THE HALF HAS NEVER BEEN TOLD by Edward E. Baptist
Kirkus Star

THE HALF HAS NEVER BEEN TOLD

Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism

KIRKUS REVIEW

A dense, myth-busting work that pursues how the world profited from American slavery.

The story of slavery in America is not static, as Baptist (History/Cornell Univ.; Creating an Old South: Middle Florida's Plantation Frontier before the Civil War, 2001) points out in this exhaustive tome. It entailed wide-scale forced migrations from the lower East Coast to the South and West of the economically burgeoning United States. Following tobacco production along the Chesapeake Bay, slavery was embraced in the newly opened territories of Kentucky and Mississippi, where slaves were force-marched in coffles, separated from families, bought and sold to new owners, and then used to clear fields and plant indigo and the new cash crop, cotton. Although some advanced attempts to ban slavery—e.g., in the Northwest Ordinance—the newly hammered-out Constitution codified it by the Three-Fifths Compromise. In the name of unity, the delegates agreed with South Carolina’s John Rutledge that “religion and humanity [have] nothing to do with this question. Interest alone is the governing principle with nations.” Using the metaphor of a trussed-up giant body à la Gulliver, Baptist divides his chapters by body parts, through which he viscerally delineates the effects of the violence of slavery—e.g., “Feet” encapsulates the experience of forced migration through intimate stories, while “Right Hand” and “Left Hand” explore the insidious methods of the “enslavers” to solidify their holdings. Baptist moves chronologically, though in a roundabout fashion, often backtracking and repeating, and thoroughly examines every area affected by slavery, from New Orleans to Boston, Kansas to Cuba. He challenges the comfortable myth of “Yankee ingenuity” as our founding growth principle, showing how cotton picking drove U.S. exports and finance from 1800 to 1860—as well as the expansion of Northern industry.

Though some readers may find the narrative occasionally tedious, this is a complicated story involving staggering scholarship that adds greatly to our understanding of the history of the United States.

Pub Date: Sept. 9th, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-465-00296-2
Page count: 512pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2014




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