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Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made Hardcover – September, 1974

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 823 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Inc (T); 1st edition (September 1974)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0394491319
  • ISBN-13: 978-0394491318
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.6 x 1.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #379,565 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


This weighty book intends to "tell the story of slave life as carefully and accurately as possible." Less given over to theoretical and topical polemic than Genovese's earlier works on Southern slavery, it is by no means a catalogue. It amplifies Genovese's stress on the humanity slaves were able to preserve through de facto accommodations on the part of both slave and master, through the reciprocal play of "elementary human reactions" across class and color lines, and through the slaves' "strong sense of stewardship" for one another. This is a necessary transcendence of many other historians' dehumanizing view of both slaves and slaveholders, and to it Genovese brings his intellectual expansiveness and depth of feeling as he further documents key points featured in The World the Slaveholders Made (1969) and The Red and the Black (1972): the resourcefulness and egalitarianism of many house servants, the protective, responsible character of many black drivers, the prevalence of family stability and the nourishment Christianity afforded against degradation. Some critics will argue persuasively that Genovese has not done justice to southern slavery's deprivation, brutality and murder. As a matter of page-by-page arithmetic, Genovese certainly places more weight on young folks' play by the cabin door than on "evidence of widespread dirt-eating." The question - raised very differently by Fogel and Engerman in Time on the Cross (KR, p. 220), whose econometric inferences crosshatch Genovese's view - is one of method and concept in shaping the evidence. The subject will be pursued in debates, and anyone concerned with human development should read Genovese's book to knowledgeably participate. (Kirkus Reviews) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Inside Flap

A reevaluation of the master-slave relationship in American history. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Fresh insights abound in this work.
John P. Jones III
This was one of the most interesting books I have read in history (up there with Darnton's The Great Cat Massacre).
Robert Nagle
This book is a classic when it comes to slave master relationships in the American South.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

48 of 55 people found the following review helpful By Herbert L Calhoun on July 22, 2006
Format: Paperback
Thorough, nuanced, psychoanalytic and balanced; a tour de force: A prodigious work of American Historical scholarship.

Genovese has done us all a great service and we should be immensely grateful to him for producing this masterpiece on one of the most unpleasant periods of American history.

Even with some of the correctly pointed out shortcoming noted by other reviewers, Roll, Jordan, Roll still deserves a place in the Panthenon of American Historical Scholarship -- along side John Hope Franklin's From Slavery to Freedom.

I strongly disagree with other reviewer's that the author's conscious racist bias has somehow seeped in, flawed, colored and otherwise helped frame the context. To the extent this is true at all, it is almost certainly done unconsciously. However, to the author's credit, it must be pointed out that time after time he has drawn a wide berth around the context (one reviewer referred to this as over-contextualizing) just so that the reader can decide for himself what the true nature of the substance is. The scholarship in this volume is so cleanly done that a charge of racist bias frankly is almost incongruous.

For instance in discussing southern paternalism (referenced by an earlier reviewer), the section is prefaced with the following introductory paragraph:

"Cruel, unjust, exploitative, oppressive, slavery bound two peoples together in bitter antagonism while creating an organic relationship so complex and ambivalent that neither could express the simplest human feelings without reference to the other."

The author then goes on to say that:

"Southern paternalism, like every other paternalism, had little to do with Ole Massa's ostensible benevolence, kindness, and good cheer.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Publius on March 4, 2009
Format: Paperback
The foundation of the master-slave relationship, according to Genovese, rested on the ideology of paternalism. Within the highly complex social strata of the American Slave South, the cultural hegemony of the master class and its articulation of organic reciprocity at once reinforced and mediated power disparities in race and class. Trading the loyalty and absolute obedience of their slave property for a professed benevolence and basic material needs, the slaveholding master class sought to make the institution of slavery more humane and more capable of withstanding challenges to its survival. In the process, the author argues that paternalism came to define both master and slave in a dialectic fashion. Relying on the absolute obedience of the slaves, masters came to frame their self-identities as enlightened patriarchs worthy of praise and emulation in the pantheon of civility. Slaves, on the other hand, collectively asserted themselves for recognition of their own humanity. In the context of unequal power relations, Genovese suggests that the latter result constituted no small victory. Although it was indeed far from overthrowing the shackles of bondage, such concessions constituted blatant evidence of group agency and the willingness of slaves to assert their humanity among the most abject of conditions.

Even as a synthetic work more than three decades old, 'Roll, Jordan, Roll' remains an impressive work filled with big ideas and pathbreaking themes. Its willingness to examine the worldview of both master and slave in a comparative framework constituted a fruitful first step in understanding the relational complexities of power to culture. Attempting to go beyond the works of Abtheker, Gutman, and Stampp, Genovese's insistence on resurrecting the ghost of U.B.
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54 of 68 people found the following review helpful By on September 17, 1998
Format: Paperback
"Roll, Jordan, Roll," by Eugene D. Genovese goes into great detail on the subject. While Genovese is hardly an apologist for Southern slaveholders, he fully documents their case, citing numerous sociologists and historians who state that the physical living conditions of most slaves exceeded that of the working poor of Europe (and in many cases America as well). Virginia planters such as the people I descend from tended to treat their slaves better than those on the frontier or people like the ancestors of Edward Ball (Slaves in the Family), who owned enormous rice plantations. Don't get the idea that anyone gets off easy. The hypocracy and cruelty of the slaveholder class is documented in painful detail. The book is at times overly academic, but Genovese quotes extensively from court decisions, slaveholder correspondence and accounts by former slaves and those who fought for their freedom. Whether your interest in the subject is academic or personal, I doubt you will find a more thoroughly documented account of America's most "peculiar" institution.
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62 of 79 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 2, 2000
Format: Paperback
Genovese's work, while extremely long and, I think pretentious at times in its tone, it is extemely well researched and is currently the last word on slave culture and the interaction between master and slave on southern plantations.
One of his most striking observations that I can still rember reading even after five years is his concept of paternalism and how masters and slaves viewed the concept differently.
Masters felt it was their duty to take care of their "children" the slaves by providing food and certain privilages, like whisky on Christmas and New Years. In return, masters expected obedience, but even more crucually, love in return. Slaves on the other hand saw those "privilages" as rights and would act up if certain privilages were taken away. When emancipation came, Genovese argues, that masters were really quite emotionally hurt when their slaves decided to run away--the masters came to see themselves as the only way that their "children" could survive. The hurt was even more acute when the slaves joined up with the union army to attack the very plantations and masters that took care of them. One can easily see how this feeling of ungratefulness could lead to cruelty and violence in the south following the civil war.
When I was in college a few years back, this book was seen by my professors as _the_ final word on the subject of 19th century slave culture
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