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The Mind of the Master Class: History and Faith in the Southern Slaveholders' Worldview Paperback – October 17, 2005


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Editorial Reviews

Review

"In exploring their terrible and complex subject with honesty and sympathy, the authors have grappled heroically with the ambiguity at the heart of history and in the heart of man."
-The Atlantic Monthly

"Extraordinarily erudite. What is most impressive is the authors' ability to tell us precisely what was meant by the innumerable literary and cultural references found in the writings of the slaveholding intellectuals. They seem to have read all the books that their subjects read and talked about and are thus able to get inside their minds to a remarkable degree."
-New York Review of Books

"This book is one that libraries of colleges offering courses in American history ought to acquire."
-Catholic Library World

"Eugene Genovese and Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, focusing as they should on religion and political thought, have turned their immense learning and acuity to presenting the strongest case possible about the slaveholders intellectual and moral virtues, as well as their enormous failings and tragedies. Historians, including those who do not share the Genoveses's Old South sympathies, will find The Mind of the Master Class a commanding and illuminating book."
-Sean Wilentz, Princeton University

"The strength of the book lies in the Genoveses' depth of research and command of the primary sources. The Mind of the Master Class is an important contribution to southern intellectual history and undoubtedly will be read and debated for years to come."
-Adam L. Tate, Clayton State University, Journal of Social History

"...the Genoveses offer us one more insight into the Southern mind." -Hal Goldman, Historie sociale

Book Description

The Mind of the Master Class tells of America's greatest historical tragedy. A great many of the slaveholding men and women were intelligent, honorable, and pious; yet, these very people, admirable in so many ways, presided over a social system that proved itself an enormity and inflicted horrors on their slaves. Even now, there is much to be learned from their moral and political reflections on their times--and ours.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 824 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; First Published edition (October 17, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521615623
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521615624
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.8 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #464,029 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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See all 9 customer reviews
The Southerners made great use of the Bible to justify slavery.
W. F. Rucker
The erudition in this work is overwhelming and it is certainly the case that anyone involved in the historical discussion about slavery should consult this book.
James A. Sullivan
A must-read for anyone interested in the history of the antebellum South.
Bridget Jack Jeffries

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By David Liebers on January 25, 2008
Format: Paperback
Eugene Genovese, author of Bancroft Prize winning Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made, has made another brilliant contribution to scholarship on American slavery. Genovese and his wife and co-author Elizabeth Fox-Genovese move beyond traditional assumptions about the slave-master relationship, humanize the hegemonic Master class, and provide fair analysis of the theology, corporate ethos and mentalité of the Southern elite.

Unfettered by moral imposition, and fears about assuaging those engaged in the structure versus agency debate, this work provides a human insight into an ugly, exploitative system that has in many ways defined and haunted American society. The notion of a southern mythology, wrapped in an extension of Christendom and medieval chivalric tendencies, is persuasively woven into the economic, religious, cultural and political complexities of the American South. Genovese and Fox-Genovese draw fine distinctions, and tease apart the most volatile of issues sustaining a clear and comprehensive discussion.
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Format: Paperback
Humanities professor Elizabeth Fox-Genovese and retired history professor Eugene D. Genovese combine their talents in The Mind Of The Master Class, an intellectual history of the psychology of American slaveholders and slavery supporters in the antebellum South. The Mind Of The Master Class is so thoroughly researched, and draws so heavily upon primary sources, that every single page of the main text sports meticulous citations in footnote format. Though The Mind Of The Master Class is a scholarly text, scrutinizing in-depth exactly what made the slaveholding South tick. Why and how was American slavery once so thoroughly justified, defended, and fought for, in spite of its reprehensible violation of human rights - a violation as apparent to abolitionists and others 150 years ago as it is to all of America today? The reasoning and examples given in The Mind Of The Master Class flow very naturally, and will easily draw lay readers into the labyrinthine intrigue of the deceptions the human mind plays on itself. Highly recommended.
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Format: Paperback
Ms. McKinney would do herself much good if she would either content herself with failing to commit the intellectual energy required by this book or to at least be content to wait until she has grasped the work before thoughtlessly dismissing a text she feels has defeated her. The authors did not intend this work to be an easy read; the weight of the book should dismiss any illusions a non-committed reader may have about bringing this along to the beach for a little "light" reading. But it is in demanding this subtlety of thought that the authors accomplished their initial aim: to allow the reader to actually grasp the nuance and complexity that were woven together into a fabric that was nevertheless "solid"--or, as Genovese has tried to explain for almost 50 years, the master class ruled southern society by means of cultural hegemony. Ms. McKinney, no doubt unaware of the 50 years of scholarship that culminated in this work, casts it off as "research" notes that the authors were simply too lazy to shape into a narrative arc. This is, of course, foolish, erroneous, and given the unquestionable brilliance of Dr. Genovese and the late-Dr. Fox-Genovese, a little more than arrogant of Ms. McKinney. The chapter titles she dismisses as lyrical epigrams to incoherent collections of quotations, are, on the contrary, nuanced history practiced at the most erudite level.Read more ›
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By James A. Sullivan on March 28, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The Mind of the Master Class is a tour de force, a kind of Wagnerian opus that brings the Southern elites into focus. We learn what they thought about; Scripture, the French Revolution. the classics and yes, their own slave owning. Instead of viewing them as merely a plague in history, we follow their opinions in such detail that they are humanized despite the current mood to simply dismiss them as a countersign on our road to progress. The erudition in this work is overwhelming and it is certainly the case that anyone involved in the historical discussion about slavery should consult this book. While many diehards will lament an analysis of the slaveowners in such detail, the authors make no brief for slavery. Rather they contextualize the lives of the master class in such a way that we, the reader, get to slough off our own provincialism in the interest of a wider understanding.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Bridget Jack Jeffries on November 18, 2010
Format: Paperback
Drawing on thousands of primary sources, decades of rigorous research, and the combined intellectual efforts of the formidable husband-wife Genovese team, *Mind of the Master Class* is a truly seminal work, the latest in an ongoing effort on the part of Civil War historians to demonstrate the mendacity of the old canard that the antebellum South had no mind. Fox-Genovese and Genovese contend that the Southern slaveholding elite *did* have a mind, a mind that looked to classical antiquity, medieval history, prior political revolutions and biblical theology as guideposts in sustaining its slaveholding way of life, a mind that provided robust intellectual engagement with its abolitionist critics in the North. The authors' goal is simple: they seek to present "the slaveholders as men and women, a great many of whom were intelligent, honorable, and pious" and ask "how people who were admirable in so many ways could have presided over a social system that proved itself an enormity and inflicted horrors on their slaves." (i)

The book is engaging, well-researched, well-written and utterly panoramic in its grasp of its topic of choice. Fox-Genovese and Genovese demonstrate a commanding use of sources throughout and cite copiously, if not excessively, in making their case. In spite of its ample positive qualities, MotMC is not without its flaws. The authors appear to have allowed their professed admiration for the Southerners to cross over into favoritism on several occasions. They all but argue that the slaveholders had a much better case from the Bible than did the abolitionists, sometimes failing to critique proslavery biblical arguments with the same intensity they turned on the abolitionist ones.
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The Mind of the Master Class: History and Faith in the Southern Slaveholders' Worldview
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