The Economist Denounces One-Sided Account of Slavery [Updated]

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Quit yer bellyachin. Photo: Francois Duhamel

The Economist reviews The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism, by Edward Baptist. Not having read the book, I cannot credibly assess it. I do have enough familiarity with the basic facts to know that The Economist's reviewer’s argument that the book is fatally biased seems a little … off:

Unlike Mr Thomas, Mr Baptist has not written an objective history of slavery. Almost all the blacks in his book are victims, almost all the whites villains. This is not history; it is advocacy.

I can think of reasons other than ideological bias to explain why almost all the black people would be victims, and the white people villains, in a book about white people who captured black people and subjected them to torture, rape, murder, humiliation, and oppressive forced labor.

Unless The Economist wants to suggest that there were overlooked cases of deserved slavery, it seems pretty intuitive that the black people are mostly going to be victims in a book about slavery. It also seems like the white people are inevitably not going to come off terribly well, either, in a book about slavery. Sure, there were plenty of white people who had nothing to do with slavery, but they may not feature so heavily in a book about slavery.

Update: The Economist has withdrawn the review and apologized:

Apology: In our review of “The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism” by Edward Baptist, we said: “Mr Baptist has not written an objective history of slavery. Almost all the blacks in his book are victims, almost all the whites villains.” There has been widespread criticism of this, and rightly so. Slavery was an evil system, in which the great majority of victims were blacks, and the great majority of whites involved in slavery were willing participants and beneficiaries of that evil. We regret having published this and apologise for having done so. We are therefore withdrawing the review but in the interests of transparency, anybody who wants to see the withdrawn review can click here.