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Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made Paperback – Unabridged, January 12, 1976

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Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made + Within the Plantation Household: Black and White Women of the Old South (Gender and American Culture)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 864 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (January 12, 1976)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0394716523
  • ISBN-13: 978-0394716527
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #170,448 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"The most profound, learned, and detailed analysis of slavery to appear since World War II. It covers an incredible range of topics and offers fresh insights on  nearly every page. . . . Genovese's great gift is his ability to penetrate the minds of both slaves and masters, revealing not only how they viewed themselves and each other, but also how their contradictory perceptions interacted." --The New York Times Book Review

"Without modern peer as an historical narrative, as a sensitive functional analysis of a major region and period of American society in general, and the Afro-American community in particular." --The New Republic

"Altogether a first-class historical work, enhanced by a good, forthright style" --The New Yorker

"Genovese  has done more than any other American historian to life this tortured subject out of its culture-bound parochialism." --C. Vann Woodward, The New York Review of Books

From the Inside Flap

A reevaluation of the master-slave relationship in American history.

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Customer Reviews

I read this book when I was in college.
This is one of the most important works on the subject of slavery.
Elizabeth Nall
If there is a better book in print, please refer me to it.
Herbert L Calhoun

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

49 of 56 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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18 of 20 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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