The Empire of Necessity: Slavery, Freedom, and Deception in the New World

Written by Greg Grandin
Review by Justin M. Lindsay

In his latest work, Grandin gives us a new look at New World slavery in the early 1800s. To do this, he draws on the experience of Captain Amasa Delano, who one morning in 1805 encountered what appeared to be a ship in distress in the South Pacific. As the day unfolded, however, a much different picture emerged. This slaving ship wasn’t simply lost. Its officers and crew had been overthrown by their cargo, and the slaves were adrift and desperate for a way to get back to Africa. To unravel this story, Grandin takes us through Delano’s life and a gripping tale of the peoples, religions, cultures, and economies of four continents, bringing to light the tremendous scope and complexity of New World slavery. Intermingled with the narrative, details, and asides that breathe life into this book are a number of interludes. In these, Grandin studies Herman Melville’s Benito Cereno, a novel inspired by the very encounter with the slaving ship whose journey is at the core of The Empire of Necessity. Highly recommended.