'What's The Deal?' by Rhoda Blumberg

Cleveland Park LibraryStaff Picks

'What's The Deal?' by Rhoda Blumberg

What's the Deal? opens with a “cast of characters,” identifying the movers and shakers in the Louisiana Territory’s 120-year history with balance and clarity. Rhoda Blumberg presents the complex history of fluid political alliances and the ever-present threat of war -- explaining political motivations as well as political acts -- to give readers a sense of why the territory was important and how it was eventually acquired.

This is a well-researched and smoothly written book of political history. The author tells the story of the clash of the competing interests of France, England, and Spain for control over New Orleans and the vast "wasteland" beyond the Mississippi River.

What' The Deal?Blumberg charts the tangled web of diplomacy, treaties made and broken, and the unexpected consequences of events seemingly unrelated to the new government in America. The Queen of Spain desired land in Italy; Toussaint L'Ouverture destroyed a French army in St. Domingue; and Napoleon overrode all advice and chose to sell the Louisiana territory if President Jefferson could meet his price. Blumberg makes an exciting and suspenseful tale out of the negotiations and the people involved in a political bargain that would determine the future of the United States.

Before occupying Louisiana, Napoleon planned to gain complete control over St. Domingue, France's most valuable colony in the Caribbean, ruled by Toussaint L'Overture. Toussaint, idolized by his followers who called him the Black Napoleon, was a former slave. A priest who was impressed by this remarkable man and his extraordinary intelligence broke the law by teaching him to read and write. (Since knowledge can lead to dangerous desires for freedom, slaves were forbidden to learn to read and write.) Toussaint L’Ouverture made the best of what he had learned.

The relationship between Toussaint L’Ouverture and Napoleon Bonaparte is fascinating, and in the end, even though Toussaint L’Ouverture was tricked into captivity and died as a result of mistreatment by his jailer, Napoleon did not succeed in taking St. Domingue. St. Domingue became an independent nation ruled by black people, the Republic of Haiti.

France had bad luck with the New World Territories. Napoleon needed money to wage war against Egypt and Britain. In spring of 1803, he decided to sell the Louisiana Territory to the U.S. The price was $15 million, all of which Jefferson borrowed from an English bank. The goal of the British was to ensure that the French would never own territory south of Canada, while the French goal was to get money to fight the English. The Louisiana Purchase Treaty was signed in May 1803, and two months later, Jefferson sent Louis and Clark to explore the new territory. This land deal becomes a vibrant tale of greed, double-dealing and political finesse.

I really enjoyed the way the author divided the text into short sections within short chapters; the text is accessible enough to appeal to struggling readers. It is further enhanced by a large format and generously spaced layout which allows for full-page, black-and-white reproductions of oil paintings, engravings and sketches. This is a welcome blend of historical drama, great designs, source notes, bibliography, timeline. Rhoda Blumberg tells this history with great ease.

This book is perfect for those who want to know the history of Haiti as well. Children and adults will enjoy reading this book.

Check it out: What's the Deal?
-- Jackie Mikolaski, Library Associate