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Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 27 July 2015
David Brion Davis, the Sterling Professor of History Emeritus at Yale University, has written a splendid summary of the history of slavery in the New World.

He sums up, “the peoples of West Africa, as well as those of every maritime nation in western Europe and every colony in the New World, played a part in the creation of the world’s first system of multinational production for what emerged as a mass market – a market for slave-produced sugar, tobacco, coffee, chocolate, dye-stuffs, rice, hemp, and cotton. For four centuries, beginning in the 1400s with Iberian plantation agriculture in the Atlantic sugar island off the African coast, the African slave trade was an integral and indispensable part of European expansion and the settlement of the Americas.”

“the entire New World enterprise depended on the enormous and expandable flow of slave labor from Africa. … By 1820 nearly 10.1 million slaves had departed from Africa for the New World, as opposed to only 2.6 million whites, many of them convicts or indentured servants, who had left Europe. … From 1820 to 1880 the African slave trade, most of it now illegal, continued to ship off from Africa over 2.3 million more slaves, mainly to Brazil and Cuba.”

He points out, “In Paris, on April 4, 1792, the new Legislative Assembly decreed full equal rights for all free blacks and mulattoes in the French colonies. This act, granting full racial equality as a matter of law, was one of the truly great achievements of the French Revolution, but it has seldom been noticed in history textbooks.” And, “on February 4, 1794, the French National Convention outlawed slavery in all the French colonies and guaranteed the rights of citizenship to all men regardless of color.”

Napoleon III and the Liberal leaders William Gladstone and Lord John Russell wanted Britain to join the American civil war on the side of the slaveholding South. Gladstone was the son of the rich absentee owner of thousands of West Indian slaves. Huge mass meetings in Britain forced Lord Palmerston’s Liberal government to turn down the French proposal for joint intervention.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 24 June 2010
Describing the rise and fall of slavery in the New World in a mere 320 pages is a demanding project for a historian, and one that David Brion Davis largely (with a few caveats) accomplishes with no small amount of skill in his book "Inhuman Bondage".

The books begins with the Amistad case from the late 1830's which is somewhat at odds with the Spielberg version, though far more interesting and revealing for being so. Davis then makes room to contemplate the roots of slavery in the Near East, the Greek and Roman Empires, and on through history until it erupted into the New World with the "discoveries" of the late fifteenth century. This, for me, was the highlight of the book, and also includes reflections on the interaction between slavery and racism (and the accompanying arguments between cause and effect) as well as examining the Christian, Islamic, Jewish, Ancient World and Enlightenment views of race and slavery.

As regards the main subject of the book, slavery in the New World, Davis focuses on the North American experience, followed by that of the Caribbean, with Brazilian slavery in the rear. Spanish slavery, except in so far as it applied to the Caribbean, is largely absent. Other subjects that receive attention are Slave revolts in the various colonies, the role of the Haitian revolt in the demise of Slavery, British and other European emancipation, the debates about the role slavery played in the industrial revolution, the American Civil War and emancipation, as well as the astonishing case of the Brazilian slave revolt that brought about emancipation in that country, the last in the Western hemisphere to do so. Paradoxically the actual day-to-day realities of the slaves and slavery remain relatively untouched by the text.

I didn't agree with all of Davis's analysis, but to his credit he makes the reader aware of other historical views even if his dismissal of the connections between slavery and industrialisation is more than a little heavy handed. The book only truly irked with regard to Davis's opinion on the Turner rebellion; his remark that the massacres of whites was brutal and counterproductive is reasonable, but to then go on an claim that this was little different psychologically from the mental state that leads to the genocide of Jews, is to put it politely, a grotesque overstatement. For a start the Nazis were not treated by the Jewish people in the way that White Americans treated Black slaves. If Davis himself applied this assertion systematically his account of the Haitian revolt would have been very different, and less enlightening for that. He certainly doesn't apply it to the putting down of Slave revolts, including those in the British Caribbean where hundreds of blacks died, many cold bloodedly executed in response to wide spread insurrections that resulted in less than a handful of white deaths.

In short, "Inhuman Bondage" is a thoroughly interesting exploration of New World slavery. As a book its fascinating and enlightened scholarship easily out-weigh its occasional defects. The accounts of the roots of slavery in the old world are easily, and somewhat perversely given the books title, the highlight of the book. Readers interested in reading further into the subject can do no worse than Robin Blackburn's dense but comprehensive The Making of New World Slavery; for the Haitian revolt C.L.R. James The Black Jacobins is still a remarkable account; those interested in the experience of the North American mainland will find that Peter Kolchin's American Slavery (1619-1877) will supply the details that are largely absent from Davis's account, and Eric Foner's Reconstruction is an immensely detailed account of the post-emancipation experience of American blacks.
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on 24 June 2014
At first we borrowed this book from the library but then realised that this is a book that we really should have on the book shelf at home. It Is a tough read but has factual content that is thought provoking. It is not a "sit by the pool" novel to read but even so, I do seriously recommend it.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 31 October 2014
Invaluable. Well written. I also have the hard cover version.
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