Non-Fiction Book Club to discuss New York Burning by Jill Lepore - Thursday, April 3, 2014 at 6:30PM
Thank you to all those hearty souls who braved winter’s grip to come out and discuss Nabokov’s Speak, Memory last night. I truly thank you for your input, insight, and thoughtful discussion over such a gloriously difficult book. It’s time once again to set our sights on our next truth-seeking gem.
On April 3, 2014 at 6:30 PM in the ground floor meeting room we will be discussing New York Burning: Liberty, Slavery, and Conspiracy in Eighteenth-Century Manhattan by Jill Lepore. Here’s the description from the book jacket:
A gripping tale and groundbreaking investigation of a mysterious, and largely forgotten, eighteenth-century slave plot to destroy New York City.
Over a few weeks in 1741, ten fires blazed across Manhattan. With each new fire, panicked whites saw more evidence of a slave uprising. Tried and convicted before the colony’s Supreme Court, thirteen black men were burned at the stake and seventeen were hanged. Four whites, the alleged ringleaders of the plot, were also hanged, and seven more were pardoned on condition that they never set foot in New York again. More than one hundred black men and women were thrown into a dungeon beneath City Hall, where many were forced to confess and name names, sending still more men to the gallows and to the stake.
In a narrative rich with period detail and vivid description, Jill Lepore pieces together the events and the thinking that led white New Yorkers to make “bonfires of the Negros.” She reconstructs the harsh past of the city that slavery built—and almost destroyed. She explores the social and political climate of the 1730’s and ’40s and examines the nature and tenor of the interactions between slaves and their masters. She shows too that the 1741 conspiracy can be understood only alongside a more famous episode from the city’s past: the 1735 trial of the printer John Peter Zenger. And, weighing both new and old evidence, she makes clear how the threat of black rebellion made white political pluralism palatable.
Lucid, probing, captivatingly written, New York Burning is a revelatory study of the ways in which slavery both destabilized and created American politics.
JILL LEPORE is the David Woods Kemper ’41 Professor of American History and Chair of Harvard University’s History and Literature Program. She is also a staff writer at The New Yorker. Lepore’s work focuses on the histories of war and violence and of language and literacy. Much of her writing explores absences and asymmetries of evidence in the historical record. Her most recent book is Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin (Knopf, 2013), a biography of Benjamin Franklin’s sister, a finalist for the 2013 National Book Award for Nonfiction, and Time magazine’s Best Nonfiction Book of the Year. Lepore’s previous books include The Mansion of Happiness: A History of Life and Death, The Story of America: Essays on Origins, The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party’s Revolution and the Battle for American History, and The Name of War: King Philip’s War and the Origins of American Identity. Her next book, The Secret History of Wonder Woman, will be published by Knopf in October 2014.