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For the first time, the complete, exciting story of the landmark trial that led to the abolition of slavery in the Western world.

Perhaps no trial changed the course of history as much as one that took place in London in 1772: the case of James Somerset, a black man rescued from a ship bound for the West Indies slave markets.At this landmark trial, two encompassing worldviews clashed in an event of passionate drama and far-reaching significance.Now the noted legal historian Steven M. Wise recreates each exciting moment of the case that slave owners contended would do nothing less than bring the economy of the British Empire to a crashing halt. In a gripping narrative of Somerset's trail – and the slave trials that led up to it – Wise sets the stage for the extraordinary decision by the notoriously conservative judge, Lord Mansfield.That decision would set in motion the abolition of slavery in both England and the United States. The characters who shaped this great historical moment go beyond a screenwriter's dream: Somerset's novice attorneys arguing their first case before the august court; the fervent British abolitionist Granville Sharp, a cross between William Lloyd Garrison and Ralph Nader; the slave master's skilful, two-faced lawyer; and finally the greatest judge of his time, Lord Mansfield, whose own mulatto grand-niece was his slave.As the case drew to a close and defenders of slavery pleaded with Lord Mansfield to maintain the system, the judge spoke the words that continue to resound more than two centuries later: 'Let Justice be done, though the Heavens may fall.…


'Steven Wise's excellent book brings home the drama of this landmark case in the history of human rights.'

J. M. Coetzee

'Steven Wise brings to brilliant life the great case that started the downfall of slavery on both sides of the Atlantic. His fascinating book shows us not just the case but the characters in the drama.'

Anthony Lewis, author of Gideonâ??s Trumpet

'[Wise] reminds us how a committed minority can persuade a majority to see what at first they cannot or do not want to see.'

The Economist

'A complex and absorbing look at the legal and social forces that eventually led to the outcry against slavery throughout the Western world.'

Vernon Ford, Booklist

'[Wise] has an eye for evocative detail and an interest in the trappings and procedures of an 18th-century courtroom that do as much to engage the reader as the drama of the trials themselves.'

New York Times Book Review

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Formats & editions

  • Trade Paperback


    March 15, 2006


    304 pages

    RRP $49.99

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