The Half Has Never Been Told (Baptist)

I found this book persuasive, but remarkably uneven. I think it’s because Baptist tried to overlay too many frames on top of it. It could also be due to the 12 years he spent on it. The metaphorical layer works in some sections, as in the chapters “Right Hand” and “Left Hand.” In other chapters, it seems forced. In still others, especially later in the book, it seems absent. Baptist also seeks to correct historical myth,  like the one that slave labor was inefficient. To do so, he cites statistics, another frame. Some of the stronger sections in the latter half of the book comment on how enslavers (his word – and the right one, I think) invented capitalist structures to protect and expand slavery, another frame (and this one seems most connected to the subtitle of the book, Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism). He reviews the political arguments about the extension of slavery. Here, I was impressed by the balanced way he presented the arguments of those who favored slavery, like Calhoun. Baptist also used narratives – some seemingly imagined, some the product of research – to illustrate his points, two more frames. And then there’s the chronological frame.

I’m not saying that these writing styles and frames are not all related. Here, though, Baptist was just not able to mesh them together well. Some 400+ page books seem quick. This one, though, seemed epic. And I admit to only skimming the Afterword to the paperback edition. I hope Baptist’s next effort will be shorter, more focused, and more stylistically coherent. He is clearly a talented researcher and I learned a great deal from this book. I just wish it didn’t feel like I was fighting so hard to get through the pages.

The Economist withdraws its ridiculous review of the book


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