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First published in 1853, Twelve Years a Slave is the narrative of Solomon Northup’s experience as a free man sold into slavery. Northup’s memoir reveals unimaginable details about the slave markets, the horrors of life on a plantation, and the dreadful day-to-day treatment of the slaves from the perspective of a man who lived more than thirty years as a free man before being forcibly enslaved.
Written in the year after Northup was freed and published in the wake of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Northup’s story was quickly taken up by abolitionist groups and news organizations as part of the fight against slavery. The book fell into obscurity in later decades, only to be rediscovered in the early 1960’s. In 2013 it was adapted into a feature film entitled 12 Years a Slave, directed by Steve McQueen and produced by Brad Pitt. Pitt also played a supporting role in the film, alongside Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Giamatti and Sarah Paulson.

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Product Details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1044 KB
  • Print Length: 328 pages
  • Publisher: HarperPerennial Classics (22 Oct. 2013)
  • Sold by:  Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00FDS85EM
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray: Enabled
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled

Customer Reviews


 on 5 December 2017
By M. Dowden
David Wilson helped Solomon Northup write this book and this fact, that a white man helped a black man write his experiences may be one of the reasons that when it comes to books by slaves this has been often overlooked in the past (of course with a film adaptation that changed). At the time of the first publication of this it was quite well known as it came on the back of ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ and gave more weight to the abolitionist movement. Solomon did give lectures and such like when this was first published and then dropped out of the limelight, and I don’t think anyone really knows what happened to him, when he died, or where.


 on 6 May 2017
By Cornelius Ratchet
On one level this is simply a story about a man who finds himself in hell and just wants to go home. On that level it’s a page-turner.

"This is no fiction, no exaggeration"

 on 17 November 2014
By K. J. Noyes
This is powerful, maddeningly brutal, heartfelt and hard to forget.

Devastating selection of stories

 on 4 February 2014
By Claire Hartnell
I bought the book to read Twelve Years a Slave but was completely overwhelmed by the other accounts, particularly Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The phrase ‘Uncle Tom’ has become such a form of disrespect that it had never occurred to me to seek out the source material. Having read it, I can see why this book galvanised people into fighting a war against slavery. It is a pitch perfect rendering of both sides of the argument (as much as there can be 2 sides to an argument about slavery) with the most inspiring array of characters. My heart was in my mouth as I read each chapter and the intensity of the threat towards each character increased then settled then increased again. This book should be compulsory GCSE material and I urge people to take every opportunity to read all the accounts contained here.

A Rare First Hand Account

 on 2 February 2014
By KateRG31
I bought this after seeing the film and didn’t expect it to be easy to read because it was written such a long time ago. However, the English was very easy to read – it was just the story that wasn’t. Such a sobering tale. The film sticks pretty close and the deviations are clearly for a reason – they don’t materially alter the story. Saw an interview with Steve McQueen, who directed the film, in which he said that the book was widely read until the Civil War after which the American public were more interested in the stories about the soldiers – I suppose they thought the battle against slavery had been won.

Uncomfortable but fascinating personal history

 on 2 February 2014
By Mel Powell
A personal account of abduction, enslavement and rescue by a free born African American in pre-civil war America. This kindle version is not illustrated as advertised but no matter, the work stands alone very well without this embellishment. It is a heart rending tale containing some truly gruesome scenes of deprivation and torture. I think the editor in setting down the story as communicated verbally to him by Solomon Northup, probably took a little licence with some of the expressions and sentiments contained in this volume. I think this is understandable as it was certainly meant to appeal to a white audience to garner support for the abolishionist cause. I have read other reviews that suggest Solomon was a victim of his own attempt to scam a slave trader and this accusation is dealt with in the latter pages of the book. I don’t think it matters how he came to be sold into slavery. There is enough corroboratory evidence to assure us that his treatment and experiences as a slave are accurate and believable. So this really is an indictment of a trade in human flesh that formed a significant and profitable industry and represents a period of incomprehensible institutionalised cruelty which casts a shadow to this day. What I took from this was the very strong sense of Solomon’s character and strength of will. What it must have taken to survive those 12 years without completely giving up in despair, I can barely imagine. How a people can endure not just the physical hardship but the injustice of slavery for so long, again is hard to fathom although Solomon gives a very good personal interpretation of how and why this can and was achieved. At the end of his ordeal, there is great relief at being restored to his family and freedom; gratitude to those helped secure his release but surprisingly little bitterness. Indignation, a sense of the great injustice of his situation certainly but overriding this, a pragmatism which made the greatest impression on me. As to the writing style and language. Yes, it’s nineteenth century. I found it very easy to read. If you struggle with the English of this period, I hope you give this a try and persevere. Stories like this need to be read, still. Lessons still not learnt etc!

Hard-hitting and Memorising

 on 5 September 2015
By Escapades of a Bookworm
I decided to read the book before I saw the film, and I managed to read the whole book in one sitting on a train ride home.

Incredible story by an incredible man

 on 1 March 2014
By Ella Belakovska
Like many other reviewers, I read this ahead of the film, and was really glad I did. Solomon Northrup’s journey from free man to slave and eventually back to freedom again is an essential read. I can’t believe it practically disappeared from public consciousness for a century, while works like Uncle Tom’s Cabin remained in popular circulation all that time. Perhaps it was easier for society to understand the true brutality of slavery from a more detached, second hand source?

Fantastic, moving, heart wrenching and heart warming.

 on 14 May 2014
By KerryC
I had never heard of this book until about 6months ago and then we had all of the hype around the film. I have recently read some Toni Morrison and Alice Walker as part of my uni degree and we have spoken at length about texts from within a culture group and what voice the stories give them etc.
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