Author Alex Haley, born 1921, died of a heart attack on this day in 1992. Haley began writing as a journalist in the Coast Guard. His first book was The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Curiousity in his family heritage lead to the writing of his popular history-based novel, Roots.
Author Thomas Sowell has criticized the history in Roots, recommending a book by Adam Hochschild instead. In 2002, he wrote:
It was not that Roots merely got some details wrong. It presented some crucially false pictures of what had actually happened — false pictures that continue to dominate thinking today.
Roots has a white man leading a slave raid in West Africa, where the hero Kunta Kinte was captured, looking bewildered at the chains put on him as he was led away in bondage. The village elders were likewise bewildered as to what these white men were doing, carrying their people away. In reality, West Africa was a center of slave trading before the first white man arrived there — and slavery continues in parts of it to this very moment.
Africans sold vast numbers of other Africans to Europeans. . . . People of every race and color were both slaves and enslavers, for thousands of years, all around the world. Europeans enslaved other Europeans for centuries before the first African was brought across the Atlantic. Asians enslaved other Asians, as well as whatever Europeans they could get hold of. Slavery existed in the Western Hemisphere before Columbus ever got here.
In a column written this week, Sowell recommends Adam Hochschild’s new book, Bury the Chains as a better history of the time. “The book re-creates the very different world of that time, in which slavery was so much taken for granted that most people simply did not think about it, one way or the other. Nor did the leading intellectuals, political leaders, or religious leaders in Britain or anywhere else in the world. Their conviction that this would be enough to turn the British public, and ultimately the British Empire, against slavery might seem naive, except that this is precisely what happened.”