Friday, December 19, 2014

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NY1 teams with contributors from The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, New York Magazine, and Essence Magazine to review the latest books and book-related trends.

The Book Reader: 'Another America'

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Sohrab Ahmari of The Wall Street Journal reports for NY1 on newly released book titles and the world of publishing in "The Book Reader."

Save for Great Britain, there are few countries in the world whose history is as closely tied to that of the United States as Liberia, the African nation created by freed slaves in the early 19th century. Yet the reader looking for an accessible and reliable history of Liberia would come up empty-handed—until now. James Ciment's "Another America" tells the story of Liberia, its origins in American idealism and racism, its tragic and violent fate.

In the early years of the republic, as former slaves became a permanent feature of U.S. life, American statesmen resolved to transfer them back to Africa. Free African-Americans were, as Senator Henry Clay put it, "useless and pernicious, if not dangerous" — better to send them to Africa to bring civilization and Christianity to that continent.

Thus was born the American Colonization Society, which raised funds from wealthy whites and received enthusiastic support from many opponents of slavery. A piece of land was eventually purchased from natives in Sierra Leone, and in 1824, the new country was born as Liberia, from the Latin for free.

The colonists gradually overcame the ravages of disease, and in 1847, they declared themselves independent of the tyrannical colonization society. But the colonists also denied suffrage to the country's native inhabitants; Americo-Librarians were widely accused of trafficking in slaves as late as the 1920s.

In 1990, Liberia's ethnic tensions exploded in civil war, one of the bloodiest in history, in which at least 100,000 died, children were forced to kill their parents and pregnant women were bayoneted. Today, the country has once again achieved a measure of stability.

As Mr. Ciment's well-researched book reminds us, slavery, America's peculiar institution, had ramifications far beyond our borders.

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