Du Bois, W.E.B. The Souls of Black Folk. 7 CDs. 8 hrs. Dreamscape Media. Dec. 2016. ISBN 9781520030494. $29.99. digital download. HIST
The Souls of Black Folk is not a mere book; it is a text. The African American intellectual/civic leader/activist’s classic 1903 work is a compendium of genres: autobiography, biography, philosophy, literary fiction, cultural criticism, political analysis, sociological study, and historiography. The title captures the essence but not the sweep of the author’s project. Du Bois’s (1868–1963) illuminations of American souls, black and white, are penetrating, even lacerating, and endure more than a century after his writing. Rodney Gardiner speaks Du Bois’s 19th-century words and syntax clearly and naturally. His tone tends to be slightly more formal than conversational but not studied or professorial. He reads fluidly, not dramatically. This might make the history-dense sections—for example, on the trajectory of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, or the formation of black colleges in the South—slow going for some. Still, to encounter Souls aurally, through Gardiner, is truly to hear the beauty of Du Bois’s descriptive prose, such as the two summers he spent as a young man teaching in rural Tennessee. VERDICT Not always easy listening, but a fine way to experience Du Bois as a polymathic thinker and masterful writer.
Girard, Philippe. Toussaint Louverture: A Revolutionary Life. 8 CDs. 10:30 hrs. Tantor Audio. Nov. 2016. ISBN 9781515913016. $39.99. digital download. Biog
The central figure of the Haitian Revolution of 1791, Toussaint Louverture has long been worshipped both in Haiti and beyond as an icon of abolitionism. The reality that materializes in this lucid, deeply researched biography is more complex. Born into slavery circa 1743, Louverture was nearly 50 years old and a freedman when the only successful slave revolt in history erupted in the French colony of Saint-Domingue. Over time, Louverture revealed himself to be a skillful politician and military commander, dispatching his rivals one by one, on his way to becoming governor-general of the colony. He then turned his attention to rebuilding the plantation sector, which the revolution had reduced to ashes. The repressive labor system he imposed differed little from slavery and did nothing to endear him to the masses of black workers. After drawing the wrath of Napoléon, Louverture was arrested and shipped with his family to France, where he died, but not before composing his own account of the revolution. Paul Woodson’s narration is clear if a bit affected, with decent but inconsistent French pronunciation. VERDICT Readers will appreciate this nuanced portrait of a great man who even now has not received the credit he is due. [“A compelling look at an extraordinary historical figure. Recommended for anyone interested in revolutionary and/or Caribbean history”: LJ 9/15/16 review of the Basic: Perseus hc.]