Island on Fire: The Revolt that Ended Slavery in the British Empire

Cover art - Island on Fire: The Revolt That Ended Slavery in the British Empire

A peaceful labor strike in 1831 turned into a full-blown slave revolt, leaving thousands dead and hundreds of plantation houses in smoking ruins. While the rebels lost their military gamble, their sacrifice galvanized public opinion, resulting in emancipation through the British Empire.

Island on Fire the dramatic day-by-day account of this transformative uprising, the first full portrait of its enigmatic leader Samuel Sharpe, and a poignant glimpse of the dreams of the enslaved people who died fighting for their liberty.

“Zoellner makes deft use of primary sources, and illustrates how the atmosphere of energetic political reform and events like Sharpe’s rebellion converged to end slavery in the ‘agricultural prison camp’ of Jamaica, and in the British Empire at large.” — The New Yorker

“A pounding narrative of events that led to the end of slavery in the British colonies . . . Zoellner’s vigorous, fast-paced account brings to life a varied gallery of participants black, white and ‘colored’— the then-standard designation for quasi-free people of mixed race.” – The Wall Street Journal

“Tom Zoellner is completely right that the 1831-32 revolt in Jamaica helped break the back of slavery in the British Empire. It’s high time that we had a book like the splendid one he has written: a highly readable but carefully documented account of the greatest of all British slave rebellions, the miseries that led to it, and the momentous changes it wrought.” — Adam Hochschild, author of King Leopold’s Ghost and Bury the Chains

Order from Amazon or from Harvard University Press.

Cover art - Train: Riding the Rails that Created the Modern World

Train — Now in paperback from Penguin-Random House.

It’s the story of the most indispensable mode of transportation the world has ever known: the railroad.

We live in a world created by trains. They made our modern food system; the beat of our music; our huge corporations with their financing methods; our labor unions; the shapes of national borders, the suburbs that surround our major cities; our abstract notion of time and space; and our sense of connection with people who may live far out of sight but still become our neighbors.

An entertaining journey around the world by train, as well as a masterful narrative history, Tom Zoellner’s extraordinary book is a call to re-embrace the train. Trains never went away. We just forgot them. Now it is time to climb on board again.

“Spirited and bighearted. . . . Zoellner enlightens us about an industry that’s hiding in plain sight.” — San Francisco Chronicle

“Highly entertaining, lucid and perceptive. . . . It’s a train lover’s celebration of the great epic story of rail travel itself.” — Los Angeles Times