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Capitalism and Slavery [Paperback]

by Eric Williams
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)

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Book Description

October 14, 1994 0807844888 978-0807844885
Slavery helped finance the Industrial Revolution in England. Plantation owners, shipbuilders, and merchants connected with the slave trade accumulated vast fortunes that established banks and heavy industry in Europe and expanded the reach of capitalism worldwide.

Eric Williams advanced these powerful ideas in Capitalism and Slavery, published in 1944. Years ahead of its time, his profound critique became the foundation for studies of imperialism and economic development. Binding an economic view of history with strong moral argument, Williams's study of the role of slavery in financing the Industrial Revolution refuted traditional ideas of economic and moral progress and firmly established the centrality of the African slave trade in European economic development. He also showed that mature industrial capitalism in turn helped destroy the slave system. Establishing the exploitation of commercial capitalism and its link to racial attitudes, Williams employed a historicist vision that set the tone for future studies. In a new introduction, Colin Palmer assesses the lasting impact of Williams's groundbreaking work and analyzes the heated scholarly debates it generated when it first appeared.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 307 pages
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press (October 14, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807844888
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807844885
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.6 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #40,495 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
50 of 59 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The transformation from subsistance society where everyone more or less consumed what they produced, to international capitalism required as a precondition the accumulation of capital. That is, some people had to be able to produce more than they consumed before they could have anything to invest.
Williams contribution to the literature of this transformation is to focus on the role of the slave trade. On the one hand, it provided a source of raw materials (human beings) which could be sold at a profit by traders, and then used to produce even more wealth by the buyers (slaveholders). This double accumulation of wealth went a long way toward allowing a few very wealthy people to accumulate capital, which coul;d then be invested in things like machinery.
At the same time, the slave trade provided an economic foundation for a large scale international trading network (the famous molasses, slave, rum triangle, later includeing cotton). Without this international network of shippers and merchants, the English (and later New England) cotton mills would not have had anywhere to sell their manufactured product (cotton cloth), nor a cheap source of cotton to use as raw materials.
Williams' ground breaking contirbution was to link all of this together, and argue that without the immoral slave trade, the industrial revolution, and thus capitalism as we know it, would not have happened. The inescapable conclusion is that since much of modern wealth was founded on slavery, some form of reparations is warranted.
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28 of 32 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Capitalism and Slavery May 11, 2006
Format:Paperback
The basic theory underlying Eric Williams's Capitalism and Slavery is that slavery in the colonies, particularly the West Indies so far as this analysis is concerned, brought about capitalism, and thereby led to its own decline.

The first five chapters of the book explain the nature of British economics prior to the American Revolution. Synthesizing information rather than expressing his own view, Williams discusses triangular trade among England, the African coast, and the slave-holding colonies. In essence, England exported goods and ships, Africa exported slaves, and the colonies exported slave-produced raw materials.

American independence destroyed the mercantilist scheme of triangular trading. The ex-colonies now had no incentive to trade with the West Indies at their monopoly prices, instead turning to French islands for their sugar, at considerably lower prices. Consequently, British businessmen were no longer interested in giving economic protection to the West Indies because doing so without mainland North America would cost them money. One basic tenet of Adam Smith's capitalism is that business should be efficient and profitable, and monopolies simply were neither. The laissez-faire approach, or Smith's "invisible hand," meant eliminating monopolies and letting economics take its course.

During this time the Industrial Revolution also occurred, generating new machinery, most notably Watt's steam engine, and simplifying the extraction of raw materials. Ironworks were now much more efficient, for example, as was the process of turning wool into useable cloth. These advantages put Great Britain in a position to economically dominate the world.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Modern theory of the Morality of Capitalism December 19, 2011
Format:Paperback
The author is both an historian and a political scientist. He, also, perhaps unwittingly, is a brilliant theorist. Because of the latter, this treatment of capitalism and slavery is a superb, comprehensive, dispassionate, critical and scholarly analysis of the invention and perpetuation of the English led industrial revolution, and the role slavery played as an inportant concomitant in carrying that revolution to completion.

In this regard, there is both a long and a short version of the story. The short version sticks most closely to his theory about the morality of capitalism, so it is only appropriate to give the short story in this review, which is this: Slavery and monopoly (mostly of sugar and cotton) powered the English led industrial revolution. Everything else is just cultural decoration, a tying up of all the moral loose ends very much after the fact, and building post hoc rationalizations for how (not why) slavery was engaged in. The why is already self-evident: It was done for profits and for no other reason. But slavery was its own economic closed system.

This gets us to the second part of the book, the amorality or moral innocence of economic processes. This is a theme that runs along side the narrative in the subtext. For my needs, this part of the book was perhaps the most important part. For like Charles Beard (in his fabulous book "An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the U.S."), this author also puts in the foreground the economic origins of many well-known social, political, and intellectual movements (including of course, the topic of this book, slavery).
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Important history
Excellent classic work of scholarship. Not always an easy read but very important history to know even today centuries later
Published 4 months ago by Gail Stypula
5.0 out of 5 stars A Classic, A Must Read For Any Student Of The Economic History Of The...
Written in 1944 as Eric Williams doctoral thesis this book is as important as The Wealth of Nations in understanding the rise of modern capitalism. Read more
Published 6 months ago by John H. Armwood
5.0 out of 5 stars The who is who of the Transatlantic Slave Trade...
Superb book, excellent economic history and outstanding moral history. This book illustrates the economic aspects of the international slave trade and who benefited from it, how... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Cesar Maurera
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece
What can I say about this book that has not been said already. This is a text book studied in Colleges, that should speak volumes. Read more
Published 11 months ago by marjorie v farrell
1.0 out of 5 stars Worst Kindle format in the world
Great book but as a Kindle book this is just terrible. Do not buy the Kindle book. I want my money back !!
Published 11 months ago by Khalidx71
1.0 out of 5 stars Poor formatting makes it unreadable
The formatting of the text for the Kindle makes it unreadable. It appears the publisher just scanned the pages and created one big digital file. Read more
Published 14 months ago by NYreviewer
5.0 out of 5 stars Great work
It was a rare opportunity to get a hold of a classic historical work by one of the most brilliant minds of the 20th century - Dr. Eric Williams
Published 16 months ago by Storeboy
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must Read
For anyone wanting another perspective about the Caribbean. Written by the greatest leader of the PNM and the country of Trinidad & Tobago.
Published 16 months ago by Curtis G. Glenn
4.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommend this book
This book was somewhat difficult to read because it was published in England in the 1800's. The language was a little different than what we use today. Read more
Published on December 15, 2008 by Sweet Pea
5.0 out of 5 stars Capitalism and Slavery is definitely food for the brain.
This is a very, very excellent piece of work. I read and studied this book when I was a teenager in high school in Trinidad. Read more
Published on August 18, 2006 by Kwesi Charles
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