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Conversations from the Cullman Center: Greg Grandin and Philip Gourevitch


January 30, 2014

Greg Grandin talks about his new book, The Empire of Necessity: Slavery, Freedom, and Deception in the New World, with Philip Gourevitch.

Greg Grandin is a Professor of History at New York University and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His books include The Last Colonial Massacre, Empire’s Workshop, The Blood of Guatemala, and Fordlandia, which was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and a National Book Critic Circles Award. His new book, The Empire of Necessity, is a riveting, deeply-researched account of the slave revolt that inspired Herman Melville’s Benito Cereno.
Philip Gourevitch, a staff writer at The New Yorker, is a former editor of The Paris Review and the author of three books: The Ballad Of Abu Ghraib [Standard Operating Procedure], A Cold Case, and We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda, which won, among other prizes, a National Book Critics Circle Award and The New York Public Library’s Helen Bernstein Award. His writings have been translated into more than a dozen languages.
Praise for The Empire of Necessity:
The Empire of Necessity is scholarship at its best. Greg Grandin's deft penetration into the marrow of the slave industry is compelling, brilliant and necessary.
--Toni Morrison, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
Rooted in an event known primarily through the genius of Herman Melville's transcendent Benito Cereno, The Empire of Necessity is a stunning work of research done all over the rims of two oceans, as well as beautiful, withering storytelling. This is a harrowing story of Muslim Africans trekking across South America, and ultimately a unique window on to the nature of the slave trade, the maritime worlds of the early nineteenth century, the lives lived in-between slavery and freedom all over the Americas, and even the ocean-inspired imagination of Melville. Grandin is a master of grand history with new insights.
--David Blight, Class of 1954 Professor of American History at Yale University and Director of the Gilder-Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance and Abolition;  author of Frederick Douglass: A Life (forthcoming)
In this multifaceted masterpiece, Greg Grandin excavates the relentlessly fascinating history of a slave revolt to mine the enduring dilemmas of politics and identity in a New World where the Age of Freedom was also the Age of Slavery. This is that rare book in which the drama of the action and the drama of ideas are equally measured, a work of history and of literary reflection that is as urgent as it is timely.
--Philip Gourevitch
Greg Grandin has done it again. Starting with a single dramatic encounter in the South Pacific he has shown us an entire world: of multiple continents, terrible bondage and the dream of freedom. This is also a story of how one episode changed the lives of a sea captain and a great writer from the other end of the earth. An extraordinary tale, beautifully told.
--Adam Hochschild, author of King Leopold’s Ghost
Greg Grandin is one of the best of a new generation of historians who have rediscovered the art of writing for both serious scholars and casual readers.  This may be his best book yet. The Empire of Necessity is a book of astonishing power, eloquence and suspense – a genuine tour de force.
--Debby Applegate, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Biography for The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher.