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Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Half Has Never Been Told by Edward Baptist~★★★★★

Author: Edward Baptist
Title: The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and Making of American Capitalism
Release Date: September 9, 2014
Publisher: Basic Books
Genre: Non-fiction

Book Jacket: "Americans tend to cast slavery as a pre-modern institution—the nation’s original sin, perhaps, but isolated in time and divorced from America’s later success. But to do so robs the millions who suffered in bondage of their full legacy.
As historian Edward Baptist reveals in The Half Has Never Been Told, the expansion of slavery in the first eight decades after American independence drove the evolution and modernization of the United States. In the span of a single lifetime, the South grew from a narrow coastal strip of worn-out tobacco plantations to a continental cotton empire, and the United States grew into a modern, industrial, and capitalist economy. Until the Civil War, Baptist explains, the most important American economic innovations were ways to make slavery ever more profitable. Through forced migration and torture, slave owners extracted continual increases in efficiency from enslaved African Americans. Thus the United States seized control of the world market for cotton, the key raw material of the Industrial Revolution, and became a wealthy nation with global influence.
Told through intimate slave narratives, plantation records, newspapers, and the words of politicians, entrepreneurs, and escaped slaves, The Half Has Never Been Told offers a radical new interpretation of American history. It forces readers to reckon with the violence at the root of American supremacy, but also with the survival and resistance that brought about slavery’s end—and created a culture that sustains America’s deepest dreams of freedom."

Taryn's Review: This book is powerful. This book is challenging. This book should replace everything you thought you knew about slavery in the United States. As a person who works in public history, I am always looking for books to help me expand what I know and find new ways to reach my audience, but when I picked up this book, I had no idea the impact it would have on me personally.

There is a lot of misinformation about slavery in the United States and I confront it daily in my interactions with the public. The topic can be uncomfortable for some people, and more often than not, the discussions that arise with the public tend to be simplistic...not because the public can't handle the truth, but because the basis on which they build their understanding is normally fundamentally flawed with bad and wrong information. I can only help change that foundation with  willing participants and there are some participants that are very unwilling to believe that what they know may not be true. If you are not well-versed in United States history beyond your high-school and college textbooks, let your preconceived ideas about slavery leave your mind as you begin reading Edward Baptist's monograph. Baptist is a scholar (with a doctorate degree in history) who meticulously researched this work and generated a powerful argument. This book will provide you with a fantastic understanding of the different types of slavery that made the United States as powerful as it was (and is).

The book also had a lot of difficult and upsetting stories that needed told and need to be read. The problem with slavery is that it isn't talked about enough, and oftentimes when it is, it has been minimized and marginalized to the point that people can have the impression that there ever existed such a thing as a "good" slave owner. Primary records from the enslaved persons themselves are rare, but Baptist used what was available and inserted prose to give life to stories that weren't recorded. I read a review where someone bashed Baptist for this, but personally I don't think he injected anything that wasn't happening. For academics, we know the implied and what other conditions were at play, but Baptist's skill at writing them out only created a richer, deeper connection with the subjects and it is time we start feeling that compassion that has so long been removed from the institution of slavery. If prose is what's needed to help people understand the depth of suffering involved in slavery, I support Baptist's use of prose.

Don't read this book if you are completely convinced that you already know everything about slavery in the United States because the stories and the thesis will be lost on you. Read this book if you want your mind opened to the complexities and real-life conditions that impacted an entire race people. Read this book if you want to build a comprehensive, cohesive foundation of American history that doesn't omit the role that slavery, slave owners, slave traders, and the enslaved had on shaping the nation. Read this book because it will break your heart and open your eyes to how the history you've learned has neglected to tell you the entire story. Read this book to help you understand why this subject isn't talked about the same way other historical events are and to ask yourself why this is, and how you can be a part of the changing history narrative on what we expect and perceive from our collective history as Americans.

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