Skip to main content
PBS logo

Search - The Known World

The Known World
The Known World
Author: Edward P. Jones
Henry Townsend, a black farmer, bootmaker, and former slave, has a fondness for Paradise Lost and an unusual mentor -- William Robbins, perhaps the most powerful man in antebellum Virginia's Manchester County. Under Robbins's tutelage, Henry becomes proprietor of his own plantation -- as well as of his own slaves. When he dies, his widow, Caldon...  more »
Info icon
ISBN-13: 9780060557553
ISBN-10: 0060557559
Publication Date: 6/1/2004
Pages: 432
  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.

3.5 stars, based on 487 ratings
Publisher: Amistad Press
Book Type: Paperback
Other Versions: Hardcover, Audio Cassette, Audio CD
Reviews: Member | Amazon | Write a Review

Top Member Book Reviews

reviewed The Known World on + 8 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 16
Just because a book has won a pulitzer prize and everyone around you says its a great book does not make it a good read. I found the prose hard to digest and the story drawn out and frankly boring. The characters seemeed one dimensional and there far too many tangents.
avsjen avatar reviewed The Known World on + 21 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 13
Pulitzer Prize winner for 2004, this book is a rich portrayal of slavery and free blacks during the mid-1800s in the US. No Civil War militaria, this book is a profound and deep look of the lives of slaves and their masters--some of whom are black. Left me thinking of the characters long after finishing the book.
reviewed The Known World on
Helpful Score: 10
I got lost in the book. I became fully involved with the characters and the wonder of the human spirit in all of us. One of the best books I have ever read.
reviewed The Known World on + 26 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 8
It's easy to understand why the Pulitzer Prize was given to this wonderful novel. It manages to be epic while neatly confined to small town Virginia.
reviewed The Known World on
Helpful Score: 7
Jones brings you deep into the world of the confused South through his beautiful, dramatic, illustrations of life as it was for slaves - both in bondage and freed - and their owners - both white and black. This is a fabulous book that was hard to put down.
Read All 105 Book Reviews of "The Known World"

Please Log in to Rate these Book Reviews

reviewed The Known World on + 37 more book reviews
Winner of the 2004 Pulitzer prize. About life as a slave or fee Black n the south around the time of the civil war. Just could not get into it.
reviewed The Known World on + 13 more book reviews
I loved this. I thought I knew about slavery in the south but I really had no idea. Please read for the sake of everyone.
reviewed The Known World on
This is a rather profound book protraying the relationship between the powerful and the weak through the medium of slavery as practiced by former slaves who became slave owners. The emotional life of the illiterate and uninformed is vivid and moving. I enjoyed this book very much.
reviewed The Known World on + 2 more book reviews
AT first it was difficult to remember who everyone was. But after I got into the book it all came together. This book gave a good description of how hard slavery was precivil war. It's one of the books I couldn't put down because I wanted to know what happens next. Life was hard, times were bad yet you learned how to survive. Would recommend this book because everyone should know how the slaves were treated and lived in our country.
perryfran avatar reviewed The Known World on + 1176 more book reviews
This book won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2004 and in my opinion, it was very well-deserved. The novel tells the story of the residents of the fictional Manchester County, Virginia in the years prior to the Civil War. The author, however, makes the fictional county and its populace very real and by the time you finish this exceptional novel, you believe it to be so. The crux of the story revolves around a plantation in the county owned by a free black who is also a slave-owner. This is something I had never heard about nor considered as part of the vile history of slavery. (I did look this up on Google and there were indeed free blacks in the South who owned slaves.) When the owner of the plantation, Henry Townsend, dies, his widow is left to try to cope with its continuation and dealing with the slaves as well as the local non-black citizenry. The novel is filled with vivid characters including Moses, the overseer on the plantation and Henry's first slave; Alice, a slave who was rumored to have been kicked in the head by a mule and who wanders around the county most every night singing songs and talking nonsense; Fern Elston, a free black woman who could pass for white and who is also a teacher of black children; John Skiffington, the sheriff of the county; William Robbins, a wealthy white land-owner who encouraged Henry to own his own plantation and slaves; and Harvey Travis, Oden Peoples, and Barnum Kinsey, slave patrollers who don't always abide by the law.

This was not an easy novel to read. The language was sometimes dense and the author had a tendency to skip around in time and tell what happens to some of the characters years into the future. There were also a lot of characters to keep track of that made it somewhat confusing at times (about half way through the book I discovered a listing of the main characters in the back of the book making it easier to keep them straight). But it was well worth the effort to read and it provided some incites into slavery that I had not really thought about before. These included black slave owners and how it would be conceivable. Also the issue of free blacks in the South and the safety of them. Their only safeguard was a written paper saying they are free but was that enough to protect them from being sold back into slavery? Not necessarily! One incident in the novel reminded me of 12 Years a Slave an excellent film and memoir about a free black who was kidnapped in D.C. and sold into slavery.

Overall, I would highly recommend this one to anyone who wants to learn more about the condition of slavey in the pre-Civil War South. Wonderful read. Excellent!
reviewed The Known World on + 628 more book reviews
Very educational and moving story about slavery, The jumping around from person to person was difficult to follow, but still a worthy historical fiction read.
reviewed The Known World on + 407 more book reviews
This was an interesting book about slavery, race and families in Manchester County, Virginia. I liked the interactions between the characters, including Moses and Caldonia.
Tipppytoes avatar reviewed The Known World on + 24 more book reviews
This book is amazing! Who knew that freed black slaves owned other slaves? It was a can't put it down audio tape . About Black people owning slaves during the time of slavery in America. Situations I never heard of or thought of told in fascinating manner through the lives of the owners, the slaves, the freed slaves, the freed slaves captured & sold back into slavery. The slaves buying themselves out of slavery & going to work to buy each of their children out of slavery. Makes you wonder if it is about racism or socio-econimic motivation then & now.
Amyaloha avatar reviewed The Known World on + 31 more book reviews
Was highly readable, a kind of an amazing unique story. It's telling was very detailed, very accurate, you knew the characters so well by the end. Dull story at times, predictable in it's slave brutality, basic injustices of the time. Kept waiting for it to get exciting, but it never did... Loose ends stayed loose as they are in real life, no Hollywood happy endings. A masterpiece of fiction. Written like an enjoyable history book, but it was all made up. Edward Jones, brilliant mind.
MomReadsALot avatar reviewed The Known World on + 30 more book reviews
A beautiful book with a wonderful rhythm. Riveting, heartbreaking, and wonderful.

Book Wiki

Real Places