Harrowing first-person accounts--not only on the printed page but in audiotapes of original interviews conducted decades ago--of American slavery and its aftermath. Historians Berlin and Miller, along with University of Maryland doctoral candidate Favreau, have collected dozens of excerpts culled from interviews done with former slaves in the 1930s under the auspices of the Federal Writers Project. The book's most immediate theme is the sheer savagery of the institution. Slaves were, of course, generally regarded as mere property and accordingly were stripped not only of all their rights but of virtually all their humanity. Their fates lay in the hands of capricious owners. Ex-slave Vinnie Busby, for example, who grew up on a Mississippi plantation, recalls how, when his master wanted to punish one of his slaves, ""he took dat darkie and hitched him to a plow an' plowed him jes' like a horse."" Men were forced to stand passively aside as their pregnant mates were ruthlessly assaulted. Slave owners didn't hesitate to compel couplings among particularly robust slaves to produce a new generation of hardy laborers. There were exceptions, though, to the prevalent cruelty. As Rachel Cruze recalls, her overseers not only allowed slaves to visit their wives on neighboring plantations, but always sent along presents of food for them. And small pleasures did exist. Organized amusements such as corn huskings and Christmas festivities broke the drudgery of the slaves' everyday lives. Religion, too, provided some solace. Publisheed in cooperation with the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian, and accompanied by two 60-minute cassettes with dramatic readings by the likes of James Earl Jones and Melba Moore, as well as excerpts from the original recordings, this book is a welcome addition to the literature of a critical period in American history.