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  • Published: 5 November 2020
  • ISBN: 9781473566361
  • Imprint: Vintage Digital
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 400

The Interest

How the British Establishment Resisted the Abolition of Slavery

A dramatic narrative history based on new research revealing the previously hidden side of the story of abolition



For two hundred years, the abolition of slavery in Britain has been a cause for self-congratulation - but no longer.

In 1807, Parliament outlawed the slave trade in the British Empire. But for the next 25 years more than 700,000 people remained enslaved, due to the immensely powerful pro-slavery group the 'West India Interest'.

This ground-breaking history discloses the extent to which the 'Interest' were supported by nearly every figure of the British establishment - fighting, not to abolish slavery, but to maintain it for profit. Gripping and unflinching, The Interest is the long-overdue exposé of one of Britain's darkest, most turbulent times.

'A critical piece of history and a devastating exposé' Shashi Tharoor, author of Inglorious Empire

'Thoroughly researched and potent' David Lammy MP

'Essential reading' Simon Sebag Montefiore

  • Published: 5 November 2020
  • ISBN: 9781473566361
  • Imprint: Vintage Digital
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 400

About the author

Michael Taylor

Michael Taylor is an historian of colonial slavery, the British Empire and the British Isles. He graduated with a double first in history from the University of Cambridge, where he earned his PhD - and also won University Challenge. He has since been Lecturer in Modern British History at Balliol College, Oxford, and he is currently a Visiting Fellow at the British Library's Eccles Centre for American Studies.

Praise for The Interest

Taylor skillfully weaves careful research, astute judgements and elegant writing into a vital new interpretation of the efforts to prevent emancipation in the British Caribbean. In doing so, he shows just how the defence of slavery was pursued as a national interest before its abolition was claimed as a national achievement

Dr Richard Huzzey, Durham University

This fascinating history of Britain's approach to slavery makes short work of the argument that Britain's main role in the atrocities of the slave trade was to abolish it. In debunking this argument, Taylor writes with vivid clarity about one of history's greatest crimes, introducing us to people and places that have long since been consigned to the past and yet loom over the present. Meticulously researched and timely, The Interest is a critical piece of history and a devastating exposé of a misleading colonial narrative

Shashi Tharoor, author of Inglorious Empire

Michael Taylor's The Interest is an absorbing and unsparing account of a wilfully distorted episode in British history and a vital antidote to the Rees-Moggification of the national past. As readable as it is timely, the book will appeal to the academic and the lay reader alike in contributing significantly to current reappraisals of Britain's relationship with its colonial past

Simon Skinner, Associate Professor, University of Oxford

Skilfully written with a powerful and passionate narrative, this is a seminal work that carries the burden of phenomenal relevance. It shows how the enslavers' battle to protect their trophy became the most dramatic public affair in early 19th century Britain

Sir Hilary Beckles, Chair of the Caribbean Community Reparations Committee

As Michael Taylor demonstrates in this highly original, passionate, deeply researched and beautifully written book, opposition to slavery abolition was rooted deeply in British culture and values, which permeated the thinking of many contemporary radicals as well as conservatives. A disturbing story but a very important one

Boyd Hilton, Professor of Modern British History, University of Cambridge

One achievement of Taylor's fascinating book is that, for the first time in a book about abolition, it gives equal weight to the force of pro-slavery ... Taylor's political analysis is first-rate and riveting ... He argues that emancipation was neither inevitable nor altruistic; party politics in Westminster and rebellion from the West Indies played as much a role as moral outrage. Taylor's achievement [is to] show that, thanks to the power of the Interest, being pro-slavery was seen as a respectable, even popular, position in British politics until the day of its demise. Above all, he reminds us of the role of those who have been unsung in this story - of Mary Prince, Samuel Sharpe and Quamina

Ben Wilson, The Times

One of the pleasures of teaching modern historians about ancient Rome is that they go on to write great books like this

Mary Beard

Scintillating ... In twenty brisk, gripping chapters, Taylor charts the course from the foundation of the Anti-Slavery Society in 1823 to the final passage of the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833. Part of what makes this a compulsively readable book is his skill in cross-cutting between three groups of protagonists. On one track, we follow the abolitionist campaigners on their lengthy, uphill battle ... This well-known story is reanimated by some brilliant pen-portraits ... A second strand illuminates the fears and bigotries of white British West Indians ... The main focus of the book, however, is on the colonists' powerful domestic allies, the so-called West India Interest ... Taylor paints a vivid picture of their outlook, organisation and superior political connections ... As this timely, sobering book reminds us, British abolition cannot be celebrated as an inevitable or precocious national triumph. It was not the end, but only the beginning

Fara Dabhoiwala, Guardian

A magnificent book ... riveting

Ian Thomson, Evening Standard

Impressively researched and engagingly written

Dominic Sandbrook, Sunday Times

Offer[s] [a] fresh perspective on the story of reform and challenge[s] many of the prevailing, at times self-congratulatory, narratives of abolition ... Taylor assesses how far earnings from slavery permeated British society. He names the banks, universities and industries that all benefited directly from the trade ... lessons for today

Kofi Adjepong-Boateng, Financial Times

Taylor superbly brings to life all the intrigue, machinations, heavy-lifting, rigmarole and chance of the tortuous path to abolition

H Kumarasingham, Literary Review

An outstanding and gripping revelation ... essential reading

Simon Sebag Montefiore

Impressive ... Taylor tells a compelling story, graced with anecdotes but driven by argument, that moves the reader to and fro between London and the Caribbean, and between aristocratic houses and anti-slavery rallies ... with fierce moral passion ... Taylor vividly evokes the slave revolts ... reveals some of the atrocities perpetrated by slave-owners ... Yet the book's primary focus is political because, as Taylor emphasises, the abolition of slavery turned to a large extent on events at Westminster ... Yet votes were not enough; bribery was also vital ... The writing of British history must encompass slave-power, not just sea-power - as Taylor's scorching book makes clear

David Reynolds, New Statesman

Reads like a murder mystery ... Taylor challenges nostalgic politicians' desire to resurrect a sanitised, 'civilizing mission' version of our imperial past, perpetuating the myth of Britain as an anti-slavery nation

Colin Grant, Writers Mosaic

[An] excellent new book... The scale of what the abolitionists were up against is only now becoming clear ... Taylor's book is one of the few studies to give it equal time

London Review of Books

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