The Strange Career of William Ellis: The Texas Slave Who Became a Mexican Millionaire

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Product Details

$27.95  $25.99
W. W. Norton & Company
Publish Date
6.4 X 9.5 X 1.1 inches | 1.3 pounds

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About the Author

Karl Jacoby is a professor of history at Columbia University. The author of two previous books, he has won the Albert J. Beveridge Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship, among many other honors. He lives in New York.


[E]legantly written.--Vladimir Alexandrov
How is it that a black man named William Ellis, living in Reconstruction-era Texas, could transform himself into a Mexican magnate and conquer Wall Street, then disappear into history without a trace? Fortunately, Karl Jacoby has done the detective work to bring this intriguing larger-than-life figure back to life, challenging America's fixed concepts of race, ethnicity and national identity. This fascinating history book reads like a novel.--Margot Lee Shetterly, author of Hidden Figures
William Ellis was a chameleon, a trickster, and a man determined to shape his own identity. With enormous skill, Karl Jacoby uncovers this tremendous subject, revealing Ellis's lies, and crafting a powerful new narrative about the porous borders of class, race, and national identity in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century American life. Deftly moving between the improbable details of Ellis's biography and the larger political and cultural stories of the day, Jacoby demonstrates how one man's life can help us understand the past in an entirely new way.--Martha A. Sandweiss, professor of history, Princeton University, and author of Passing Strange: A Gilded Age Tale of Love and Deception Across the Color Line
[A] welcome and nuanced perspective to the racial history of the U.S. as well as a textured examination of the legacy of distrust between the United States and Mexico. ...Ellis' life is also a cracking good story, illustrated with intriguing photos and helpful maps topped off by an emotionally satisfying epilogue.--Sara Martinez
Fascinating... [an] important slice of American history.--Karen M. Thomas