out in successive Haitian governments and even in how historians write about Haiti today.

By Chelsea Stieber,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Haiti's Paper War as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

2021 Outstanding Academic Title, Choice Magazine

Turns to the written record to re-examine the building blocks of a nation
Picking up where most historians conclude, Chelsea Stieber explores the critical internal challenge to Haiti's post-independence sovereignty: a civil war between monarchy and republic. What transpired was a war of swords and of pens, waged in newspapers and periodicals, in literature, broadsheets, and fliers. In her analysis of Haitian writing that followed independence, Stieber composes a new literary history of Haiti, that challenges our interpretations of both freedom struggles and the postcolonial. By examining internal dissent during the revolution, Stieber reveals…


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Who Is a Worthy Mother?: An Intimate History of Adoption

By Rebecca Wellington,

Book cover of Who Is a Worthy Mother?: An Intimate History of Adoption

Rebecca Wellington Author Of Who Is a Worthy Mother?: An Intimate History of Adoption

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I am adopted. For most of my life, I didn’t identify as adopted. I shoved that away because of the shame I felt about being adopted and not truly fitting into my family. But then two things happened: I had my own biological children, the only two people I know to date to whom I am biologically related, and then shortly after my second daughter was born, my older sister, also an adoptee, died of a drug overdose. These sequential births and death put my life on a new trajectory, and I started writing, out of grief, the history of adoption and motherhood in America. 

Rebecca's book list on straight up, real memoirs on motherhood and adoption

What is my book about?

I grew up thinking that being adopted didn’t matter. I was wrong. This book is my journey uncovering the significance and true history of adoption practices in America. Now, in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, the renewed debate over women’s reproductive rights places an even greater emphasis on adoption. As a mother, historian, and adoptee, I am uniquely qualified to uncover the policies and practices of adoption.

The history of adoption, reframed through the voices of adoptees like me, and mothers who have been forced to relinquish their babies, blows apart old narratives about adoption, exposing the fallacy that adoption is always good.

In this story, I reckon with the pain and unanswered questions of my own experience and explore broader issues surrounding adoption in the United States, including changing legal policies, sterilization, and compulsory relinquishment programs, forced assimilation of babies of color and Indigenous babies adopted into white families, and other liabilities affecting women, mothers, and children. Now is the moment we must all hear these stories.

Who Is a Worthy Mother?: An Intimate History of Adoption

By Rebecca Wellington,

What is this book about?

Nearly every person in the United States is affected by adoption. Adoption practices are woven into the fabric of American society and reflect how our nation values human beings, particularly mothers. In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade, the renewed debate over women's reproductive rights places an even greater emphasis on adoption. As a mother, historian, and adoptee, Rebecca C. Wellington is uniquely qualified to uncover the policies and practices of adoption. Wellington's timely-and deeply researched-account amplifies previously marginalized voices and exposes the social and racial biases embedded in the United States' adoption industry.…


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Interested in Haiti, France, and the Haitian Revolution?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Haiti, France, and the Haitian Revolution.

Haiti Explore 41 books about Haiti
France Explore 885 books about France
The Haitian Revolution Explore 16 books about the Haitian Revolution