The best books on the Haitian Revolution

4 authors have picked their favorite books about the Haitian Revolution and why they recommend each book. Soon, you will be able to filter this list by genre, age group, and more. Sign up here to follow our story as we build a better way to discover books.

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

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

By Laurent Dubois,

Why 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:…

From the list:

The best books on Toussaint Louverture

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

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

By C.L.R. James,

Why 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…

From the list:

The best books on Toussaint Louverture

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

Black Spartacus: The Epic Life of Toussaint Louverture

By Sudhir Hazareesingh,

Why 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…

From the list:

The best books on Toussaint Louverture

Book cover of Toussaint L'Ouverture: A Biography and Autobiography

Toussaint L'Ouverture: A Biography and Autobiography

By John Beard,

Why this book?

This is the definitive biography on Toussaint. First published in 1863, it clearly showed me why Toussaint L’Ouverture was one of the most admired world leaders of his time. They called him “the Black Napoleon!” Reading this book brought back to mind that I did a report on Haiti and Toussaint back when I was in junior high (“a long time ago in a universe far, far away!") Even at the time I was impressed by how much the Haitian Revolution influenced our own Civil War.  

From the list:

The best books featuring the life and history of Haiti

Book cover of All Souls' Rising: A Novel of Haiti

All Souls' Rising: A Novel of Haiti

By Madison Smartt Bell,

Why this book?

As I prepared to write my own novel on Haiti, I searched for a novel of merit already written as part of my preparation. I found this work of Madison Smartt Bell, which was nominated for the National Book Award. This author proved to be a master of the language. I admired his ability to bring Toussaint alive, as well as picturing the culture of the time, and the complexities of a war that changed history.  

From the list:

The best books featuring the life and history of Haiti

Book cover of Dance on the Volcano

Dance on the Volcano

By Marie Vieux-Chauvet,

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.

From the list:

The best books about Haitian history and Haiti today

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

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

By Julius S. Scott,

Why 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…

From the list:

The best books on Toussaint Louverture

Book cover of Becoming Josephine: A Novel

Becoming Josephine: A Novel

By Heather Webb,

Why this book?

I think most history fans know about the ill-fated relationship between Napoleon and Josephine, but I loved that this novel also highlighted Josephine’s early—and mostly forgotten—years spent in Haiti as France’s ideals of equality spurred the bloody Haitian Revolution. Josephine then also has to survive the French Revolution before she catches Napoleon’s eye.

From the list:

The best books on forgotten women in history

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