My Bondage and My Freedom (Penguin Classics)

My Bondage and My Freedom - Frederick Douglass, John David Smith This is a great book, by a great American. Skeptics looking at that statement might think, well sure you think that reading his own account. Except I've found autobiographies unintentionally revealing in fascinating ways. Within the last year I read autobiographies and memoirs by Ghandi, Dian Fossey and Booker T. Washington. The first book lessened my admiration and liking, the second made me absolutely hate the woman because of her own words, and the last left me ambivalent. And in the case of others, I've become disillusioned afterwards reading other accounts of their lives. Neither is the case with Frederick Douglass--after reading this--and even, hell especially, after reading further about him, I have a new hero. I couldn't help but admire him given so much related here--particularly how, after his experience of being treated with dignity and respect in Britain, he decided to come back to America to fight to end slavery. And reading beyond this book, I learned he was a staunch supporter not just of civil rights for African Americans, but equal rights for women as well. Hardly a popular cause or common attitude back then. And simply in terms of content, this book was riveting. The 1855 introduction by James M'Cune Smith did give me momentary pause. It read, like so much 19th century literature I've encountered, as tedious, overly religious and stuffy. Once you reach Douglass' own account however, that's no longer the case. Yes, there is a formal tone that is characteristic of the age, but there wasn't one line of this entire book that wasn't fascinating; he's a master storyteller. After purchasing this book, I learned this is actually the second of three autobiographies written by Douglass. The first, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, published in 1845, is the most famous and arguably of the three the most influential and historically important. Yet an introduction by Brent Hayes Edwards in the edition I read makes the case for the second biography as the better, more strongly written book. Which makes sense--after all, in the decade since that first biography Douglass had spent years as editor of The North Star, which would have honed his thinking and writing. I also have read that this middle book includes the most expansive account of his time in slavery. And that account is full of insights, not simply into slavery, but how power over others corrupts victim and perpetrator alike. And I've never read a more moving account of the liberating power of literacy. I wish young people could read this early in their schooling, and read of how young Frederick heard his master talk of how reading makes a man unfit for slavery--and understand the importance of reading for setting a mind alight. The appendix contains other items of interest--the gem I think is Douglass' "Letter to his Old Master." Truly, this is a wonderful read.