Toronto writer Ray Robertson's seventh novel was inspired by the Elgin Settlement of Ontario, a community that housed 75 free black families by the 1850s. Here's how it begins:

God and whiskey have got me where I am. Too little of the one, too much of the other.

Aristotle said that the virtuous man is a man of moderation, the kind of man who avoids excess and scarcity in both action and feeling. But then, Aristotle wasn't born a slave. And Athens, Greece, is a long, long way from Jackson, Louisiana.

The man who owned my mother and whoever grew in her womb didn't need to read Aristotle to know that some men are by nature free, and others slaves, and that for these slavery is both expedient and right. Wouldn't have disagreed, of course, and probably would have been pleased to be reminded of just one more virtue of procuring a classical education for one's male offspring. To care for one's children materially but to neglect their intellectual and spiritual needs would be simply uncivilized.

Fate or luck -- take your pick, both have their backers -- meant that the teacher my mother's master hired to instruct his sons in the wisdom of Western literature was William King, the same man who taught me to read Greek, to recite Virgil, to know the best that has been thought and said.

Knowledge is power. Thomas Hobbes. Leviathan, 1668.

I learned that one on my own.