I’m doing quite well with my, ahem, September NetGalley reading – I only have “Beyond Measure” and “Femina” to read and review now. This one was 688 pages long, which I hadn’t realised; fortunately, I took it on holiday with me last week so could devote long chunks of time to it and get through it. It would have taken me ages reading it at home!

Hakim Adi – “African and Caribbean People in Britain”

(21 June 2022, NetGalley)

The fate of Bartholemew is unknown, but it is important to note that this early record of an enslaved African is also a report of an African engaged in the struggle for self-liberation. His act of resistance is one that would be adopted by many other enslaved Africans in Britain in later centuries.

This really is a tour de force and a lifetime’s work (well, he’s published other books, so not quite that), drawing on hundreds and hundreds of sources (20% of the book is the references) to describe the arrival and experiences of people from the Caribbean and Africa over the millennia, from prehistory and early history (yes, Cheddar Man and Ivory Bangle Woman, but also others I hadn’t encountered previously) right up until the Windrush Scandal and Black Lives Matter. Adi does offer quotations but it’s not as thick with them as other history books I’ve read recently.

In the introduction to the book, Adi references Gretchen Gerzina’s work on Black Georgians (read and reviewed here) but not the book on Black Victorians I recently read (which does reference this and Gerzina). I would say that it might be a mistake to read all three books close together as I ended up duplicating information on the (long) 18th and 19th centuries I’d read in more detail in the other two books. There is also a lot on Pan-Africanism, which is Adi’s area of specialism – there were a lot of names and organisations coming and going in those sections especially, but I do know where to come if I need information on Pan-Africanism!

Adi is careful throughout to see the agency in the people he’s writing about, as well as describing the mechanisms of slavery as people-trafficking, bringing history into the reader’s mind as being allied to things that happen now. He makes sure to weave in women’s stories and acknowledge the work women have done in grass-roots work, publishing and awareness-raising and has some passages on Black feminism. He’s also meticulous in observing how history gets/got lost, for example, the researchers at the Museum of London who admit that anecdotal evidence of Black bodies found in burials wasn’t recorded properly and now they are wiped out of the record.

There was of course a lot I didn’t know here – for example that Black people were transported to Australia and details of more racist disturbances in 1919 than the Liverpool and Cardiff ones a lot of us have heard of. We also learn a lot more detail about the colour bar in the forces in the two world wars. Throughout the book we find reproductions of pictures and newspaper pages which add a lot to the text – I particularly liked one of 1970s Handsworth. A very valuable resource that will find a happy place in academic libraries but is also approachable and readable enough for the general reader.

Thank you to Allen Lane for giving me access to this book via NetGalley in return for an honest review. “African and Caribbean People in Britain” was published on 01 September 2022. This was Book 4 for Nonfiction November.