David Reese’s “Liberia: America’s African Stepchild” is a rather unique history of an African nation. Each chapter is essentially a mini-biography of an important person in Liberia’s history, such as Paul Cuffe, Joseph Jenkins Roberts, Edward James Roye, Edwin Barclay, Edward Blyden, William Tubman, and Samuel Doe. It is through the stories of these and other men that Reese tells the story of Liberia. Anything ‘extra’ is added as a separate section in a separate typeset within a chapter.
Reese’s approach I think has some useful benefits but also some serious, and rather disappointing, drawbacks. One the one hand, the book is very easy to read (like a novel), and it is easier to understand Liberia’s historical development from a disease-ridden, impoverished settlement to an independent state. On the other hand, it leaves a lot of unanswered ‘big’ questions, such as how and why Americo-Liberian settlers, mostly manumitted slaves or the descendants of slaves, established in Liberia a society that was a mirror image of the American antebellum south in Africa! Reese’s approach, I found, skims the surface of Liberia’s history, but fails to offer a critical, penetrating analysis of why it developed as it did.