Books by Orlando Patterson

Released: Feb. 1, 1999

There are at least 95 good reasons, if there's one, why this is an immensely readable and eye-opening new work by Patterson. A Harvard sociologist, Patterson won the National Book Award in 1991 for Freedom in the Making of Western Culture. The current volume is his second in a trilogy on race and the legacy of slavery that started with Ordeal of Integration (1997). In this work he offers three very different but linked essays on the obstacles still facing Afro-Americans at the end of the 20th century; he examines relations between Afro-American men and women, the cult of lynching as ritual sacrifice, and a portrait of the Afro- American male as a media figure. He succeeds in each essay not least because, whether writing of slavery or of the relatively short life span of the black male (64.9 years), he does not indulge in a kind of woe-is-me hand-wrenching that leaves both reader and writer in a strange state of paralysis. However grim the facts, he states them and moves on. Also he accepts but is unafraid to challenge authorities in other fields, whether it's Ralph Ellison or William Julius Wilson. Then again, he is an unabashed supporter of black radical feminists Michelle Wallace and Ntozake Shange. Indeed, unlike many social scientists, Patterson makes frequent forays into other disciplines if he feels it better explains his point. Finally, he is inclined to disturb and challenge African- American readers. Debunking, for example, the liberal assessment that Afro-Americans who have been lynched were all innocent, Patterson asserts that many of them "were heroically guilty, notwithstanding the fact that many mistakes were made by the lynch mobs in sacrificing the wrong person." At another point he concludes that one of the byproducts of slavery is the high infidelity rate among black males (27 percent, as compared with 19 percent for white men). The latter may seem like a stretch. But what is problematic in Patterson is unfailingly provocative. Read full book review >
Released: June 27, 1991

The first half of a comprehensive history of the development of Western notions of liberty and freedom. Harvard sociologist Patterson (Slavery and Social Depth, 1982, etc.) goes beyond the usual framework of intellectual history to show how European culture gave birth to, and was itself formed by, the concept of personal liberty. Patterson begins with the thesis that the idea of freedom was generated reactively—that is, in response to the daily spectacle of institutionalized slavery. To be free was, most obviously, not to be a slave. The Peloponnesian War, by subjecting an unprecedented number of captives to slavery, brought the awareness of freedom to the fore of society's attention as never before and provided the impetus for much of Greek drama and philosophy, Patterson says. The notion of the slave as someone legally dead, whose life was forfeit by circumstance and who lived only through the will of the master, created an intellectual tension that was answered by concepts of tragedy and redemption. These ideas were later amplified by the Roman stoics, but it was only in the nascent cult of Christianity—and preeminently in the writings of St. Paul and St. Augustine—that they reached their most systematic development. Patterson is at pains to show also that the sensibility to issues of freedom and constraint is a particularly ``feminine'' process, since women always and everywhere comprised the great majority of those enslaved. His examination of the Middle Ages lacks the penetration of his view of antiquity, but he manages to depict the fledgling birth of nationalism and absolutism as they arose out of the struggles for loyalty engendered by urbanization and rising prosperity. A profound and authoritative work that breaks new ground in its approach and will possibly alter the course of social studies for years to come. Read full book review >