New Book

NEW FROM VERSO: The Fearless Benjamin Lay

24th Sep 2017



“This turbulent life of a seafarer, glove maker, and preacher is the stuff of legend, recovered with panache by Rediker.”
– John Rees, author of The Leveller Revolution

The extraordinary story of one of slavery’s earliest and most redoubtable opponents

The Fearless Benjamin Lay chronicles the transatlantic life and times of a singular and astonishing man—a Quaker dwarf originally from Essex who became one of the first people ever to demand the total, unconditional emancipation of all enslaved Africans around the world. He performed public guerrilla theatre to shame slave masters, insisting that human bondage violated the fundamental principles of Christianity. He wrote a fiery, controversial book against slavery that Benjamin Franklin published in 1738. He lived in a cave, made his own clothes, refused to consume anything produced by slave labour, championed animal rights, and embraced vegetarianism. He acted on his ideals to create a new, practical, revolutionary way of life.

Marcus Rediker is Distinguished Professor of Atlantic History at the University of Pittsburgh and Senior Research Fellow at the Collège d’études mondiales in Paris. He is the author of numerous prize-winning books, including The Many-Headed Hydra (with Peter Linebaugh), The Slave Ship, and The Amistad Rebellion. He produced the award-winning documentary film Ghosts of Amistad (Tony Buba, director), about how the Amistad Mutiny of 1839 lives on today in popular memory among the people of Sierra Leone.


“Admirers of Marcus Rediker’s splendid The Slave Ship will be delighted by this historian’s new book. Sailor, pioneer of guerrilla theater, and a man who would stop at nothing to make his fellow human beings share his passionate outrage against slavery, Benjamin Lay has long needed a modern biographer worthy of him, and now he has one.”

– Adam Hochschild, author of King Leopold’s Ghost

“The unswerving eighteenth-century abolitionist Benjamin Lay, maligned when not ignored for many generations, has at last found his sympathetic biographer. In this captivating must-read book, Marcus Rediker shows that Lay’s disfigured body contained a mind of steel and a heart overflowing with compassion for victims of the Atlantic slave trade. Lay’s place in the annals of American reform is now secure.”

– Gary Nash, author of Warner Mifflin: Unflinching Quaker Abolitionist

“Lay’s antinomian radicalism has been wonderfully excavated by Marcus Rediker in this eloquent testament.”

– Catherine Hall, author of Legacies of British Slave-Ownership

“This turbulent life of a seafarer, glove maker, and preacher is the stuff of legend, recovered with panache by Rediker.”

– John Rees, author of The Leveller Revolution

“It is a pretty safe bet that for every 1,000 people who know of William Wilberforce, no more than the odd one might have heard of Benjamin Lay. But if anyone deserves to muscle in on the mildly self-congratulatory and largely middle-class pantheon of Abolitionist Saints, it is the gloriously improbable and largely forgotten Quaker throwback and hero of Marcus Rediker’s generous and absorbing act—his own phrase—of ‘retrospective justice’.”

– David Crane, Spectator


HARDBACK: September 2017 / 224 pages / ISBN 9781786634719 / £17.99


THE FEARLESS BENJAMIN LAY is available at a 20% discount (hardback) and 40% discount (ebook) on our website. Purchasing details here:

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