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The Half Has Never Been Told
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The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism Paperback

October 25, 2016

by Edward E. Baptist

A groundbreaking history demonstrating that America's economic supremacy was built on the backs of slaves

Winner of the 2015 Avery O. Craven Prize from the Organization of American Historians

Winner of the 2015 Sidney Hillman Prize

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 E. 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.

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.

Wonderful.... Baptist provides meticulous, extensive, and comprehensive evidence that capitalism and the wealth it created was absolutely dependent on the forced labor of Africans and African-Americans, downplaying culturalist arguments for Western prosperity."―Nation

"Baptist's real achievement is to ground these financial abstractions in the lives of ordinary people. In vivid passages, he describes the sights, smells and suffering of slavery. He writes about individual families torn apart by global markets. Above all, Baptist sets out to show how America's rise to power is inextricable from the suffering of black slaves."―Salon

"You cannot understand the economy of the U.S. - or even of the world -without an understanding of how its development was driven by 19th century slavery. This book gives you that, in a stunningly readable, heartbreaking form. Genius."―Mark Bittman, Omnivoracious

"It taught me so much about slavery and how slavery enabled America to become America. Every time I left my house after reading, I saw the world differently. I saw the legacy of human misery underpinning it all."―Jesmyn War, author of Salvage the Bones and Men We Reaped

Eric Anthony Koszyk
5.0 out of 5 starsAnd he makes a good argument that slavery would not have died if it ...
August 10, 2015
Format: Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Edward Baptist makes several strong arguments, some of which turn conventional wisdom on its head. Some of his arguments are difficult to read and go against our preferred versions of U.S.history.

He details how American slavery was one of the most productive economic institutions in world history and how the expansion of slavery made the U.S. into a modern industrial empire. He details how slavery, by use of torture and terrorism, increased productivity and made the cotton industry the biggest, most sustained, expansion of the economy in human history.

He makes the point that it wasn't just a Southern industry; indeed it benefitted the entire world -- from Northern banks, ship builders and industries that supported slavery (farm implements, whips, ropes, chains, etc) to the textile mills of Western Europe, especially Britain.

And he makes a good argument that slavery would not have died if it hadn't been for the Civil War. Indeed, from the founding of the nation, slavery had grown for 70 years at a rate unprecedented in human history. There's no evidence to suggest that such a profitable and productive industry would have ever died out on its own accord. He shows that the cotton industry was never as productive again, after it lost it's use of the whip.

Finally, he points out that the South brought about their own destruction. It was they that always pushed for more and more expansion of slavery (even contemplating taking over Cuba and all of Mexico!), which pushed Northerners into fearing for their own loss of political power. The Southern push for ever-growing slavery culminated in the creation of the new Republican Party, formed to not end slavery but to end it's expansion. The South then went to war in order to create its own government based on slavery. Thankfully, they were destroyed.

It's a very well written book that not only makes his arguments with well researched historical documents. He also adds powerful voice to the millions of men, women and children who suffered under the bondage of slavery.
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