Blood on the River

A Chronicle of Mutiny and Freedom on the Wild Coast

The winner of the 2021 Cundill History Prize and the 2021 Frederick Douglass Book Prize

“An epic history. . . . A sweeping, thoughtful narrative, joining a new wave of books that make visible previously dismissed Black voices.” —Los Angeles Times

Winner of the Cundill History Prize
Winner of the Frederick Douglass Book Prize
Named one of the Best Books of the Year by NPR

Named one of the best books of the year by NPR, Blood on the River also won two of the highest honors for works of history, capturing both the Frederick Douglass Prize and the Cundill History Prize in 2021. A book with profound relevance for our own time, Blood on the River “fundamentally alters what we know about revolutionary change” according to Cundill Prize juror and NYU history professor Jennifer Morgan.

Nearly two hundred sixty years ago, on Sunday, February 27, 1763, thousands of slaves in the Dutch colony of Berbice—in present-day Guyana—launched a rebellion that came amazingly close to succeeding. Blood on the River is the explosive story of this little-known revolution, one that almost changed the face of the Americas. Michael Ignatieff, chair of the Cundill Prize jury, declared that Blood on the River “tells a story so dramatic, so compelling that no reader will be able to put the book down.”

Drawing on nine hundred interrogation transcripts collected by the Dutch when the rebellion collapsed, and which were subsequently buried in Dutch archives, historian Marjoleine Kars has constructed what Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Eric Foner calls “a gripping narrative that brings to life a forgotten world.”


“Marjoleine Kars has brought from the archives the voices of the enslaved, both in hope and in defeat. A tale of importance for our time.”
—Natalie Zemon Davis, author of Trickster Travels and The Return of Martin Guerre
“A must-read for anyone interested in slave revolts and the history of Atlantic slavery.”
Library Journal
“A richly detailed account of a gripping human story.”
—H. W. Brands, The Washington Post
“A riveting addition to the history of the search for freedom in the Americas.”
Kirkus Reviews
“[A] masterpiece . . . Marjoleine Kars has unearthed a little-known rebellion in the Dutch colony of Berbice and rendered its story with insight, empathy, and wisdom. You’ll find no easy platitudes herein. Instead, you’ll find human beings in full relief, acting with courage, kindness, calculation, and mendacity in their quest for self-determination. Blood on the River is a story for the ages.”
—Elizabeth Fenn, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Encounters at the Heart of the World: A History of the Mandan People
“This riveting story offers a close look at the inner dynamics of a slave war—its fraught alliances and antagonisms, strategies and tactics, and the grievances and aspirations of its combatants and resistors.”
—Vincent Brown, author of Tacky’s Revolt: The Story of an Atlantic Slave War
“Vivid. . . . The aborted attempt at freedom she chronicles provides a harrowing counterpoint to the American and French revolutions that would soon follow.”
—Russell Shorto, author of The Island at the Center of the World
“This is required reading for historians of the Black Atlantic world.”
—Jennifer Morgan, professor of history, NYU, and author of Reckoning with Slavery
“Meticulously researched and careful to prioritize the perspectives of the marginalized, Blood on the River offers a fascinating glimpse of the complex history of slavery in the Americas.”
“A gripping tale about the human need for freedom. . . . The story of the Berbice Rebellion begs to be told, and Kars' telling is impressive.”
—Martha Anne Toll, NPR Books
“[An] epic history. . . . A sweeping, thoughtful narrative, joining a new wave of books that make visible previously dismissed Black voices.”
—Carolyn Kellogg, Los Angeles Times
“This striking study unearths a meaningful chapter in the history of slavery.”
Publishers Weekly
“Takes readers on a moving journey deep into a colonial heart of darkness. Drawing on rich and challenging sources, Marjoleine Kars reveals enslaved people making a rebellion that lingers in memory and landscape.”
—Alan Taylor, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Internal Enemy and William Cooper’s Town
“One of the great slave revolts in modern history has at last found a gifted historian to tell its epic tale. Using a breathtaking archival discovery to make the Berbice rebels vivid flesh-and-blood actors, Marjoleine Kars deeply enriches the global scholarship on the history of slavery and resistance.”
—Marcus Rediker, author of The Amistad Rebellion: An Atlantic Odyssey of Slavery and Freedom
“A powerful book that will appeal to experts and—thanks to the lively and accessible writing style—the general public alike.”
Black Perspectives

News and Reviews

Lit Hub

Read an excerpt from Blood on the River in Lit Hub about the complexities of the 1763 slave rebellion in the Dutch colony of Berbice (present-day Guyana).

The Conversation

Read an op-ed by author Marjoleine Kars in The Conversation about the telling of history, access to archives, and the legacy of slavery.

NPR Books

Read a review of Blood on the River in NPR Books.

Goodreads Reviews