- Hardcover: 432 pages
- Publisher: Ivan R. Dee; 1 edition (September 16, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1566637473
- ISBN-13: 978-1566637473
- Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.4 x 9.7 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 26 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,178,350 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Cotton and Race in the Making of America: The Human Costs of Economic Power 1st Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
Two themes, one explicit, one implicit, compete in this exploration of the link between the development of American capitalism and the devastation of the African-American community. The price of cotton as the determinant of America's destiny, influencing and even overcoming individual will and ethical behavior is the fully explicit one. In treating it, Dattel (The Sun Never Rose), formerly a managing director at Salomon Brothers and Morgan Stanley, offers an economic history of cotton. The book's chronological path absorbs the creation of the Confederacy, the waging of the Civil War, Reconstruction, the rise of the Klan, the development of sharecropping, the displacement of black labor by machine and the falling price of cotton. The secondary and competing theme is Northern complicity in the slave trade, the cotton economy, segregation, racism and the development of the black underclass in the North and South, with its destructive behavioral characteristics. The economic slant leads to interesting tables and statistics concerning fluctuations in the price of cotton, but for serious readers, the usefulness of Dattel's work is diminished by his heavy reliance on secondary sources and casual documentation. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Gene Dattel turns economic history into a gripping narrative in this sweeping synthesis of an important but underappreciated chapter in the American past. From Whitney's gin to the mechanical picker, Dattel shows just how close the links have been between King Cotton and the race issue. This book is highly recommended. (Gavin Wright, Stanford University)
This is a book not just for those who grew up in the cotton fields of Mississippi as I did, but far more than that it is a challenging and compelling account of the complex role which cotton has played in the economic, racial, and political history of our nation. No one is better equipped to present that story than Gene Dattel, a superbly gifted writer, who also happens to possess an encyclopedic knowledge of this fascinating subject. This volume elevates to an important new level our comprehension and appreciation of a largely neglected chapter in our conflicted past. (William F. Winter, former governor of Mississippi)
Gene Dattel grew up in the Mississippi Delta, historically the center of cotton production in the United States, and a major target of voter registration workers in the 1960s. Thereafter he spent twenty years on Wall Street. These experiences superbly position him to remind us, in overwhelmingly persuasive detail, that for almost a century and a half cotton was America's leading export; and that before, during, and after the Civil War, white America, North as well as South, endeavored to keep an African American labor force ‘contained' in the cotton fields. Thus cotton was the foundation of both the growth of the national economy and of racism in the United States. (Staughton Lynd, author of "Stepping Stones: Memoir of a Life Together")
This is an engrossing and revealing study. It should be read not just by history buffs but by all Americans who want to understand the events and forces that shaped and left their imprint on our country. The book captures with great style and intensity the overwhelming influence of cotton and slavery on our economy, finances, social behavior, and political life. Cotton and slavery prevented the formation of a more perfect union in 1776 and as the author concludes America no longer needs cotton, but still bears cotton’s human legacy. (Henry Kaufman, economist; author of On Money and Markets)
A very powerful and informative book. . . . Once I started to read it I was hooked. . . . A landmark, combining a firm grasp of finance and its controlling impact on the pattern of rural life in cotton growing regions with human sympathy for both field hands and planters. (William H. McNeill, Professor Emeritus, University of Chicago, and author of The Rise of the West.)
