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Dark Laboratory: On Columbus, the Caribbean, and the Origins of the Climate Crisis
Tao Leigh Goffe


A groundbreaking investigation of the Caribbean as both an idyll in the American imagination and a dark laboratory of Western experimentation, concealing secrets to racial and environmental progress that impact how we live today.

In 1492, Christopher Columbus arrived on the Caribbean Island of Guanahaní to find an Edenic beauty that was soon mythologized. But behind the myth of paradise, the Caribbean and its people would come to pay the price of relentless Western exploitation and abuse. In Dark Laboratory, Goffe embarks on a historical journey to chart the forces that have shaped these islands: the legacy of slavery, indentured servitude, and the forced labor of Chinese and enslaved Black people excavating the islands’ bounty. Along with sugarcane, guano, at the time, was more valuable than gold.

Through the lens of memoir—and shot through with cultural and social history—Goffe radically transforms how we conceive of Blackness, natural history, colonialism, and the climate crisis, dismantling the many layers of entrenched imperialist thinking to reveal the cause and effect of a global human catastrophe. Her deeply lyrical, fluid writing forces a reckoning with the received forms of knowledge that, she proves so deftly, have led us astray.

Using the Caribbean as both warning and guide, Goffe offers solutions based on island ecologies, closely situating the origins of racism and climate catastrophe in a colonial context. And in redressing these twin apocalypses, Dark Laboratory becomes a record of the violence that continues to shape the Caribbean today. But even more urgently, Goffe has written and impassioned testament to the capacity for change and renewal.


Tao Leigh Goffe is a London-born, Black British award-winning writer, theorist, and interdisciplinary artist who grew up between the UK and New York. Her research explores Black diasporic intellectual histories, political, and ecological life. She studied English literature at Princeton University before pursuing a PhD at Yale University. She lives and works in Manhattan where she is currently an Associate Professor at Hunter College, CUNY. Dr. Goffe has held academic positions and fellowships at Leiden University in the Netherlands and Princeton University in New Jersey.


One of Publishers Weekly’s Top 10 History Books of Fall 2024

Dark Laboratory does the gargantuan, soulful work for slowing down the velocity, scope and impact of American and European exploitation of the Caribbean. Absolutely foundational to understanding the conundrum of raced experimentation and mining in the West. Dark Laboratory doesn’t simply bend; rather, it deftly obliterates most of what I thought I knew about the Caribbean’s utility to Western wealth.” -- Kiese Laymon, New York Times bestselling author of Heavy

[H]  Doubleday Books  /  January 21, 2025

384 pages