Too deep for me. I appreciate the scholarly effort to produce such a book but don't intend to labor through it.
This is a big book (420 pages) but well worth the effort. The book's two main premises are that slavery was a critical component of the development of capitalism in the United States and indeed the western world (the author is not the first to advance this thesis) and that increased productivity of cotton production in the United States in the first half of the 19th century was due to a significant increase in calculated brutality, which the author calls the whipping machine. However, the author does not provide the data and analysis required to support these contentions. There is no doubt that slavery was of great importance to economic development and, as the author contends, not inefficient or moribund or outside the capitalist sphere, as some, including authors of the Lost Cause mythology have argued. With respect to the second point, a number of reviewers claim that it was improvements in cotton plants that were behind the increased productivity. Despite its relative failings on these points, the book excels at describing the horror visited upon the millions of African-Americans caught up by the expansion and increased brutality of slavery in the first half of the 19th century. The author gives voice to these people and has shown how they acted as agents to the extent that they could, despite the overwhelming hardships they faced.
The writing style detracts from the issues this book investigates. The author has strangely chosen to intermingle individuals' stories in the middle of a discussion of facts. The graphs and charts are not user friendly, the factual information would be better supported by color maps. This book could be much more brief, concise, and focused on specific points. Much of the important information is lost in presentation.
Edward Baptist pays close attention to slavery as a powerful and evolving barbarism that increasingly sucked the economy, geographical expansion, and politics of the United States within its singular project. The Jacksonian geopolitical expansion into the south and southwestern United States provided vast new areas for slavery’s expansion. But Baptist argues this was a “new, second slavery” based on a brutal labor regime that increased productivity and brutalized its African victims. This new slavery was abetted by a financial system almost as out of control as our current one, as Wall Street financiers and the US banking system grew fat on the forced labor of slaves. Owning bodies of slaves was collateral for credit that further intensified the slave system. As slavery grew it threatened the whole country, forcing a series of political confrontations that ended with the US Civil War. Baptist punctures many illusions -- of a dead archaic system of slavery, of a benign slavocracy, of an innocent North which was not complicit in slavery's brutality.
I discovered this book on the shelf at the Whitney Plantation slave museum in Wallace, LA. It was recommended by the guide, to me, and I recommend it to everyone interested in understanding the origins and legacy of slavery. It is devastating in its honesty, scrupulous in its research and eloquent in its prose.To those of us brought up to understand America's slave culture as simply as children can understand it, this book is a brilliant economic, historical and personal record of what it was like to live as a slave, in the time of slavery and in a country burdened by the results, for adults.
Powerful, depressing, important reading. The book can make you cry but there are also some similarities to labor, wealth and our world today. A most valuable book.
Great book, but a very depressing one. Any argument against reparations is destroyed by the content in this book. In 1820 1/3 of all U.S. wealth was just in U.S. human slave capital, slaves. That doesn't include the wealth that was generated by their labor including the cotton that was produced, the shipping companies that made tremendous transporting the commodities slaves produced, and the factories that made profits hand over fist from the the cheap cotton that was produced by slave labor. For instance, by 1860 99% of all cotton being used in English factories was cotton being picked by U.S. slaves.
To say that the U.S. economy and the U.S. ruling class owes it's wealth and power from the sweat, blood, and tears of African slaves would be a serious understatement.
Great book, must read.
"The Northern economy's industrial sector was built on the back's of enslaved people."
I was eager to read Edward E. Baptist's new history of slavery, which interweaves personal narratives with an overarching examination of the economics of slavery and how it was an engine that drove the expansion of American capitalism and territory. It's a provocative and compelling thesis, but it gets muddle in Baptist's erratic writing and lack of focus. He goes off on tangents about subjects like African-Americans contribution to music and using to learn both hands, as well as overwhelming readers with vast loads of facts, the arcana of 19th century economic policy, and the machinations of Southern politicians in the Senate. Perhaps this book was meant more for scholars and fellow historians, rather than for the general reader. It is an important book on a subject plenty of Americans would be happy to forget or ignore, but it was disappointing as both a narrative and as a challenge to conventional ideas of slavery.
This is a very depressing book but a necessary one. America would not be the superpower it is today if it were not for slavery, is the blunt thesis of the author. Simply stated, the extent to which capitalism and its tools was used to exploit the slave trade is breathtaking, as much as the multiple methods of torture used against slaves, is heartbreaking. A real surprise is how Barings Bank and the stock firm Lehman Brothers (among others) got their start, by financing the purchasing of slaves. When the enterprise got too expensive, many states simply defaulted on loans, leading to foreign states litigating for their money back for decades after. This book is also the most detailed account to date as to how the American Union broke up and got itself into the Civil War. Simply saying it was "slavery" doesn't do the issue justice. A lot had to do with legal immigration to the North, which made the three-fifths compromise a joke and led to the South being underrepresented in Congress - where the numbers now existed to change how a lot of other things were done in America. This should be required reading for high school students. For it offers an explanation why there will never be a reconciliation between black and white people in America - let alone the South against the rest of the country.
A few astonishing facts - 1) Slavery was so imbedded in the American economy that 12 of the first 16 presidential elections were won by slaveholders (some presidents owning over 200 slaves). 2) In 1860, 7 of the 8 per capita wealthiest states were slave states, largely because of the huge capital wealth of the slaves. The 8th was Connecticut, which was the state with the most cotton mills. Today, without slaves, most of the 7 are the poorest states in America (no wonder, the whites of those 7 states hate blacks so much). 3) More than 18% of the capital wealth of the USA in 1860 was the selling price of the slaves themselves. (4) While UK can brag about the fact that they abolished slavery before America, up until 1863, UK's financiers were making huge amounts of money selling and buying mortgages for America's slaves.
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