A fascinating account of an essential aspect of American history. Gene Dattel brings clarity and insight to a subject we've long known about but not known well. A model for integrating economic, social, and political history―and a terrific read too. (H. W. Brands, professor of history at the University of Texas and author of The Money Men)
I am very impressed by the extensiveness of the research, the quality of the writing, and the vigor of the narrative. Gene Dattel has produced an important book that shows how 'King Cotton' could, all too often, be a cruel tyrant. The book will be welcomed by both specialists and the general reader. (John McCardell, professor emeritus of history at Middlebury College)
Gene Dattel has produced a superb study of King Cotton's reign over the United States of America. Though exceptionally well versed in the economic history of cotton production, he never loses sight of the human suffering caused by slavery and its consequences. He also gives a first-class account of the politics of cotton. From the Constitution to the Civil War to the Civil Rights movement, each of the key events in the history of the United States looks quite different when you understand the (usually malign) role King Cotton played. (Niall Ferguson, Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History and William Ziegler Professor of Business Administration, Harvard)
Books about American history tend to be either triumphal or highly critical. Gene Dattel’s study of the racial legacy of cotton, America’s leading export up to World War II, is neither. Above all, it is informed, honest, and balanced. Dattel explains insightfully just how slavery and racial discrimination came to plague our nation’s ideals and the promise of American life. Mostly it was a by-product—north and south, east and west—of trying to earn a buck, of pursuing the Almighty Dollar. His book is a gem—one of the finest works on the American national experience to appear in many years. (Richard Sylla, New York University)
Eugene Dattel's command of the details of American economic and social life is impressive in this sweeping study of the relationship between cotton and its human legacy in the treatment of African Americans. The book is full of sage judgments and fresh insights, eminently fair and unflinching in its critical assessments. He shows the power of finance and the search for profit in shaping American attitudes from the Constitutional Convention to contemporary issues of cotton's decline and the search for social justice for the people who worked the fields of this global crop. Dattel skillfully portrays the spaces of cotton's kingdom, from the Mississippi Delta fields to the board rooms of New York City's financial companies, and offers compelling evidence of the materialism that drove American life around cotton, often compromising the better angels of our nature. (Charles Reagan Wilson, Chair of History and Professor of Southern Studies, University of Mississippi)
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The writer's style is interesting and very comprehensible, I am awed by his ability to give a tragic human face to such dry economic data. You will never look at a cotton item the same way again I promise you.
After reading this book, I honestly believe that I better understand why the Southerners did what they did. Within my lifetime I have been told over and over that the war was fought over the issue of slavery. As this book shows, slavery was at the root of the war. The primary issue of the war, however, was pure economics.
I had always accepted blame for the war as a Southerner. I felt that the Northern influence of slavery was insignificant or nonexistent. I was wrong. Just as the masses of Southerners were not the cause of the war, nor were the masses of the Northerners the cause of the war. Both North and South, it seems from this book, a relatively small number from the "United States" had the production of cotton paramount in their minds and their lives. It was all about MONEY. No cotton, no money. No money, no cotton. No slaves, no cotton. No slaves, no money. I really believe that it is that simple and this book led me to that conclusion.
I highly recommend this book to any citizen of the United States of America. I believe that having read this book, we can better understand our history. Maybe we can even prevent repeating bad history.
My thanks to the author in this extremely fine work. Although this was not an "easy" book to read, it should be read from cover to cover.
Cotton, the mainstay of southern power before the Civil War, could most profitably be marketed by the slave system. I do not think Dattel makes abundantly clear that it was not slavery per se that makes this the case but that once the slave trade was in place (and continued illegally after 1809) the cheapest supply of labor was slaves. The backbreaking nature of the work failed to attract others voluntarily especially when there was land out west to be settled. (The migration from the old to the new south, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas, entailed extension of the slave system as the principal crop in these new southern lands was cotton.)
After the Civil War, if the freedmen were welcomed up north—which they were not—there would not have been cheap labor to plant and harvest cotton, which remained the principal source of revenue in the south, albeit precariously as the yield varied with the vicissitudes of weather, insects and prices on the English and New York markets. (The north also benefited from cotton as bankers provided credit to southern planters and manufacturers sold their goods to southern markets when the cotton crop was good.) Retained primarily as sharecroppers and tenant farmers—the distinction between the two is not made clear by Dattel—the freedmen enabled plantation owners to plant and market cotton, although smaller planters were less likely to survive.
It was only during and after World War I when labor was in short supply in the north that the migration of African-Americans from the south accelerated. And in the 1930s new technology for cotton harvesting reduced the demand for intensive labor.
Dattel provides a different perspective on the relation between north and south before and after the Civil War than most popular books. It is thoroughly researched and confronts the reader with new ideas