A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Incredibly expansive introduction to the history of slavery in the United States, including a series of detailed and informative timelines between chapters.
Author Kenneth C. Davis consciously emphasizes the agency and individuality of the enslaved people whose stories he brings to life, stressing their specialized skills and contributions. While the topic of slavery can be bleak, this book highlights the perseverance of those striving to escape bondage, as well as the moral quandaries faced by those who chose to maintain the status quo.
Positive Role Models
Traditional stories about the supposedly honorable and enlightened Founding Fathers have been called into question by recent generations of historians, and any reader of this book will walk away with a more nuanced -- and probably less favorable -- view of America's national heroes. On the other hand, the astounding loyalty and resilience of the men and women compelled to serve these iconic figures is inspiring and heartbreaking.
Violence & Scariness
There are several frank descriptions of incidences of brutal treatment of enslaved people, the horrors of the Middle Passage (by which Africans were brought on ships to America to be sold into slavery), and the harsh punishments faced by people in captivity who dared run away.
Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Violence & Scariness in your kid's entertainment guide.Get started
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that In the Shadow of Liberty, by Kenneth C. Davis (Don't Know Much about History), is a heartrending history book for teens about the lives of five enslaved people who served four of the most celebrated presidents in early U.S. history: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Andrew Jackson. It's a powerful introduction to American slavery, tracing the institution's grim history through the stories of five exceptional individuals who witnessed many pivotal moments in the founding of the republic. The writing is geared toward middle and high school students, but the research is as thorough and well-cited as a college-level text.
Is It Any Good?
Author Davis' writing is succinct but emotive as he breathes life into a bygone era and offers a breathtaking amount of contextual information in the brief biographies he presents. The timelines included throughout the book are rich in detail and cover the major moments in the history of American slavery, making In The Shadow of Liberty an ideal starting point for any middle or high school student interested in learning more about the founding of the United States and role played by people of African descent.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.
Suggest an Update
Our Editors Recommend
Books About the American Revolution
Books About Racism and Social Justice
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.See how we rate