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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good but not Outstanding, August 13, 2011
By 
R. Albin (Ann Arbor, Michigan United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The American Crucible: Slavery, Emancipation and Human Rights (Hardcover)
The American Crucible is Blackburn's third book on the topic of slavery in the Americas. The first 2 books, both outstanding, are The Making of New World Slavery and The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery. The latter ended with the demise of slavery in the French and British Caribbean in the mid-19th century. This book is something of a sequel but different in construction than the prior 2 books. The Making... and The Overthrow... are excellent combinations of narrative and analysis of slavery in the Atlantic world from the European discovery of the Americas to the mid-19th century. The Crucible is a bit disappointing in comparison because Blackburn has chosen to review his prior work and then focus on emancipation in the persisting slave centers - the USA, Cuba, and Brazil but without the detailed narrative of the prior books.

The first half of Crucible is essentially a summary of the prior two books. Blackburn does review some recent literature on these topics but has not changed any of the major conclusions of his prior work. In this part of the book, he has a very good discussion of the importance of the plantation economy for the developing European economies and in particular, the relationship between plantation slavery and industrialization. Blackburn makes a very good argument for the importance of plantation slavery in the genesis of industrialization. This is not the simple relationship described by Eric Williams but a more nuanced and convincing approach.

In the second half of the book, Blackburn focuses on the processes of emancipation in the USA, Cuba, and Brazil, as well as the aftermath of emancipation. These are generally overviews accompanied by some more analytical sections. Blackburn's work is not original scholarship rather strong synthesis of existing literature. The narrative overviews are solid but not as detailed as the narratives in his prior books and in the case of one area where I have some knowledge, the mid-century USA, there are some other insightful monographs, like William Freehling's work, that would have contributed to the Blackburn's analysis.

Blackburn focuses on a set of themes in the analytical part of the second section. One is the relationship between capitalism and plantation slavery. Following the fine analysis of his prior book, he has an interesting and nuanced analysis of the relationship between developing industrial capitalism and slavery in the USA, Cuba, and Brazil. This is not just an economic analysis but also a discussion of the ways in which the social and ideological changes promoted by industrialization promoted antagonism to slavery. Blackburn is also concerned with emphasizing the agency of the slaves themselves. The importance of the great Haitian slave revolt, the important role of slave soldiers in the Union Army, the large participation of free and enslaved Afro-Cubans, and unrest among Afro-Brazilians all receive good coverage and analyis. Blackburn is also very good on the relationship between anti-slavery and other reform-radical movements. He points out, correctly, that abolition usually advanced as a consequence of or in relation to revolutionary events or great social stress. A final theme is the way in which anti-slavery and abolition contributed to the eventual emergence of modern ideas of human rights.

Like all of Blackburn's books, this is a well written volume. I was a bit disappointed that the publisher didn't include a seperate bibliography.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, July 15, 2014
This review is from: The American Crucible: Slavery, Emancipation and Human Rights (Hardcover)
An encyclopedia of information presented eloquently with extensive source citations.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Comprehensive to say the least, January 7, 2014
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This is a great overview of slavery from antiquity to the 20th century, specifically how slavery expanded from the Old World into the New. It is pretty comparable to David Brion Davis' Inhuman Bondage, however, there are a few topics or points made in Crucible that supplement an Inhuman Bondage reading. It might seem a little dense for a general interest reader, but it is a great book for history majors and graduate students studying slavery, colonialism, and the Atlantic World.
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The American Crucible: Slavery, Emancipation and Human Rights
The American Crucible: Slavery, Emancipation and Human Rights by Robin Blackburn (Hardcover - May 9, 2011)
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