Mr Atkinson’s Rum Contract
Shortlisted for the RSL Christopher Bland Prize 2021
‘Rarely has family history been so vivid’ JENNY UGLOW
‘An extraordinarily original work’ AMANDA FOREMAN
Like many well-to-do Georgian families, the Atkinsons’ wealth was acquired at a terrible cost, through the labour and lives of enslaved Africans. Drawing on his ancestors’ private correspondence, Richard Atkinson pieces together their unsettling story, from the weather-beaten house in Cumbria where they once lived to the ruins of their sugar estates in Jamaica. This extraordinarily original work of detective biography is also a uniquely personal account of one of the most disturbing chapters in Britain’s colonial past.
'Fascinating ... Not only a minute examination of a family's rise and fall, but a ringside view of the Caribbean slave trade and an impeccable guide to the legal and financial world of the Enlightenment ... This is an epic tale, but it is moreover an epic piece of research ... My guess is that many readers will now find themselves inspired to unlock their own time capsules and slip into another century' Guardian 'Remarkable ... Family history can become an obsession and often a bore. But in this case it has produced gold. Love, adventure, skulduggery, moral outrage - what a story' Spectator 'His evidence-sifting tenacity is impressive and the way he combines thumbnail nuggets with grand narratives shows how history benefits from being written from the ground up' Daily Telegraph 'Enthralling ... Full of drama, surprises, twists and turns. There are wars, sudden bankruptcies, doomed love affairs, tragic early deaths and bitter family feuds, all involving a cast of Atkinsons brilliantly brought to life' Literary Review 'An engaging tour de force of genealogical research... This fascinating personal family story is also the story of a colonial English past of which none of us should be proud, but of which all of us should be aware' Daily Mail 'For (Atkinson) , it's not enough just to find the names of distant ancestors and place them properly on a chart. He wants to know them. He brings them to life with refreshing simplicity ... A masterpiece' The Times 'Rarely has family history been so vivid, following the generations and bravely confronting harsh facts from a colonial past' Jenny Uglow, author of The Lunar Men 'A wonderful, warm book, which manages to give a new, intimate twist to the epic story of sugar and slavery' Andrea Stuart, author of Sugar in the Blood
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