The Half Has Never Been Told

The Half Has Never Been Told

Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism

Book - 2014
Average Rating:
Rate this:
A groundbreaking history demonstrating that America's economic supremacy was built on the backs of slaves

Americans tend to cast slavery as a pre-modern institution -- the nation's original sin, perhaps, but isolated in time and divorced from America's later success. But to do so robs the millions who suffered in bondage of their full legacy. As historian Edward E. Baptist reveals in The Half Has Never Been Told , the expansion of slavery in the first eight decades after American independence drove the evolution and modernization of the United States. In the span of a single lifetime, the South grew from a narrow coastal strip of worn-out tobacco plantations to a continental cotton empire, and the United States grew into a modern, industrial, and capitalist economy.

Told through intimate slave narratives, plantation records, newspapers, and the words of politicians, entrepreneurs, and escaped slaves, The Half Has Never Been Told offers a radical new interpretation of American history.
Publisher: New York : Basic Books, a member of the Perseus Books Group, [2014]
ISBN: 9780465002962
Characteristics: xxvii, 498 pages : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm


From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment
Nov 27, 2019

The analysis of how the understanding of "American values" diverged between the North and the Deep South, a divergence that was at the root of the Civil War, is important. I agree that the writing style is not infrequently annoying. The specific accounts about experiences of enslaved people are, I think, an important element to show exactly what a horrific institution cotton-industry slavery was.

Jun 01, 2018

One of the largest reasons why I appreciated this book was because of Baptist's dedication to keeping a steadfast and contained narration. Much of history is written arrogantly, that is to say, it is written in a way that aligns the narrator with the presentation of the work as if the separation of the two is not relevant nor required. To be able to sustain such a strong narration throughout such a long book was impressive, especially because he's constantly piecing together multiple historical accounts and narratives, documents, and facts.
It is a unique experience and if you have the patience, I strongly recommend.

Sep 24, 2017

Too deep for me. I appreciate the scholarly effort to produce such a book but don't intend to labor through it.

Jun 21, 2017

This is a big book (420 pages) but well worth the effort. The book's two main premises are that slavery was a critical component of the development of capitalism in the United States and indeed the western world (the author is not the first to advance this thesis) and that increased productivity of cotton production in the United States in the first half of the 19th century was due to a significant increase in calculated brutality, which the author calls the whipping machine. However, the author does not provide the data and analysis required to support these contentions. There is no doubt that slavery was of great importance to economic development and, as the author contends, not inefficient or moribund or outside the capitalist sphere, as some, including authors of the Lost Cause mythology have argued. With respect to the second point, a number of reviewers claim that it was improvements in cotton plants that were behind the increased productivity. Despite its relative failings on these points, the book excels at describing the horror visited upon the millions of African-Americans caught up by the expansion and increased brutality of slavery in the first half of the 19th century. The author gives voice to these people and has shown how they acted as agents to the extent that they could, despite the overwhelming hardships they faced.

michelle_mcgrath Oct 10, 2016

The writing style detracts from the issues this book investigates. The author has strangely chosen to intermingle individuals' stories in the middle of a discussion of facts. The graphs and charts are not user friendly, the factual information would be better supported by color maps. This book could be much more brief, concise, and focused on specific points. Much of the important information is lost in presentation.

Jan 27, 2016

Edward Baptist pays close attention to slavery as a powerful and evolving barbarism that increasingly sucked the economy, geographical expansion, and politics of the United States within its singular project. The Jacksonian geopolitical expansion into the south and southwestern United States provided vast new areas for slavery’s expansion. But Baptist argues this was a “new, second slavery” based on a brutal labor regime that increased productivity and brutalized its African victims. This new slavery was abetted by a financial system almost as out of control as our current one, as Wall Street financiers and the US banking system grew fat on the forced labor of slaves. Owning bodies of slaves was collateral for credit that further intensified the slave system. As slavery grew it threatened the whole country, forcing a series of political confrontations that ended with the US Civil War. Baptist punctures many illusions -- of a dead archaic system of slavery, of a benign slavocracy, of an innocent North which was not complicit in slavery's brutality.

Jan 04, 2016

I discovered this book on the shelf at the Whitney Plantation slave museum in Wallace, LA. It was recommended by the guide, to me, and I recommend it to everyone interested in understanding the origins and legacy of slavery. It is devastating in its honesty, scrupulous in its research and eloquent in its prose.To those of us brought up to understand America's slave culture as simply as children can understand it, this book is a brilliant economic, historical and personal record of what it was like to live as a slave, in the time of slavery and in a country burdened by the results, for adults.

Ham625 Mar 18, 2015

Powerful, depressing, important reading. The book can make you cry but there are also some similarities to labor, wealth and our world today. A most valuable book.

Jan 11, 2015

Great book, but a very depressing one. Any argument against reparations is destroyed by the content in this book. In 1820 1/3 of all U.S. wealth was just in U.S. human slave capital, slaves. That doesn't include the wealth that was generated by their labor including the cotton that was produced, the shipping companies that made tremendous transporting the commodities slaves produced, and the factories that made profits hand over fist from the the cheap cotton that was produced by slave labor. For instance, by 1860 99% of all cotton being used in English factories was cotton being picked by U.S. slaves.

To say that the U.S. economy and the U.S. ruling class owes it's wealth and power from the sweat, blood, and tears of African slaves would be a serious understatement.

Great book, must read.

Dec 31, 2014

"The Northern economy's industrial sector was built on the back's of enslaved people."
I was eager to read Edward E. Baptist's new history of slavery, which interweaves personal narratives with an overarching examination of the economics of slavery and how it was an engine that drove the expansion of American capitalism and territory. It's a provocative and compelling thesis, but it gets muddle in Baptist's erratic writing and lack of focus. He goes off on tangents about subjects like African-Americans contribution to music and using to learn both hands, as well as overwhelming readers with vast loads of facts, the arcana of 19th century economic policy, and the machinations of Southern politicians in the Senate. Perhaps this book was meant more for scholars and fellow historians, rather than for the general reader. It is an important book on a subject plenty of Americans would be happy to forget or ignore, but it was disappointing as both a narrative and as a challenge to conventional ideas of slavery.

View All Comments


Add Age Suitability

There are no ages for this title yet.


Add a Summary

There are no summaries for this title yet.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.


Add a Quote

There are no quotes for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number


Subject Headings


Find it at CPL

To Top