The best books about Toussaint Louverture and his impact on the world

Christian Høgsbjerg Author Of Toussaint Louverture: A Black Jacobin in the Age of Revolutions
By Christian Høgsbjerg

Who am I?

When we are thinking of the origins or roots of contemporary movements like #BlackLivesMatter, the Haitian Revolution represents a foundational, inspirational moment but one of also wider world-historical impact and importance – ‘the only successful slave revolt in history’ – and so as the most outstanding leader to emerge during that revolutionary upheaval Toussaint Louverture will always retain relevance and iconic significance. I've had an interest in Toussaint and the Haitian Revolution ever since undertaking my doctorate on how the black Trinidadian revolutionary historian C.L.R. James came to write his classic history of the Haitian Revolution. I currently teach history, including the history of Atlantic slavery and abolition, in the School of Humanities and Social Science at the University of Brighton. 

I wrote...

Toussaint Louverture: A Black Jacobin in the Age of Revolutions

By Charles Forsdick, Christian Høgsbjerg,

Book cover of Toussaint Louverture: A Black Jacobin in the Age of Revolutions

What is my book about?

Heroic leader of the only successful slave revolt in history, Toussaint Louverture is one of the greatest anti-imperialist fighters who ever lived. Born into slavery on a Caribbean plantation, he was able to break from his bondage to lead an army of formerly enslaved Africans to victory against the professional armies of France, Spain, and Britain during the Haitian Revolution of 1791-1804. 

In this lively narrative biography, Louverture’s fascinating life is explored through the prism of his radical politics. Charles Forsdick and Christian Høgsbjerg champion this ‘black Jacobin’ whose revolutionary legacy has inspired people and movements in the two centuries since his death up to and including the contemporary Black Lives Matter movement.  

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution

Why did I love this book?

This work was the first work I read about the Haitian Revolution as a student, and though published in 1938, The Black Jacobins is a classic of historical literature which still remains the best starting place for understanding Toussaint Louverture as a revolutionary leader and his place in history. Born in Trinidad, a Caribbean island with a legacy of slavery and so not entirely unlike Haiti itself, James as a black anti-colonialist became inspired by the Russian Revolution which represented a massive challenge to racism and imperialism. 

The Marxist theory of permanent revolution, outlined in Leon Trotsky’s own History of the Russian Revolution, helped James understand how the Haitian Revolution and the French Revolution were intrinsically intertwined throughout, and so how Jacobinism could inspire Toussaint, just as James himself had been inspired by Bolshevism. The Black Jacobins is a brilliant model of revolutionary history at its best, panoramic in its scale, passionate in its argument, making the enslaved themselves central to the story of the emancipation from slavery, and a work which has helped inspire many of those struggling for colonial and black liberation ever since.  

By C.L.R. James,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In 1791, inspired by the ideals of the French Revolution, the slaves of San Domingo rose in revolt. Despite invasion by a series of British, Spanish and Napoleonic armies, their twelve-year struggle led to the creation of Haiti, the first independent black republic outside Africa. Only three years later, the British and Americans ended the Atlantic slave trade.

In this outstanding example of vivid, committed and empathetic historical analysis, C. L. R. James illuminates these epoch-making events. He explores the appalling economic realities of the Caribbean economy, the roots of the world's only successful slave revolt and the utterly extraordinary…

Book cover of The Making of Haiti: The Saint Domingue Revolution from Below

Why did I love this book?

Carolyn Fick was a doctoral student of C.L.R. James and George Rudé during the 1970s in Montreal, Canada, and in keeping with the turn of social history towards ‘history from below’ in that decade, produced a pioneering study in 1990 of the wider contested forms of revolutionary leadership beyond Toussaint Louverture during the Haitian Revolution, particularly in the South of what was then French colonial Saint Domingue. Carolyn remains a leading historian of the Haitian Revolution, and her work helps us better understand the class dynamics of the revolutionary process as it unfolded, and the tragedy of Toussaint as he developed into a representative of a new land-owning ruling class in Saint Domingue, even as he continued to strike powerful blows at European slave-owning colonial powers.  

By Carolyn E. Fick,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In 1789 the French colony of Saint Domingue was the wealthiest and most flourishing of the Caribbean slave colonies, its economy based on the forced labor of more than half a million black slaves raided from their African homelands. The revolt of this underclass in 1791-the only successful slave rebellion in history-gained the slaves their freedom and set in motion the colony's struggle for independence as the black republic of Haiti.

