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

Who am I?

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.

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

Haiti: The Aftershocks of History

By Laurent Dubois,

Book cover of Haiti: The Aftershocks of History

Why 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.

Haiti: The Aftershocks of History

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.…


The Haitians: A Decolonial History

By Jean Casimir, Laurent Dubois (translator),

Book cover of The Haitians: A Decolonial History

Why 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.

The Haitians: A Decolonial History

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…


Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History

By Michel-Rolph Trouillot,

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

Why 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.

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History

By Michel-Rolph Trouillot,

Why should I read it?

2 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…


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

By Manuel Covo,

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

Why 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.

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

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…


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

By Chelsea Stieber,

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

Why 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.

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

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…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Haiti, France, and the Haitian Revolution?

7,000+ 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 39 books about Haiti
France Explore 690 books about France
The Haitian Revolution Explore 15 books about the Haitian Revolution

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Caliban and the Witch, Durruti in the Spanish Revolution, and King Leopold's Ghost if you like this list.