Greg Grandin on The Empire of Necessity

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Greg Grandin tells the story of a remarkable slave rebellion that occurred in 1805. Off a remote island in the South Pacific, Captain Amasa Delano, a New England seal hunter, climbed aboard a distressed Spanish ship carrying scores of West Africans he thought were slaves. They weren’t. Having earlier seized control of the vessel and slaughtered most of the crew, they were staging an elaborate ruse, acting as if they were humble servants. The Empire of Necessity: Slavery, Freedom, and Deception in the New World explores this extraordinary event, which inspired Herman Melville’s masterpiece Benito Cereno.


Greg Grandin

Comments [6]


Thanks for this program and I look forward to reading Greg Grandin's book. Mr. Grandin said that Melville didn't comment directly on slavery in his writings except in his novella Benito Cereno, where even there his attitude or sympathy towards the slaves, Grandin felt, was unclear. I disagree. Melville addressed slavery in nearly all this works. "Who aint a slave?" Ishmael rhetorically asks in Moby Dick. Melville saw slavery as on a continuum of forced labor existing, if in more temporary fashion, on ships, in factories (Tartarus of Maids) and offices (Bartleby). In his writings, Melville implicitly opposed racism and enslavement in all its forms, while struggling to reach an audience in the antebellum years when the US was defining itself in racist terms as the Anglo-Saxon Republic, when most (“white”) readers and writers, including Harriet Beecher Stowe, were under the sway of that racist ideology.

Jan. 29 2014 06:24 PM
Jaime from ellenville, ny

remember, none of these slaves signed up at the docks in africa. They were hand delivered by African Empires as a means of dealing with criminals and enemies. over 6 milion between 1701 and 1810. Over 11 million in all

Jan. 29 2014 01:58 PM
Amy from Manhattan

Guess that answers my question...damn.

Jan. 29 2014 01:40 PM
Paul from NYC

"After Moby Dick, Benito Cereno is Melville's other masterpiece" they seemed to concur on this program... Really? What happened to Bartleby? Actually, both Moby Dick and Benito Cereno supply many things for us to talk about with a great deal of ease, since they allow us to project many things on them… Whereas Bartleby is something much more challenging - it really pins us down in mysterious ways, and haunting us in our futile attempts to get to the bottom of our own mystery that Bartleby raises… much more subtly, more masterfully...

Jan. 29 2014 01:37 PM
Amy from Manhattan

I heard about this on another show on WNYC yesterday, & I wondered what happened to the people who took over the ship after the account of Capt. Delano. Did they get back home? Did they survive at all? Is there any way to know?

Jan. 29 2014 01:27 PM

Guests like these are why I love your show. (Also: chicks dig the golden voice of Lenny.)

That said, I didn't like Grandin's recent opinion piece in the Times which compares parts of Benito Cereno to Obama's troubles with the Tea Party, but I was sufficiently intrigued to dust off (literally) the Melville collection of short fiction that's been lying on my nightstand since last winter, and finally read Benito Cereno.

What a remarkable story. And more so that it was based on a real event. Looking forward to Grandin's book. Thanks to WNYC for another great guest.

Jan. 29 2014 04:01 AM

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