Book details

The Half Has Never Been Told

Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism

By Edward E. Baptist

  • ISBN13: 9780465049660
  • Pub Date: 10/25/2016 | Price: $19.99 / $25.99 CAN
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Trim: 6.13 x 9.25 Inches | 560 Pages
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About the Book

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.

Winner of the 2015 Avery O. Craven Prize from the Organization of American Historians

Winner of the 2015 Sidney Hillman Prize

Bloomberg View Top Ten Nonfiction Books of 2014

Daily Beast Best Nonfiction Books of 2014

About the Author

Edward E. Baptist is an associate professor of history at Cornell University. Author of the award-winning Creating an Old South, he grew up in Durham, North Carolina. He lives in Ithaca, New York.


Daily Beast
“Thoughtful, unsettling.... Baptist turns the long-accepted argument that slavery was economically inefficient on its head, and argues that it was an integral part of America's economic rise.”

“Wonderful.... Baptist provides meticulous, extensive, and comprehensive evidence that capitalism and the wealth it created was absolutely dependent on the forced labor of Africans and African-Americans, downplaying culturalist arguments for Western prosperity.”

Providence Journal Best Books of 2014
“Baptist's exhaustively researched, elegantly written and provocatively argued book details the connection between the growth of the institution of human bondage and economic innovations from 1783–1861.”

Guardian Australia Best Books of 2014
“A compelling case for recognizing slavery as fundamental to the rise of the
United States.”

Seattle Times
“[Baptist] presents a detailed case, showing how the American economy benefited from profits gained by forced labor and financial instruments that enabled investors to profit from slavery.”

Wall Street Journal
“Abolitionists were contemptuous of such self-serving nonsense, but they too tended to see slavery as an economically inefficient, and morally reprehensible, hangover from the premodern past. . . . In The Half Has Never Been Told, Edward E. Baptist takes passionate issue with such assumptions. He asserts that slavery was neither inherently inefficient nor a counterpoint to capitalism. Rather, he says, it was woven inextricably into the transnational fabric of early 19th-century capitalism.... Baptist writes with verve and a good eye for the dramatic.”

New York Times Book Review
“Baptist's work is a valuable addition to the growing literature on slavery and American development.... Baptist has a knack for explaining complex financial matters in lucid prose.... The Half Has Never Been Told's underlying argument is persuasive.”

Vikas Bajaj, New York Times
“New books like Empire of Cotton and The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism by Edward Baptist offer gripping and more nuanced stories of economic history.”

Los Angeles Times
“The overwhelming power of the stories that Baptist recounts, and the plantation-level statistics he's compiled, give his book the power of truth and revelation.”

Huffington Post Black Voices blog
“Quite a gripping read. Baptist weaves deftly between analysis of economic data and narrative prose to paint a picture of American slavery that is pretty different from what you may have learned in high school Social Studies class.”

“Baptist's real achievement is to ground these financial abstractions in the lives of ordinary people. In vivid passages, he describes the sights, smells and suffering of slavery. He writes about individual families torn apart by global markets. Above all, Baptist sets out to show how America's rise to power is inextricable from the suffering of black slaves.”

Washington Independent Review of Books
“Edward Baptist's The Half Has Never Been Told is an achievement of the first order.... With Baptist's meticulous research and comprehensive, chronological approach, the other half of the story has now been told, and told very well.”

“Baptist has a fleet, persuasive take on the materialist underpinnings of the 'peculiar institution.'"