[UCP Books]: The Man Who Stole Himself

“A gripping read.”Natalie Zemon Davis


“An intriguing work of microhistory.”—Publishers Weekly

The Man Who Stole Himself

The Slave Odyssey of Hans Jonathan


Publication date: October 10, 2016 978-0-226-31328-3
International publication date: October 24, 2016 $25.00/£17.50


Very few people know the story of Hans Jonathan, a free black man who was born into slavery, declared himself free, escaped the law, and lived and raised a family in early nineteenth-century Iceland. His story is improbable, the stuff of novels. And yet, it’s all true.

In The Man Who Stole Himself, Gisli Palsson unspools the incredible life story of Hans Jonathan (also known as Hans Jónatan) in stunning detail. Today, Hans has become something of an Icelandic icon, claimed as a proud and daring ancestor both there and among his descendants in America.

Palsson brilliantly intertwines Hans Jonathan’s adventurous life with a portrait of the Danish slave trade, legal arguments over slavery, and the state of nineteenth-century race relations in the Northern Atlantic world. Throughout the book, Palsson traces themes of imperial dreams, colonialism, human rights, and globalization, which all come together in the life of a single, remarkable man. Hans literally led a life like no other. His is the story of a man who had the temerity—the courage—to steal himself.

“This deeply-considered book is not the typical ‘epic history’ of world events. Rather, in its portrait of one man who became extraordinary by claiming his rights to an ordinary life, it puts the monstrous on a human scale.”—Politics & Prose


Gisli Palsson is professor of anthropology at the University of Iceland. He is the author, editor, or coeditor of many books.

Please contact Ashley Pierce at (773) 702-0279 or apierce@uchicago.edu for more information.


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