In his heyday, Paul Robeson was one of the most famous people in the world; to his enemies he was also one of the most dangerous. From the 1930s to the 1960s, the African-American singer was the voice of the people, both as a performer and as a political activist who refused to be silenced.
Having won fame with hits such as “Ol’ Man River” and thrilling London and New York theatregoers with his legendary performance in Othello, Robeson established himself as a vocal supporter of Civil Rights and an opponent of oppression in all its forms. He traveled the world, performing in front of thousands to deliver a message of peace, equality and justice that was as readily understood on the streets of Manchester, Moscow, Johannesburg and Bombay as it was in Harlem and Washington, DC.
The first new work on the leading African-American singer for over a decade, Paul Robeson: A Watched Man is a story of passionate political struggle and conviction. Using archival material from the FBI, the State Department, MI5 and other secret agencies, Jordan Goodman reveals the true extent of the US government’s fear of this heroic individual. Robeson eventually appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee, where he spiritedly defended his long-held convictions and refused to apologise, despite the potential damage to his career.
This month sees the UK cinema release of Steve McQueen’s brilliant and brutal new film, 12 Years a Slave. McQueen has been vocal in condemning cinema’s wariness in confronting the subjects of slavery and race, and his film has galvanized a new interest in the unspeakably ugly period in American history.
Based on Solomon Northup’s 1853 documentary, 12 Years a Slave takes an unflinching look at the story of a free black man from New York who is abducted and sold into slavery.
Verso has long held a commitment to telling similar stories, and we now present a selection of books as the essential starting point for those looking to learn more about the roots, events and legacies of slavery and racial tensions in America and the world.
From scaling the very highest rooftops to political scandal through the eyes of Alexander Cockburn, we bring you our seasonal highlights for 2013.
THE CITY / URBAN EXPLORATION
Explore Everything: Place-Hacking the City
Bradley L. Garrett
"Garrett perceives the city like no one else I know. Seen through his eyes, it is newly porous, full of “vanishing points”, “imperfect joinings” and portals – service hatches, padlocked doorways – that you wouldn't usually notice... The city's accessible space extends far down into the earth (sewers, bunkers, tunnels) and far up into the air (skyscrapers, cranes), with the street level only serving as a median altitude." – Robert Macfarlane, Guardian
"[Combines] erudite references (Montesquieu, Walter Benjamin) with compelling photographs of men in hoodies in strange places." – Rowan Moore, The Observer Architecture Books of the Year