In this pioneering study, Carolyn E. Fick argues that the repressed and uneducated slaves were the principal architects both of their own freedom and of the successful movement toward…

Book cover of The Common Wind: Afro-American Currents in the Age of the Haitian Revolution

Why did I love this book?

Taking as its title a line from the sonnet William Wordsworth wrote in 1802 in honour of the then imprisoned Toussaint Louverture, Julius S Scott’s work – like that of Carolyn Fick – gives us a powerful sense of just how revolutionary the Haitian Revolution was. Focusing on how sailors, runaway slaves, soldiers, and others spread revolutionary ideas of the Radical Enlightenment across the Caribbean during the 1790s, Scott gives us another brilliant ‘history from below’, full of inspiring examples of internationalism. Leaders of other slave revolts across the Caribbean took on names like ‘Toussaint’, while even the English radical Thomas Paine came to inspire Francophone blacks in this period – such as the imprisoned ‘John Paine’ detained by British authorities in colonial Jamaica in 1793.

By Julius S. Scott,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Common Wind as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Common Wind is a gripping and colorful account of the intercontinental networks that tied together the free and enslaved masses of the New World. Having delved deep into the gray obscurity of official eighteenth-century records in Spanish, English, and French, Julius S. Scott has written a powerful "history from below." Scott follows the spread of "rumors of emancipation" and the people behind them, bringing to life the protagonists in the slave revolution.
By tracking the colliding worlds of buccaneers, military deserters, and maroon communards from Venezuela to Virginia, Scott records the transmission of contagious mutinies and insurrections in unparalleled…

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

Why did I love this book?

Over the past few decades, scholarship on the Haitian Revolution in the Western academy has developed in leaps and bounds after decades of relative neglect and marginalisation and the ‘silencing’ of the revolution identified by Michel Rolph Trouillot. One of the very best works in recent years on the Haitian Revolution is Avengers of the New World by Laurent Dubois, which brings together recent archival research with a beautifully written narrative that is both accessible and highly informative. Dubois has also written more widely on Haiti’s history, and also wrote a fine foreword when C.L.R. James’s 1934 play, Toussaint Louverture: The story of the only successful slave revolt in history was published for the first time by Duke University Press in 2013.  

By Laurent Dubois,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The first and only successful slave revolution in the Americas began in 1791 when thousands of brutally exploited slaves rose up against their masters on Saint-Domingue, the most profitable colony in the eighteenth-century Atlantic world. Within a few years, the slave insurgents forced the French administrators of the colony to emancipate them, a decision ratified by revolutionary Paris in 1794. This victory was a stunning challenge to the order of master/slave relations throughout the Americas, including the southern United States, reinforcing the most fervent hopes of slaves and the worst fears of masters.

But, peace eluded Saint-Domingue as British and…

Book cover of Black Spartacus: The Epic Life of Toussaint Louverture

Why did I love this book?

There have been many biographies and studies of Toussaint Louverture written in the two centuries and more since his death in a French prison in 1803, including from within Haiti itself where a rich nationalist historiography of the revolution has always existed. Sudhir Hazareesingh builds on the best of these and utilises the latest archival research in his impressive study Black Spartacus, likely to be the definitive biography of ‘the epic life of Toussaint Louverture’ for the foreseeable future. Though Hazareesingh’s focus on Toussaint as a ‘superhero’ means he inherently has little if any use for the methodology of history ‘from below’ outlined in many of the other works on the Haitian Revolution I have selected here, and he downplays the critical role of other revolutionary leaders at various points, nonetheless the work is still very valuable for helping us understand Toussaint himself.  

Hazareesingh makes powerful and sophisticated arguments about Toussaint’s ‘revolutionary republicanism,’ with its focus on ‘the equal dignity of the citizenry and a commitment to the ideals of popular sovereignty and service to the general interest,’ his ‘republicanism of war,’ and his ‘republicanism of brotherhood which held up the enticing prospect of a multiracial community of equals’.  

By Sudhir Hazareesingh,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?


Shortlisted for the Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction, 2020
Shortlisted for the Elizabeth Longford Prize for Historical Biography, 2020
Finalist for the American Library in Paris Book Award, 2021
Shortlisted for the James Tait Black Prize for Biography, 2021
Shortlisted for the Slightly Foxed Best First Biography Prize, 2020
Finalist for the Pen/Jacqueline Bogard Weld Award for Biography, 2020
Shortlisted for the Prix Chateau de Versailles du Livre d'Histoire, 2021
Shortlisted for the Prix Jean d'Ormesson, 2021

'A triumph' Financial Times
'Extraordinarily gripping ... a tour de force' Guardian

The Haitian…

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