Top positive review
30 people found this helpful
Outstanding Survey of American Slavery
on December 18, 2000
Kolchin offers his book as a concise, readable synthesis of the movements in the historiography of slavery in the United States. Influenced by the movement toward social and cultural history, he devotes considerable attention to slave life in the antebellum south and the effects of the particular situation of slavery in the United States in shaping slave culture. Kolchin also situates slavery in the U.S. in the context of the world wide institution with comparisons to the Caribbean, Brazil, and to the Russian serfs which both highlights the unique situation of American Slaves and emphasizes that the institution of slavery did not exist in a vacuum.
The book progresses chronologically from the 1619 arrival of slaves in Jamestown to a brief discussion of the end of slavery and the problems of reconstruction, with thematic treatments of slave life, white control and paternalism in antebellum slavery as well as white society, economy, and ideology in the American south.
In producing such a smooth synthesis, Kolchin admittedly sacrifices a certain amount of detail and nuance for the sake of flow and clarity. Disconcerting, at times is his lack of documentation, another victim of simplicity in Kolchin's approach. While accomplishing his goal of remaining clear and readable, the reader sometimes wishes for some assistance in discerning the origin or fuller development of a particular position or point. To his credit, Kolchin works references to the historiography into his text well, and he provides an exceedingly thorough bibliographical essay at the end, which is probably the strongest segment of the work. Still, the lack of documentation sometimes proves frustrating and thus counters the goal of smooth flow in the text.
In the final analysis, however, Kolchin produces an excellent, readable volume that accomplishes his goal of a balanced narrative that shows how slavery evolved over time in the United States. So too has it accomplished its purpose in enlightening beginners and enkindling much scholarly discussion.