Tuesday, December 1, 2009

After accepting an invitation by Valor Publishing to write a review for Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff’s new book I must admit that I wondered what I had gotten myself into. I was busy working on so many other projects that I questioned where I’d ever find the time to read such a book let alone write a decent review. A few days after my commission from Valor, the advanced reader’s copy arrived via U.S. mail and I dutifully put the unopened package on top of the to-do-pile that looms next to my desk…and there it sat, and sat, and sat. The really unfortunate part for me was that every night I’d settle into bed with the usual heavy loads of the day piled up in my mind, wishing I had a truly great fictional read that I could sink my teeth into, a needed diversion from my nonfictional daily grind. I remained in this “fictionally challenged” state for several days until I finally unburied Valor’s shipping envelope, tore it opened, and dumped the book into my hand and experienced the first of many pleasant surprises Mark Shurtleff had to offer. The book I’d deferred reading because I wasn’t in the mood for more political satire, was anything but political, instead it was historical fiction. That’s right, a novel…from a lawyer-politician, and the plot turned out to be very fascinating.
Through his years of research coupled with a heart wrenching storyline, Mark Shurtleff has brought to us an unlikely hero from the annals of true American lore. Am I not a man? The Dred Scott Story had me from hello and I immediately regretted not having the novel situated on my nightstand, half-read. The book’s poignant message is especially timely considering all the trouble that’s going on around us in the world today. All of us think we have problems, and I suppose that sometimes we really do, but Shurtleff’s hero, Dred Scott has us all beat if you ask me. Born in bondage, reared in chains, Dred was deemed another man’s property, chattel that could be bought and sold receiving no more consideration for his own desires than a dumb ox, yet inside of that man were the seeds of genuine greatness that he was destined to do something about.
Dangerously ahead of his time, Dred had the audacity to take the Declaration of Independence at its word “that all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” And that doctrine became the platform upon which a black slave dared to challenge the statuesque and unwittingly change the course of American history in the process.
Dred eventually fought for his liberty in the white man’s court, winning the wildest dream of his heart only to bask in his freedom briefly before everything was again taken away as the courts later declared that because Dred was “not even a man” he and the rest of his race were excluded from The Declaration of Independence and even Biblical doctrines concerning the equality of mankind. Fortunately for America, and to my delight as the reader, Dred’s story doesn’t end there and the legal battle for he and his family’s freedom continued. His plight even caught the attention of one Mr. Abraham Lincoln whose eventual Presidency of the United States was heavily influenced by Dred’s infamous battle in court.
A master at his craft, Shurtleff offers the reader a heavy dose of historical data and legalese, but the necessary wealth of information is blended with a fascinating true-to-life storyline that enhances the reader’s understanding of one of the most difficult periods in U.S. history. Highly entertaining and certainly eye-opening—Am I not a man? The Dred Scott story should be added as the new staple to your historical fiction collection.

Brent Boswell
Author, The Mormon Handcart Pageant

Here is the link to purchase the book

And the link for the Kindle


  1. Thanks for the insight! I impatiently wait for my copy to arrive.

  2. Excellent review, Brent. Thank you!