Palsson has much to teach about 18th-century Dutch colonialism, the Dutch West Indies, and the trade in sugar and slaves, but this deeply-considered book is not the typical “epic history” of world events. Rather, in its portrait of one man who became extraordinary by claiming his rights to an ordinary life, it puts the monstrous on a human scale. Child of a black house slave and an unknown white man, Hans Jonathan was born on St. Croix in 1784. His mother was taken to Europe when he was three; he joined her and his owner in Copenhagen when he was eight. Ten years later, after heroic service in the Danish war against the British, he went to court, suing for possession of himself. He lost the case, sailed to Iceland, and lived as a free man. Palsson pieces together this unusual trajectory (which he traces into the present, tracking down his subject’s descendants), asking questions and looking at possible scenarios, seeing the world as his subjects might have. Holding off on an exposé of the brute horrors of slavery until the end, he highlights the inescapable indignity and logical absurdity of one person “owning” another. In sentences like, “little is known of the fates of enslaved persons in Copenhagen in general,” Palsson speaks volumes about an era’s priorities. Yet, as he reminds us, human trafficking is outlawed, but it still goes on—and what do most of us know of the fates of today’s human chattel?
Julian Borger recounts the remarkable and previously untold story of a massive manhunt that targeted 161 individuals wanted for war crimes in connection with the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s. During that violent period, the term “ethnic cleansing” emerged as a kind of euphemism for the wholesale slaughter that once again was occurring in the heart of Europe. Those responsible for this brutality were identified and indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, a special court in The Hague created in 1993 by the United Nations. By 2011, all 161 of those indicted had been either captured or killed or had surrendered or committed suicide. Through much dogged reporting, Borger, an experienced British journalist, pieced together how the secretive manhunt managed to succeed.
So many great books have been written about Berlin's cultural, artistic, musical, political, and social past, but it's sexual history-during the Weimar period in particular-remains (forgive the pun) behind closed doors. Voluptuous Panic rectifies that and then some! Mel Gordon's erotic history covers not only the practices of various sexual orientations and fetishes (gay, lesbian, BDSM, sex work, etc.) but also how its expression and acceptance was shaped by the culture-at-large and vice-versa. Voluptuous Panic is explicit and detailed about its subject matter, but isn't that what you want from a great history book?