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Social Science Slavery

Blood Legacy

Reckoning With a Family's Story of Slavery

by (author) Alex Renton

Canongate Books
Initial publish date
Sep 2021
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2021
    List Price
  • CD-Audio

    Publish Date
    Sep 2021
    List Price
  • CD-Audio

    Publish Date
    Sep 2021
    List Price
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2022
    List Price

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'Alex Renton has done Britain a favour and written a brutally honest book about his family's involvement with slavery. Blood Legacy could change our frequently defensive national conversation about slavery/race' Sathnam Sanghera
'Utterly gripped - An incredible book. Alex's work is my book in practice' Emma Dabiri
Through the story of his own family's history as slave and plantation owners, Alex Renton looks at how we owe it to the present to understand the legacy of the past. When British Caribbean slavery was abolished across most of the British Empire in 1833, it was not the newly liberated who received compensation, but the tens of thousands of enslavers who were paid millions of pounds in government money. The descendants of some of those slave owners are among the wealthiest and most powerful people in Britain today.
A group of Caribbean countries is calling on ten European nations to discuss the payment of trillions of dollars for the damage done by transatlantic slavery and its continuing legacy. Meanwhile, Black Lives Matter and other activist groups are causing increasing numbers of white people to reflect on how this history of abuse and exploitation has benefited them.
Blood Legacy explores what inheritance - political, economic, moral and spiritual - has been passed to the descendants of the slave owners and the descendants of the enslaved. He also asks, crucially, how the former - himself among them - can begin to make reparations for the past.

About the author

Alex Renton is a British-Canadian journalist and the author of Stiff Upper Lip, and Planet Carnivore.

Alex Renton's profile page


  • Short-listed, Saltire Society History Book of the Year
  • Long-listed, The Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction

Editorial Reviews

Utterly gripped - an incredible book. Alex's work is my book in practice


A useful counter to British self-congratulation on the ending of the Atlantic slave trade . . . It must make any reader question much of the received wisdom about the eighteenth-century Enlightenment

Sunday Times

A deeply moving, brave and powerful book


In this unflinching, fascinating and very human account, drawn from his own family papers, Alex Renton takes a crucial first step towards reparation, by acknowledging the cruel reality of his ancestors' callous exploitation of enslaved people's labour from afar; detailing the damage done, and both asking and beginning to answer the question of what can be done to purge these sins and their legacies today

MIRANDA KAUFMANN, author of Black Tudors

Renton . . . dismantles the myths with the efficiency of someone shelling pistachios for a snack . . . remarkable . . . an incredible work of scholarship

The Times

An important book . . . one of the strengths of Renton's book is that it takes seriously the issue of class . . . In breaking class ranks, Renton has given voice to a long suppressed truth . . . [an] admirable book


Blood Legacy is a moving, timely, well-written and strikingly thoughtful book that makes an important contribution to the growing debate on the horrors that accompanied Britain's empire-building. Alex Renton's forensic and remarkably honest analysis of his own family papers, and the profound darkness they contain, highlights our continuing failure to acknowledge the extreme toxicity of so much of our Imperial history


Moving and deeply researched, Alex Renton's account of his ancestors' slaveholding brings home the everyday brutality of Caribbean slavery and its contribution to the making of Britain both then and since. Blood Legacy sets the ordinariness of slaveholding in the eighteenth-century monied world alongside accounts of the extraordinary lives of those they owned. This is a book that asks white Britons to look hard at our past and its consequences in the present


A fascinating family history of profit and loss made during slavery in the Caribbean. This book is truth not fiction


A courageous, deeply affecting and excoriatingly honest account of his family's role in enslavement

Financial Times

Other titles by Alex Renton