Friday, September 2, 2011

Am I Not a Man? The Dred Scott Story, by Mark Shurtleff

Today I have the honor of reviewing Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff's book "Am I not a Man? The Dred Scott story."

The Blurb:

An illiterate slave, Dred Scott, trusted in an all-white, slave-owning jury to declare him free. But after briefly experiencing the glory of freedom and manhood, a new state Supreme Court ordered the cold steel of the shackles to be closed again around his wrists and ankles. Falling to his knees, Dred cried, "Ain't I a man?" Dred answered his own question by rising and taking his fight to the U.S. Supreme Court.

What I liked:

Shurtleff really drew me into 1850's Missouri with concise description and well written dialogue. Pictures at the beginning of each chapter also added to the setting. I had a clear picture of Dred in my head through the whole book because of this.

Another helpful item was the Chronology at the beginning, Shurtleff skipped from one time period to another so to have it all mapped out at the beginning was necessary.

He portrays a real passion for the story and the characters, and it is clear that he payed attention to the details of the lives of all the people involved.

What I didn't like:

The book could stand to be cut way back. There were times when Shurtleff would tell the histories of all the characters in the room. Later he would show the exact same histories.

As a writer I understand his zeal for the story and his desire to make sure all the details and historical facts are correct, but it still needed to be tightened up.

General Opinion:

This is a story that more Americans should know. I had heard the name Dred Scott but I never knew what the name was tied to. The court case for Dred is what spurred the 1857 law that declared no one of African Decent would be considered a citizen of the United States, which directly lead to the election of Abraham Lincoln.

It's such a big part of American History that feel was skirtted around in my high school education. I'm grateful to know now the events of that time and place, and Shurtleff certainly delivered on the facts and left no pretenses about what was real and what wasn't. Overall, it was a very informative read.


cherie said...

The premise reminded me of that movie with Matthew McConaughey--A Time to Kill ( I think...not 100% sure that's the right title. It's been a long time). Sounds like a very interesting read.

J. A. Bennett said...

Thank you Cherie for leaving a comment, your my hero :) I'll have to look that movie up, becasue, well, Matthew McConaughey.

Bethany C. said...

Wow. I had no idea what that story was about either. (Bad American. *smacks hand* bad!)

I love that this guy gives the layout ahead of time. I am a very visual learner...give me a map, timeline, flowchart and I'm good to go. Throw me the information and I'm floundering for days (as I did during the Dragon Tattoo books. No wonder it took me three months of starting/stopping to get through the first book)

Nice post, goat sister. Have a wonderful weekend!

Bethany C. said...

Cherie!! I just saw that you referred to a Time To Kill...did you actually see that movie w/out me telling you to?! Wowza?! ;)

it is a WONDERFUL Movie--again, no idea it was connected to Dred Scott, though :)

Jessie Humphries said...

This makes me think of how The Help affected me. Really opened my eyes.

Sarah Pearson said...

As an English person I have never even heard this name, but your review interests me enough to look him up - although I might pass on the book, just because I get really frustrated when people repeat things :-)

Christa said...

I read excerpts of this for a Testimonial Writer's Workshop and loved it. Can't wait to read the whole thing.

Roland D. Yeomans said...

Blogger hates me. I wrote a long comment which it ate!

Thanks for following my blog. Your review was absorbing and thought-provoking. Many of us are history illiterates. I wrote my two dark historical fantasies with Daniel Webster, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Ada Byron to show history is not what we thought! Thanks, again, Roland

J. A. Bennett said...

@Beth - I still have yet to read the Dragon Tattoo books, but I agree that visual aide are a definite plus!

@Jessie - another great book! Have you seen the movie yet?

@Sarah - lol! I know what you mean, although, I got the per-edited version so it may be better now.

@Christa - Cool! I think you'll really like it!

@Roland - ugh. I HATE when blogger does that. Your book sounds really interesting. I love to read those kinds of things :)

Katie Dodge said...

I had no idea he wrote a book! I agree about more Americans needing to know this story. I think that goes for a lot of stories left out of the history books. Thanks for this post!