RECKONING WITH SLAVERY: A Critical Study in the Quantitative History of American Negro Slavery by Paul A. & others David

RECKONING WITH SLAVERY: A Critical Study in the Quantitative History of American Negro Slavery

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Time on the cross (1974) by Robert Fogel and Stanley Engerman argued that Southern slaveholders were rational capitalists providing good care for their human investments, who in turn willingly cooperated to increase output and develop skills. The book claimed to base itself on advanced statistical techniques and new evidence. In Reckoning with Slavery, six critics mount an impressive many-sided attack against the book's methods and theses. As a statistical analysis, they say, it is crude and outrageously fudged. Imprecise generalizations are drawn from the slenderest of case studies, and even those studies are often distorted. Sheer arithmetic mistakes are common, and the bias of the mistakes is prevailingly upward, toward proving the benignity of the slave economy. Much of the criticism centers around tiny and intricate empirics--the age of slave women's first menstruation, or the variations in nutritional benefit among types of sweet potatoes. However, the essays also challenge the fundamental inference of Fogel and Engerman that since it might have been profitable for slaveholders to behave kindly toward slaves (a premise itself contested here), they did in fact do so (a conclusion extensively contested by reviewing the evidence). A good deal of polite venom is finally directed against Fogel and Engerman's assertion that only a racially biased writer would dispute ""the record of black achievement under adversity."" The Reckoning with Slavery authors, who include Paul David, Herbert Gutman, Richard Sutch, Peter Temin, Gavin Wright, and Kenneth Stampp, reply that by minimizing the adversity, lime on the Cross sadly underestimates the accomplishments. A genuinely exciting book addressing the only heartfelt issue currently found among US academics.

Pub Date: June 10th, 1976
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press