A well-researched, effectively presented piece of scholarship that forthrightly confronts slavery’s brute essence.

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THE PRICE FOR THEIR POUND OF FLESH

THE VALUE OF THE ENSLAVED FROM WOMB TO GRAVE IN THE BUILDING OF A NATION

What was the assigned value, the price tag, placed on the bodies of the enslaved?

In this sharp, affecting study, Berry (History and African and African Diaspora Studies/Univ. of Texas; Swing the Sickle for the Harvest Is Ripe: Gender and Slavery in Antebellum Georgia, 2007, etc.) reminds us of the cold calculus at the intersection of slavery and capitalism. Assessed at each stage of their lives, in the womb and even after death, the sale price of the enslaved depended upon a number of variables: the needs, desires, and location of the buyer and the particular skills, perceived attractiveness, and sex of the bought. Beginning each of her chapters with an auction and an inventory of the economic imperatives at work, the author movingly vivifies this brutal commodification of the men, women, and children in bondage with the horrid details attending their sale: the male bodies “greased up and groomed for the auction block,” the forced breeding that accounted for many family separations, the incomprehension of children sold away, the five-point scale (Berry compares it to U.S. Department of Agriculture meat grades) used to rate the health and utility of the enslaved, and the role of “breeding wenches” in populating the workforce. In addition, the author explores the flourishing cadaver trade, in which black bodies still had a post-mortem value; remarks on the emerging field of gynecology, built on research conducted on enslaved women’s bodies; and touches on the matters of insurance, coroners’ inquiries, and autopsies, all part of the grim calculation. Most movingly, Berry discusses what she calls “soul value,” the deeply personal, spiritual value the enslaved assigned to themselves. From this place came the strength that inspired Ponto to boldly correct his auctioneer, Isaac to cheat the hangman by jumping from the gallows to meet death on his own terms, Madeline to drown herself rather than suffer repeated rape, and Celia to club her rapist to death.

A well-researched, effectively presented piece of scholarship that forthrightly confronts slavery’s brute essence.

Pub Date: Jan. 24, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-8070-4762-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Beacon

Review Posted Online: Oct. 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2016

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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