I have been frustrated in trying to find a good book about slavery. Most in our library focus entirely on the history of slavery in the United States, with perhaps a brief mention in passing of the existence of slavery in other times and places. I find this limited treatment of the topic leads to some problematic misunderstandings — in many ways perpetuating the same racism that enabled American slavery and the subsequent post-emancipation civil rights abuses.
So I was glad to discover this book:
This is an introductory treatment, very readable and with lots of pictures, but it is not for young children. What I like:
- Separate chapters on slavery in the ancient world, pre-colonial Europe, Africa from ancient times to present, in the Americas among indigenous tribes and states, in Asia, and in the modern world internationally.
- Precise scope. Serfdom, for example, is mentioned only when the conditions truly amounted to slavery — mere garden-variety medieval serfdom is passed over in favor of actual slavery in the era. In the same way, contemporary slavery is restricted to true slavery — forced labor with no option of departure — rather than degenerating into a diatribe against poor wages and lousy working conditions. (Those are serious problems, but they are not slavery.)
- Honest who-did-what-when reporting. No bizarre cultural biases or weird anti-European narratives.
- Factual but not voyeuristic accounts. The realities of rape, starvation, torture, and the like are all mentioned where the historical record shows they happened, but there is no morbid dwelling on gruesome details.
What it amounts to is a book you can take seriously. Good starting point, though it certainly left me wanting to learn more. Highly recommended.
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