One man’s personal discovery of his family’s involvement in transatlantic slavery leads to his call for a wider reckoning among the descendants of slave owners
LONGLISTED FOR THE BAILLIE GIFFORD PRIZE
‘Alex Renton has done Britain a favour and written a brutally honest book about his family’s involvement with slavery. Blood Legacy could change our frequently defensive national conversation about slavery/race’ Sathnam Sanghera
‘Utterly gripped – An incredible book. Alex’s work is my book in practice’ Emma Dabiri
Through the story of his own family’s history as slave and plantation owners, Alex Renton looks at how we owe it to the present to understand the legacy of the past. When British Caribbean slavery was abolished across most of the British Empire in 1833, it was not the newly liberated who received compensation, but the tens of thousands of enslavers who were paid millions of pounds in government money. The descendants of some of those slave owners are among the wealthiest and most powerful people in Britain today.
A group of Caribbean countries is calling on ten European nations to discuss the payment of trillions of dollars for the damage done by transatlantic slavery and its continuing legacy. Meanwhile, Black Lives Matter and other activist groups are causing increasing numbers of white people to reflect on how this history of abuse and exploitation has benefited them.
Blood Legacy explores what inheritance – political, economic, moral and spiritual – has been passed to the descendants of the slave owners and the descendants of the enslaved. He also asks, crucially, how the former – himself among them – can begin to make reparations for the past.
“A courageous, deeply affecting and excoriatingly honest account of his family’s role in enslavement”
See more reviews
“Renton … dismantles the myths with the efficiency of someone shelling pistachios for a snack … remarkable … an incredible work of scholarship”
“An important book … one of the strengths of Renton’s book is that it takes seriously the issue of class … In breaking class ranks, Renton has given voice to a long suppressed truth … [an] admirable book”
“In this unflinching, fascinating and very human account, drawn from his own family papers, Alex Renton takes a crucial first step towards reparation, by acknowledging the cruel reality of his ancestors’ callous exploitation of enslaved people’s labour from afar; detailing the damage done, and both asking and beginning to answer the question of what can be done to purge these sins and their legacies today”
Miranda Kaufmann, Author Of Black Tudors
”Blood Legacy is a moving, timely, well-written and strikingly thoughtful book that makes an important contribution to the growing debate on the horrors that accompanied Britain’s empire-building. Alex Renton’s forensic and remarkably honest analysis of his own family papers, and the profound darkness they contain, highlights our continuing failure to acknowledge the extreme toxicity of so much of our Imperial history”
Alex Renton is a journalist who has won awards for his work as an investigator, war correspondent and food policy writer. He has also worked for Oxfam, in East Asia, Haiti and on the Iraq war. Most recently he has been a columnist on the Times and a correspondent for Newsweek magazine. He lives in Edinburgh with his family.
@axrenton | alexrenton.com