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on February 5, 2014
This book is a rich, fascinating--and highly readable--conclusion to Davis's great trilogy. His body of work on slavery has left all the rest of us who have studied or written about this subject in his debt. Most historians tend to have one particular angle of vision that becomes their hallmark, but not Davis. I cannot think of another historian who comes at his subject so thoughtfully from so many different angles: the history of ideas, the influence of religion, psychological dynamics, the closely-examined lived experience of slaves, their masters, and slavery's opponents across centuries, countries and continents.
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on March 27, 2014
Outstanding scholarship. Not for light reading. The footnotes are extensive and essential to a complete understanding of the text. The information is far and beyond anything I have ever read in any history class or other text. It is a sobering analysis of the issues related to slavery and current attitudes concerning race relations.
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on July 21, 2014
This may be the best history of the abolition movement available. Even though Davis doesn't neglect the ethics and cruelty of slavery it's much better than the usual maudlin coverage of those issues. To generate this extensive detailed reference work he's generous in citing other authorities like Bernard Fogel, Eric Foner, Walter Johnson, and Amanda Foreman. It focuses on the morality, brutality and economic viability of slavery.

Most interesting is the economic analysis which I'm not sure I agree with. He shows how Slavery in the Western Hemisphere was a very profitable enterprise and extrapolates that to a consensus that without the CW slavery in the USA would likely have persisted well into the twentieth century. He points out that an immoral economic system can be profitable and viable. For this case I think he places too much emphasis on the high price of slaves and on demand from expansion into Texas. If price outstripped productivity that could have proven to be a bubble. He cites many authoritative studies, anti-bellum and modern, to substantiate his point, but curiously omits Halpern Helper, who I had thought was influential in his day. He does go back to Ben Franklin who said that slavery was more expensive than free labor. He emphasizes the importance of free blacks in demonstrating the utility and groundless fears that inhibited emancipation.

The colonization movement is tracked as Davis follows the politics of the ACS and its popular leaders and advocates from Madison to Lincoln. Also interesting is the controversy over gradual versus immediate emancipation. There seems little about the idea of compensation. Davis points out that the EP only freed slaves of those not loyal to the USA. More was needed, resulting in the Thirteenth Amendment.
The history stops short of the modern era although there are allusions to Jim Crow laws and pointing out that Nazism depended on enslaved peoples.

The course of emancipation programs in other countries is most interesting. Davis shows ambiguous economic results of the apprenticeship system as implemented in Jamaica and Antigua. He studies development of the issue of gradual vs immediate emancipation in US and elsewhere. The book is very good on relationships with other nations, especially Great Britain, whose emancipation program moved faster than the US albeit with different motivations and more favorable public opinion. Besides USA slavery, the book relates issues to the emancipation movements in Haiti, Jamaica, Antigua, Cuba and Brazil, some of which turned violent. Especially interesting is the history of abolition in Britain.
Each is surprisingly unique but politically related.

Besides the familiar Garrison and Frederick Douglass, careers of many lesser known figures are depicted including Marcus Garvey, Harriet Jacobs, Sojourner Truth, James Forten and many others. I was especially intrigued by Paul Coffe, black ship's captain and navigator who considered economics and profit as well as morality of colonization, and James McCune Smith, polymath, linguist and freedom writer. It seems that purported black histories ignore some very significant people.

While there is no doubt where Davis stands regarding slavery issues he succeeds admirably in expounding all points of view. A short review can't do justice to this profound study. The memory of this one will make it hard to rate anything else at 5 stars. If I get ambitious I'll tackle one of Davis's earlier books.
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on May 26, 2014
Intellectural history has no objective standards by which to be judged. Howver, Davis' command of all possible historical records (as far as I can judge), considerable oral history work, and familiarity with most secondary sources makes his book an outstanding source for understanding the "problem" of slavery in the age of Emancipation.
Essentailly, the problem is how did the slave holding states, England and South American as well as the US, shift so dramatically from a world view that slavery was morally justified as well as a necessity to a view that it was evil and replaceable with free labor.
The issue, of course, is extremely complex, but Davis manages to make it comprehensible. Equally impressive is how he demonstrates that Blacks played a vital role in this transformation. That contribution alone should insure his book a place among the best on slavery and as a landmark among works of intellectual history.
Not an easy read but a most informative one.
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on June 7, 2014
This is a very revealing book. It tells the story that many people especially Caucasians don't know of the slavery period. This should be considered for educational teaching in our public schools. A well researched and written work. Thank you sir..
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VINE VOICEon August 16, 2015
This is the third book of the author's trilogy on slavery's history leading to emancipation. I read the first volume of that trilogy, The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture, on 5 April 2001, because it won the Pulitzer prize for nonfiction in 1967. I have never read the second volume but this volume, entitled The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Emancipation, won the National Book Critics Circle prize in 2014 and so I read it. It is only the 14th such winner I've read (out of 39 winners), The author spends a lot of time discussing the question of what should be the situation if the slaves in the U.S. were free, with some who were against slavery saying the freed should be sent to Africa--the racist mindset of such colonists being clear that they did not want the freed slaves in this country even though though they were born here. While some were sent to Liberia that was never the preference of the slaves themselves and gradually the abolitionists came to see that colonization was the preference of the racist-minded. The closing chapters of the book were of greater interest to me, since they culminate of course in emancipation--which the author says would not have happened without war because slavery was profitable for the slaveholders. This is a carefully-researched book full of evidence of the results of long years of study.
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on April 27, 2015
The Preface, Introduction and First Chapter of The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Emancipation, the final trilogy of Professor Davis' life-long work, should be read be every freshman entering college. Students reading the introduction, preface, and, at least the first chapter of the book should try to frame the "problem of slavery' within the question that while all societies have culture, not all cultures are civilized. If students, think, that Professor Davis' observations and language of the nineteenth century are no longer relevant, then both the teacher and students should move into the 21st century by viewing the documentary :Watchers of the Sky", Both the Davis book and the documentary clearly show that the concept of dehumanization people by "animalization" continues to this day.

Allen Weintraub
White Plains, NY
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on April 11, 2015
Solid academic analysis. I'm reading it to better understand what we face as a civilization with issues such as immigration, and labor . The moral and social issues are of course something reverberates through out. I'm finding the extensive detail totally illuminating. "History doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme." - Mark Twain
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on October 5, 2015
David Brion Davis is a very courageous and objective writer, a rarity to find today. His works would make most Americans uncomfortable with their past.
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on January 12, 2015
Instead of concentrating on the United States, the author shows how US slavery interacted with the wider world, particularly the Caribbean and Europe.
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