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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

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

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 Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2016

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KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON

THE OSAGE MURDERS AND THE BIRTH OF THE FBI

Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.

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Greed, depravity, and serial murder in 1920s Oklahoma.

During that time, enrolled members of the Osage Indian nation were among the wealthiest people per capita in the world. The rich oil fields beneath their reservation brought millions of dollars into the tribe annually, distributed to tribal members holding "headrights" that could not be bought or sold but only inherited. This vast wealth attracted the attention of unscrupulous whites who found ways to divert it to themselves by marrying Osage women or by having Osage declared legally incompetent so the whites could fleece them through the administration of their estates. For some, however, these deceptive tactics were not enough, and a plague of violent death—by shooting, poison, orchestrated automobile accident, and bombing—began to decimate the Osage in what they came to call the "Reign of Terror." Corrupt and incompetent law enforcement and judicial systems ensured that the perpetrators were never found or punished until the young J. Edgar Hoover saw cracking these cases as a means of burnishing the reputation of the newly professionalized FBI. Bestselling New Yorker staff writer Grann (The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession, 2010, etc.) follows Special Agent Tom White and his assistants as they track the killers of one extended Osage family through a closed local culture of greed, bigotry, and lies in pursuit of protection for the survivors and justice for the dead. But he doesn't stop there; relying almost entirely on primary and unpublished sources, the author goes on to expose a web of conspiracy and corruption that extended far wider than even the FBI ever suspected. This page-turner surges forward with the pacing of a true-crime thriller, elevated by Grann's crisp and evocative prose and enhanced by dozens of period photographs.

Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.

Pub Date: April 18, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-385-53424-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Feb. 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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